Tips for the first weeks at school

Bill's first day in 2008

NAMES in new uniform: tick. Packed lunches: tick. Bedtimes put back considerably earlier: tick. Alarms set: tick.

That’s about as organised as I get for the new school term.

I wish I was one of those parents with itineraries and chore charts and online family diaries. But I’m not.

Our three boys returned to school this week and I think they were grateful for some order and routine. The holidays have seen far too many erratic mealtimes and bedtimes that have been entirely based on what mood Bloke and I were in.

If you’re new to the world of sending your offspring to school, this is going to be an emotional week. You’ve probably been more organised than you ever thought possible, trying to ensure your son or daughter’s first days in formal education are stress-free while your own paranoia reaches epic levels.

Letting them see you worry is not good.

Helping them understand what is expected of them is key to getting them settled in.

They want to be there on time, have the right stuff (and by that I only mean uniform and lunch, definitely not brands) and start to recognise their new routine, expected behaviour and surroundings. This is why the transfer day they had before the summer was important.

All you can do once you hand them over to teacher is smile, wave and try and make it to the gates before you blub.

Even though I’m ten years on from that first child, first day at school moment, I still get stressed when the new school year starts. Mostly it’s about how to get the precariously-balanced timetable of untested events slotted into place.

From various school runs and fitting extra activities around normal life, it takes a good month for the dust to settle.

It gets easier. Once upon a time I too spent hours sewing name tags into everything. then I discovered the speed and indeliblity of a Sharpie marker. One surname in everything, to allow for hand-me-downs. (Unless there are several families with the same name).

A board of some kind is useful just to remember where the heck everyone is. We have an old Ikea blackboard that will be scrawled with the words ‘lunches’ ‘football’ ‘rugby’ ‘reading’ ‘homework’ ‘kit’ ‘swim’ ‘drama’ ‘phone’ ‘washing’ alongside the usual jumble of grocery reminders and random days of the week. Then Bonnie will fetch a step-stool and wipe it all off while no one’s looking.

The first weeks are exciting. Then it all start to slip.

There are going to be times when you forget things. There are going to be times when your kids forget to tell you things.

There will be a lot of very tired and grumpy kids around during the next few weeks as they adjust to it all, whatever their age. Trust me, all parents go through this. You may even enjoy some time to yourself.

Good luck, it’s only six weeks until half term!

Here’s a few tips that may help:

  • Make sure you check their bags for letters every night (don’t rely on them to bring things to you).
  • Use your phone’s alarm/calendar/diary to set yourself reminders.
  • If you have concerns, don’t try and fight for a teacher’s attention at the classroom door when he/she is trying to get 30 kids in/out. Ask at the office for a phone call, appointment or send a sealed note in your child’s bag.
  • Establish bedtimes. It’s easy to lapse now and then, but reception-aged children need 10-12 hours sleep. Teens still need at least eight hours. Don’t be soft about this and allow habits to develop.
  • Don’t give them the third degree as soon as you pick them up. A simple ‘What did you do today?’ may elicit an outpouring of over-information, or they may shrug and say ‘nothing.’ Don’t push it. They may talk more once they’ve eaten or heard about what the rest of the family has been doing.
  • Do be prepared to listen to what may appear to be the most trivial event when you’re in the middle of something else. If you brush them off with “not now,” you’re cutting off communication. (Exceptions: if you are on the phone negotiating a forgotten bill, manhandling hot pans or on the loo).
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