6 things I would have liked to know before my child started school

Aug, 15, 2021

Your child starting school is a big day for both him and yourself. Goodbye nursery or childminder – HELLO to a whole new world. As a mum of two – about to go into year 2 and year 5 – I would like to share with you what I wish I’d known before my children started school

  1. Your child isn’t the only one starting school.. you are too.
    Coming from a sheltered and small childminding environment where I knew the names of each of my daughter’s 4 friends, it felt like an impossible task, trying to learn the names of the 29 new people who were going to be part of my daughter’s life. Not to mention, establishing relationships with teachers and parents in the school ground while also keeping existing friendships aline.

    While at first I decided that new friendships weren’t that important, I realised a year in, that taking an active interest in my daughter’s school life, and investing in the people that made up her world while away from us, added to her sense of joy at going to school and trust in the people around her. And the beauty of it all is that your circle grows with each child you send to school.

  2. Your child isn’t the only one who’s going to learn. You will too!
    This was a realisation that came to us all the hard way when last year, we were all thrust into the role of being our children’s teachers. But home learning aside, I was surprised to learn that the alphabet is pretty much a thing of the past – and the old fashioned way that we used to learn to read and write is replaced with phonics. The sounds took both my husband and I some getting used to and made for som hilarious misunderstandings, when our children asked us to help with spellings. And don’t even get me started on maths.

    To add to this, in my case there was a whole cultural element to become accustomed to as well. Wearing a school uniform, addressing teachers by their surname and the formality of the English school system by contrast to my rather more casual Danish upbringing where teachers go by their first name and no dress code exists.

    Whether or not you have cultural differences to digest, your child’s school has a certain culture and internal workings that take a little getting used to;

    Where to get uniforms from
    Ways to report your child absent
    Their policy on foreign travel during term time
    Reading records and homework
    And various boards and clubs on offer

    This all takes time, and if you’re finding it a little overwhelming in the beginning, know that you are not alone. Belonging to your child’s class Facebook / Whats App group is not only a good way to connect, but also feels like a life saver, when at 10pm you can’t find the form that states when your child’s swimming lessons take place that week.

  3. Buying a school bag is a waste of money
    Where I grew up, one of the absolute highlights of preparing for the next school year was to choose a fancy school bag, complete with a pencil case and new freshly sharpened pencils. This is a ritual that I have fond memories of – especially seeing as this happened every summer holiday before each new school year.

    Unaware of the rules, my mum therefore treated my daughter to the bag of her choice only to realise that these are widely discouraged until your child begins year 3.

    The good news; you get to save some money!

  4. Everything disappears
    Although my children attend an intimate one form entry school I was still perplexed that we managed to permanently lose school jumpers, reading books, reading records, school trip slips and birthday invites on a regular basis.

    When the school advices you to label EVERYTHING that your child brings into school – you can trust that they know what they are talking about. Label EVERYTHING!

  5. Remember, your child is there to LEARN – not to demonstrate what they already know
    There is no doubt that it can be a good thing for your child to have some knowledge of the numbers and letters, be able to tie their own shoe laces and not use pull ups at night time.
    But if your child for whatever reason is not there yet, you have not failed as a parent.

    I was often having to comfort myself at the thought that my Danish counter parts start school at 6 or 7 years of age. If your child can’t hold pencil the correct way, rather than immediately thinking that there is something wrong with your child, it is useful to consider whether all children were meant to do so at 4 years of age.

    What often backfires is starting boot camp routine in the build up to the first day of school, determined to tick every item on the list of competencies that your child’s school has asked that your child masters by September. Because children often regress in some areas of life before a big life change (such as starting school) we do well to not add additional pressure to a system that is already trying to gather enough courage and resources to cope with what is a complete unknown.

    If you have missed the window, consider giving your child a break and focus on making school as smooth and positive experience as possible and trust that they are there to learn and develop a love – not fear – of learning.

  6. Going to school is significant for you both – and allow yourself and your child to have a reaction
    Few things have felt more touching to me in my journey as a parent than to see my children walk off to school on that first day -in a freshly ironed uniform, a book bag that felt way too big for their little body and wide, naive and trusting eyes.

    I managed to hold it together till I had waved them off before both my husband and I starting bawling.

    Bye bye childhood.
    With each first school day – it felt to me that something had just finished. That my child who had largely been influenced by me up until this point was now going to belong to the world too.

    And that is both beautiful, natural, as it should be and.. well sad. All at the same time. And you are absolutely allowed to have a reaction.

    Please allow me to share with you two things that might be useful to remember that first week of school – or on any day, for that matter, that your child or you struggle to say goodbye:

    Your child leans into YOUR attitude to the separation.
    While screaming and crying and having to surgically separate your child from your body is deeply upsetting for both you and your child, decide to TRUST that your child has what it takes to cope while apart from you and that the teachers’ got your child’s back.

    Be warm and decisive and assure yourself and your child within a reasonable time frame.
    “I know, you don’t want me to leave. And you’ll miss me. I can’t wait to see you later. I’m going now my love and I’ll be thinking of you all day”.
    Kiss and hug

    And then:

    – LEAVE.
    The less we waver and look back longingly and fall to pieces in front of our child, the more our child can trust that when YOU believe in this – perhaps they can begin to do so too.

    The good ‘good bye’ doesn’t depend on your child’s acceptance of you leaving – but rests on you having remained calm, loving and reassured even if everything in you wants to stay and comfort or feels like telling your child to stop crying.

    We help both us and our child by staying warm, calm and reassured in that moment – and then, when out of sight, we can let the tears flow, call our partner, our mum or a friend for the comfort that we need in that moment.

    On a final note
    One thing is for sure; no two children deal in the exact same way with starting school. Few of us are able to accurately predict what our experience is going to be.

    I hope you can trust that you’ve got this.
    That change often makes us feel both brave and small and insecure all at the same time.

    I wish you all the very best

August 11, 2021

Louise Brooks

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