Waaah, starting school, especially if it’s your first child when everything is SO new, can be a roller coaster of emotions. There’s usually a little sadness - they seem too little for something that feels this grown up right? Perhaps a little (or a lot) excitement at the promise of some time to yourself. And then the pressure we put on ourselves to get it ALL done in that promised time. Will you go back to work? Start a small business? Write a book? Revive neglected friendships? Renovate? Everyone else seems to be doing it ALL after all so why not you. They do, don't they? And that’s all before we think about how you’ve only just cracked the nursery drop off/pick-up/commute to be thrown the juggle of a much shorter school day. Full-time work, part-time work, getting back to work, freelancing, looking after the rest of your family – whatever your reality, when you first dip your toe in school waters, it can be a little daunting. We’ve both been through a First Day and thought now might be a good time to share some tips and thoughts about what we've learned in that first year. It really is going to be ok.
1) If regular commuting, ad hoc meetings, trips away or any of the other million reasons that can make the 8.30 to 3.30 school day… tricky.... then breakfast and after school clubs are a lifesaver. Most schools offer one or the other if not both. Some are run by the staff on site, others use Ofsted-certified external companies who come in to the school, and in some instances, some children are picked up from school and taken to a nearby club. They all require payment but the cost is usually far cheaper than what you may have been paying in nursery fees, and you can often use Childcare vouchers, so check that out. If you’re lucky, your school might also run dance, football, gymnastics, craft or science clubs after school too so if it’s just an extra hour that you need, they’re a great option. Plus, the kids get some extra-curricular fun in the safety of school. Win win.
2) School dinners are free for all infants for the whole three years, and menus are released to parents at the start of every term so you can see what’s available. There are typically three choices every day with anything from sticky chicken and vegetarian sausage rolls to pasta pots and roast dinner (long gone are the days of hot dogs and jelly! ) They’re so much healthier than when we were in school – there’s always a veg side and desserts are pretty tame. Plus, the school receives funding for every child that has a dinner as opposed to a packed lunch so they actually want you to take the free dinner option. Of course you can choose to take a packed lunch – and if you have a fussy eater, it might be the best option - but be aware that most schools don’t allow ‘treats’ so juice, chocolate, crisps etc aren’t allowed. Schools also provide a fruit/veg snack in the morning and the choice is pretty varied including bananas, mini cucumbers, carrots and pears.
3) Label EVERYTHING. Seriously, everything – even shoes. Jumpers and coats are regularly misplaced. Water bottles abandoned. And after that PE lesson, goodness knows what will go missing… You don’t have to sew them in anymore either as there are a whole host of stick in labels and stamps to make it a super quick job. We’ve popped some suggested links below*. They’re not ADS, just a helping hand (and we haven’t road tested them all).
4) Speaking of PE, choose shoes that fasten with Velcro to remove the pressure of learning to tie laces, and if you can make your kids as independent as possible at getting dressed by themselves that’s a huge bonus for all. Just imagine the carnage of 30 kids needing help to get changed…
5) Uniform school? Don’t leave the purchase of this too late. The insanity which ensues when you can’t get the shoes/skirt/jumper etc which you specifically want/need can reach new heights.
6) If you’re a super-organised lover of holidays, you’ll probably be all over this tip already. If however you’re used to booking last minute getaways DURING TERM TIME, you *might* be shocked by the restrictions and price hikes that you’ll face when you have to book in line with the school calendar. Find out all of the inset days, and holidays dates as early as possible - even if you do seem like the crazed parent knocking on the office window on day one ;) - and book your holiday straight way. From experience, this will still be more expensive than if you were booking out of term time, but you’re less likely to find those additional last minute price jumps and you’ll have way more choice. Plus, if your school is one of the only ones to place their inset days either side of a scheduled holiday, you can save a lot on flights. Definitely worth the extra planning.
6) And while we’re taking about holidays we have a pretty good tip… did you know, you are legally allowed to take your child out of school during term time – without asking for permission and facing those dreaded ‘unauthorised absences’ - until the term they turn 5. So if their birthday is in the second term, they can be taken out of school during the first term, and likewise, if their birthday is in the third term, then you have the second term. We’re not trying to be treacherous rule breakers here, after all, no school is happy with loads of absences for no reason, but for weddings, visiting families abroad and even saving on air fare for a Christmas getaway, it’s a handy little tip to know about. And it's only during Reception.
7) Non-iron shirts should be mandatory. Time saving wonders.
8) This is so simple it feels like a ridiculous point to make, but seeing as it’s something neither of us always do (we will do better!), here goes – when you receive a letter with a list of dates to remember, write them on your calendar, input them into your phone (whatever works for you) but do it straight away. It will stop those moments where yours is the only child who doesn’t go to school, for example, in odd socks. (that was part of an Anti-bullying initiative so the levels of guilt were high). There are a lot of things to remember and being organised can stop you losing your mind.
9) In the first few weeks, someone (maybe you?) will start to compile a list of contact numbers for the parents in your child’s class. This can be a lifeline when you need to check on any one of the email alerts, notes slipped into bookbags, party invites and payment requests that you’ll receive. It also leads to new WhatsApp groups…
10) … If you think you’re part of a lot of WhatsApp groups already, school will turn this up a few notches. Groups for your class, for the PA and for parties will start flooding your phone. It can be overwhelming but actually, can be pretty helpful too. See them for the positive that they are and don’t feel obliged to comment on everything.
11) Want to help out on school trips? Depending on your school you may be asked to complete a DBS check. Pretty standard practice nowadays so don’t be shocked if you’re asked to do this.
12) If you want to be more involved with the parents in your class, then offering to be the Class Rep is a great way of getting involved and meeting everyone. You do have to be organised but there’s generally less to do when the kids are smaller – collecting money for teacher’s presents and sharing info - compared to the older years when the kids tend to have far more going on.
13) The PA! We can only speak from experience, but the PA (or PTA) is an extremely important part of a school. They run events and raise money that’s funnelled straight back to the kids. If we’re honest, it can also be a little daunting with the many charity bucket collection days, bottle days, own-clothes days, ice-cream selling, discos, shows, quiz nights, inflatables days, coffee afternoons, the summer fayre, prom, the Christmas bazaar and more. Get involved if you can, it will be incredibly appreciated, but don’t say yes if you genuinely can’t manage it. You can only do what you can do, and additional levels of guilt won’t help you. Running the business means that we’re both too busy to commit fully, but we help where possible.
14) Nits… we know, we know – disgusting! But those rotten little lice are likely to make an appearance in your first year so if you see your child scratching their head, check it instantly and treat it. It’s a good idea to keep a bottle of nit shampoo in the bathroom, just in case. Oh, and the whole family needs to be treated too, so that’s a treat!
15) The kids! If you feel anxious, imagine how they feel. A good book is a great way of explaining the changes ahead so below are a few suggestions of some fab little reads to tackle before the big day arrives:
Starting School by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (pictured)
I am Too Absolutely Small for School, a Charlie and Lola book by Lauren Child
Stuff to know when you start school by DK
Chus First Day of School by Neil Gaiman and Adam Rex
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn