Starting school – a guide for new parents

I bumped into a friend whose son had just started school this weekend. She had a look of shock etched onto her face. “We thought we’d got this parenting thing sussed”, she admitted. “We’d managed the return to work, settling into nursery, even a new baby in the family, but this…..this is something else”. I know how she feels.

When your child begins school, the balance of power shifts. No longer are you calling the shots with the nursery/childminder/preschool, deciding when you will drop off and pick up your child, calling if you’re worried and checking what they’ve been up to at the end of each day. Instead, you hand over your child in a playground or – if you’re lucky – in the classroom, and that’s it.

No one really wants you to stick around, to settle them in, because there’s the business of learning to be getting on with. One friend was told off for hanging her son’s coat up for him. I haven’t even seen where the pegs are, we have to wave them off in the hope that jackets, bags, hats and gloves will somehow make it into class and out again with the right owners.

I now have two at school, so this is less of a shock. But if it’s new to you, here are five things you should know:

1. No one’s going to tell you about your child’s bowel movements anymore. And if they do, it’s bad news, because they’re probably calling to ask you to bring in clean clothes. You just have to guess what’s gone on from the state they’re in by bathtime.

2. Expect to get a letter nearly every day. No one can criticise schools for not trying to keep in touch. The reams of paper which are rescued from bookbags at the end of every day will often contain vital info about trips, what to bring in the next day and school meetings. Unfortunately 4 year olds aren’t very good at holding on to bits of paper so you can be sure you’ll miss one sooner or later (You were supposed to dress up today? Who knew?).

3. Schools love acronyms. I still don’t know what PSHCE really stands for, as no one at school has ever bothered to spell it out. We’re all just supposed to know.

4. Any day now you will be asked to help with the Christmas Fair. Think carefully about this. I threw myself into the PTA to begin with, but now with a child higher up the school I am officially BURNT OUT. I just can’t stand out in the cold anymore dealing with grumpy kids waiting to see ‘Father Christmas’ (looking remarkably like the deputy head). It’s worth calculating exactly how many Fairs you’ll have to be involved in throughout your children’s school careers and keeping your powder dry till you can avoid it no longer.

5. You are about to be amazed by your child. Amazed they can be so independent, amazed they can sound out letters and amazed they know the names of so many kids in the playground. Even if they have a shaky start, by the end of this first year they will have learned so much. Enjoy.

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