My sixth child is starting school. Here’s what I’ve learned
Five tips to help make the first day a little less fraught with emotion
Jen Hogan with her daughter Chloe and sons from left, Adam, Noah, ZachTobey, Luke and Jamie pictured in their home in Co Dublin.Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
My sixth child is about to start school, and I can’t quite believe it. Starting school is a milestone for children, but it’s a milestone for us parents too.
I know the sight of my five-year-old in his uniform is likely to send my tear ducts into overdrive. Whether his own tear ducts are put to the test will likely only become apparent on the day. At the moment his main point of focus is the Spiderman ninja moves he plans on showing to his “boy teacher”, as he calls him. So long as he “shows” rather than “tests out on” I remind him constantly in the build-up.
But behind the superhero bravado, I know he has some nerves too. And it’s up to me to help him with those.
Practice makes perfect they say and teaches you a thing or two about how to smooth the transition.
1. No mysteries
Familiarity is likely to be the first cause of concern. “What’s my classroom like? Is my teacher nice? Where are the toilets? Do we get jellies on Friday?” are just some of the questions that may need answering, whether they’ve been asked out loud or not.
Taking a stroll or drive to the school a few times before D-Day can really help in this respect. It’s also the perfect opportunity to remind your about-to-start schooler of the fun times that lie ahead and, if they’ve been lucky enough to meet them in advance, the lovely teacher they have. There may or may not have been an opportunity to show your little one where the toilets are before the first day, but either way a reminder of their location on the day is important – as is a reminder not to be afraid to use them.
Rest assured, however, if an accident happens, as it can easily do, especially during a time when so much is new, the teacher will deal with it quickly and discretely with minimum upset for your child.
Help your child to help themselves; lunchboxes, coats, beakers, shoes and bags all fall under this one. If, like my son, your child is likely to be in a class of superhero, pokemon or unicorn fanatics then there’s a good chance he/she will not be the only one with a particular schoolbag. A distinctive keyring attached to the zip or handle can make it easier for your child to immediately identify it. Likewise with coats – a brightly coloured button attached to the hood or sleeve can really help.
Practice opening and closing lunchboxes and beakers at home in advance. Unpeel and wrap oranges and teach your child how to open a banana – teacher won’t have time to do 30. Consider also providing some way to dispose of their rubbish (such as a small scented nappy bag) as they may not be allowed to do so in school. The smell of a rotten fruit core or yoghurt carton, left over from little break, can put them off their lunch.
When it comes to shoes, go velcro all the way. It makes life easier for them at school (and you in the morning rush).
3. Making friends
It’s a real comfort if your child has friends who will be in the same class as him/her but even if they don’t, this can easily be put to right. Take the bull by the horns and be the parent who organises the class contact list.
A simple note explaining your plans and asking parents to forward their child’s name and contact details to you, turns you quickly into the parent everyone “knows”. And as the details come in, the playdate organising can begin.
4. Get a routine going
Don’t wait until the night before. Move bedtimes back as soon as possible and keep a steady bedtime routine. School is exhausting for small children in a very different way to Montessori and tiredness will just make them feel more overwhelmed.
Lay clothes and shoes out the night before and use the remaining summer mornings to get your child back into the habit of getting dressed first thing. Encourage independent dressing as much as you can – it can be a lifesaver as the weeks progress and the novelty wears off.
5. The first morning
Allow plenty of time for breakfast, top button and tie objections, and travel. Traffic around the school is usually chaotic on the first day, as many more parents decide to bring their children to school themselves after the summer break.
Keep the chat positive but if they’re nervous don’t dismiss their concerns, no matter how apparently trivial. See it as an opportunity to put a final positive spin on things before they go in.
Bring tissues. Even if it takes superhero restraint however, don’t shed any tears until you’re out of sight – children often take their cues from their parents. And after all, with great power comes great responsibility.