First day for mother and child

 

I’m sure my daughter Sarah is ready to start formal education, but what about making friends – and how will my role change?

SHINY BLACK shoes, a starchy shirt collar and a school tie – all formal attire for a five-year-old, but school rules dictate a proper school uniform.

My just-turned five-year-old Sarah looks at me as if I have dressed her in a straitjacket.

“I can’t breathe,” she gasps, yanking the school tie and giving a great impression of someone being strangled.

I resist telling her to just get used to it and instead adjust the tie slightly, creating some breathing room.

“What if I forget where I sit?” she asks.

“The teacher will tell you.”

“What if I get hungry?”

“You will have a snack at break time.”

The apprehension is mingled with excitement. It will be a big day for both of us. My baby is going off into the big bad world. Where nursery school had a cosy, home-from-home feel, primary school is inevitably more structured and formal. The classes are bigger – up to 30 children to one teacher and a classroom assistant – and the day is longer.

While I don’t doubt she is ready for formal learning, I worry about how Sarah will navigate her way through lunchtime, toilet breaks and making new friends, all without me on hand.

The truth is I am not sure if I am emotionally ready for such a big step. Primary school will mark the demise of my role as the all-knowing oracle in my child’s life.

From experience with my eldest daughter, I know that teachers are either loved or loathed, and usually their first primary school teacher is adored.

I expect to hear a daily commentary on how pretty Mrs Mc Namee looks, how she always has lovely shoes, jewellery or hair. I will fade into the background and will be left looking on as my daughter’s eyes light up for someone new.

Still, I accept my fate knowing that as my baby takes those first tentative steps towards independence, it will be me who holds her hand at the school gates, ensures she has her homework completed, her books packed and her tie straightened.

When the teacher doesn’t appreciate her artwork and storytelling, I will be the one to declare them masterpieces and proudly hang them on the kitchen noticeboard.

But while Sarah embarks on this new stage of learning and develops new friendships, I too will be adjusting to a new stage in my life – left home alone while she steps out into the world.

SARAH'S TIPS FOR STARTING SCHOOL

* The first thing is to be yourself.

* If you need help doing something, ask your teacher.

* Don’t panic about not having a friend – everyone feels the same.

* If the teacher asks you a question, answer it politely. If it’s a hard question – such as why do bunnies have long ears or why do chipmunks have no tails – and you don’t know the answer, just say so.

* Never tell lies.

* If you are in the playground and someone bullies you, tell the teacher.

FIRST DAY SURVIVAL TIPS

* Most children will have previously visited the school and met their teacher at an open day. Remind them of their teacher’s name and talk to them about school in positive terms.

* If possible, do a dry run of the school journey to familiarise your child with the route and to assess the time it will take. No one wants to be late on their first day.

* Encourage them to use the toilet alone, change their shoes into pumps, take off their coat and hang it up. The teacher won’t have time to do these things for them.

* Make sure they have the correct uniform and equipment.

* Try to create an early-night routine in advance of the night before school starts, so they will have had plenty of rest and don’t feel shell-shocked on their first day of school.

* Most schools have an introductory period to allow the children a few days or sometimes weeks to settle in. Try to be the person doing the first few drop-offs and pick-ups as it will be an opportunity to check how your child is settling in and to meet other parents.