7 August 2018

Ten Things You Really Need to Know About Starting School

A few friends have asked me questions about when Monster started school last year as they prepare themselves for their offspring to start in September.  So I've put together a list of things you really need to know.

1.   The First Week

The beginning bit where they go in for a morning here or an afternoon there or a week of mornings and a week of afternoons or stay for lunch one day, or worse, invite you to stay for lunch…is ANNOYING AS FUCK if you’re working and a similar nightmare if you aren’t (technically) working but are at home with a younger child.  Every morning session I was late to collect Monster because I had to wrestle a very tired Trouble into the buggy/sling.  Every afternoon session I was late because I had to wake Trouble from her nap and wrestle her into the buggy/sling to collect Monster.  She’d be outraged and hungry and I’d be turning up with a fractious, screaming nightmare baby.  It was really irritating but was short lived.  HOWEVER, in hindsight, I now see this as the main reason I forgot about point number two….

2. Making friends

When your child goes to school, it’s normal to be worried about how they’ll fit in, make friends, be happy etc, even if they’re lucky enough to be going with their friends from nursery, it’s still an issue.  BUT, it is also an issue for YOU.  YES!  Unless this is not your first child (I think I’ve worked out it’s less of an issue, but I may be wrong).  You will need to make friends too!  I didn’t even realise this until about Christmas time and by then it was a bit late.  Maybe you don’t need to make friends if you’re a working parent and you’re either not at drop off or you’re rushing off to work?  

I can’t say but either way, if you're likely to be doing the drop-off and pick up a few days a week, you are bound to be crossing paths with other parents.  It’s nice to be friendly, I think.  Sadly not everyone thinks this way, or maybe they just don’t feel the need to be nice.  Or they definitely don’t want any more friends.  Or they’re massively insecure and shy, but even so, a smile costs nothing, right?  (Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of ‘off days’, I’m talking about people with a grump on every single day of the year).  Anyway, so yes, say hello to people and take up the offers of coffee or make your own offers if you can.  Even if you have a grumpy, screaming toddler hanging off you.  Sometimes people say yes.  Most of them are grateful it’s not their child kicking off, rather than judging you.  Even if you feel like they might be.  Which I have definitely felt.  These friendships are important because these people could become your new buddies, especially once the NCT has given up the ghost and your kids are all at different schools.  It’s a bit of a tough ride, but it’s a reality, so you may well be in the market for new friends, for you AND your child.  Then there are playdates - your child will want to play with other kids after school and this means you HAVE to talk to the other parents.  In my experience, as a shy person who almost missed the boat, you’ll notice there are already people picking up two or more kids to take home and ferrying others about, and generally helping each other out.  Not to mention the coffee and boozy nights out.  This is where I live.  I know not everyone is as lucky to have this kind of neighbourhood, but it’s good to get in there if you can.

3. Buying & Management of School Uniform

Shoes - I bought Monster’s shoes in July as soon as she broke up from nursery because I thought I couldn’t bear the queues in August in Clarks.  It miraculously turned out well - her feet clearly grow slowly because until last week (the penultimate week of term) she’s had the same school shoes!  This year, I’m going to do the same, but buying ‘a bit’ bigger in the hopes her feet catch up with her height this year.  I’m doing this mainly because she now has a hole in her shoes and the velcro has come off the strap, otherwise, I might just leave it for the holidays.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have to buy a WHITE polo shirt, do not be swayed by the bullshit that is the M&S ‘stainaway’.  Instead, invest in a bargain pack from anywhere and buy 5.  Seriously. Or even 6.  They are going to get dirty EVERY SINGLE DAY.  

Also, invest in a giant tub of glow-white or vanish gold and a bucket and be prepared.  Tomato-based pasta sauce?  Suncream?  Whiteboard pens?  Paint? Felt pens?  Clay, mud, ground-in playdough, glue…..the list goes on.  Just accept it.  I was stupid enough to think I could get away with three polo shirts and wash in the week.  I did this up until the summer term before I saw the light and just bought more.  Oh and tumble dryers fuck these things up, so don’t even go there.

Also, just to confuse you, a white polo shirt is no longer a white polo shirt.  Supermarkets try to bamboozle you with different styles, shapes and designs.  There are girls fit, boys fit, unisex fit, slim fit, easy care, Stanaway, non-iron and then there are ones that are like t-shirts and ones that are what I would call (I’m old) ‘aertex’.  You know, the ones with holes in!  Just look at your kid and take a punt, they’re getting trashed anyway!

School-branded jumpers, cardigans….buy two brand new.  Maximum.  Get the rest at the 2nd hand sale.  Seriously.  They will get TRASHED.  REALLY QUICKLY.  See the list above - whiteboard pens are my nemesis.  Kids also do weird things sometimes, like chew the cuffs?

Yep.  At some point, they’ll lose at least one items.  It’ll be random and weird and you’ll wonder why you didn’t notice they weren’t wearing a t-shirt/pants/socks.  Again, accept it, move on.
Spare pants - buy some, label them, put them in the book bag.
Labelling - don’t bother sewing.  Buy the stick on labels.  Put them on everything.  Even shoes (although not socks).  Water bottle, cap, the lot.  You can also get iron-on ones (use hair straighteners if you can’t be arsed with ironing, but seriously, GET THE STICKERS!). We favour (not an ad).

Oh and here’s a free top tip (from a friend of a friend who probably saw it on Pinterest) - if you are feeling super mega organised, you could buy 5 of everything and make little uniform bundles in a shoe hanging organiser from IKEA.  You will, of course, have to direct your child to these because they won’t be able to follow any instruction like ‘in the wardrobe’.

4. Phonics & Reading 

Remember that scene in ‘My Fair Lady’ where Eliza Doolittle is being taught how to talk properly by Professor Higgins? ‘aaaaaay, eeeeee, eye, oh, yeeew….’  I think of this a lot when kids start learning phonics.  In short, phonics is the groundwork for learning to read.  They learn different sounds, usually one or two a week for the first two terms.  If there’s a workshop at school, it’s worth going to because it was likely a hundred years since you learnt to read and you do not want to fall down the phonics hole and be baffled by all the (insane) terminology.  There is a lot of terminologies, but all you need to know to get you started is this - letters as you know it is now called ‘sounds’ and also ‘phonemes’.  I don’t know why kids need to learn the terminology, but they do, so just go with it. 

Generally speaking, learning the sound goes with learning how to write the letter too.  For some, its a slow and painful process, but I think the key is to go at your child’s pace and try not to worry.
At some point, there your child will bring a book home.  Often this will have no words in and be confusing as hell.  You’ll be told to ‘share’ the book with them or ‘read it’ which to the untrained eye, seems ridiculous as there are no words.  I’m not putting my teacher hat on here, I’m just saying if you can, look at it with your kid.  Get them to tell you what they think is happening in the story.  It might be over in 2 minutes.  This is totally fine.  They might not want to look at it, this is also fine.  You might not have time to look at it (and whilst that seems insane now, there will be weeks that pass and you haven’t read anything because finding 2 minutes when they’re in the mood can be hard).  This is also fine.  But if you can, do.

5. Bum-wiping

Before Monster started school, I realised that I would need to teach her to wipe her own arse.  This seemed like a huge deal, and a skill I thought she’d never acquired.  But she has!  I also realised I would have to teach her how to do it, as I’d been assuming she’d know how.  Yep, I had to demonstrate what to do, how to check the paper (bleurgh) and how much paper to use.  We had a lot of chats about using only two sheets at a time.  I had to show her how to balance on the bloody toilet and hold her skirt up and take the paper off the roll all at the same time.  For us, this is not something we have to think about, but for a kid…the process of thinking and doing three things SIMULTANEOUSLY is HUGE. Monster wasn’t that fussed about wiping her own arse.  One day, after up-selling a ‘limited edition’ yoghurt at dinner time, she was on the toilet shouting for me to wipe her bum.  I told her she had to do it herself, to which she shouted;

‘I’m limited edition about wiping my bum!’ 
(They all get there though, faster than you'd think).

6. School Dinners

My main worry about school dinners was whether Monster could carry a tray.  Or get through a meal without spilling a drink.  Or use cutlery.  She has survived.  She still eats like a bloody cavewoman, very reluctant to use cutlery, comes home with food round her chops and still needs her food cutting up.  What has changed is that she now dislikes more food!  I guess the window where she ate everything closed pretty swiftly once she realised there was an option to say ‘I don’t like broccoli/carrots/tomatoes/meat/cheese/fish’. This is a bit of a nightmare for me, but I’m hoping it’ll come round.  We’ll always have peas! Plus the bit where she ate everything was nice while it lasted. 

Lunchtimes can be hard. They are different, and you need to know this.  The staff are often not the same, the teacher is having their own lunch and therefore their familiar adult isn’t always there. There are also ‘big children’.  They will be noisy and loud and no matter how confident your child is, it will be a new experience.  Monster found hard, and we had a few ups and downs, but once we’d worked out that she was a slow eater, she was put on a table with other slow eaters - problem solved.  And a lesson here - if you have any worries, just tell the teacher.  If they’re busy seeing in the kids at the beginning of the day, ask to see them at the end of the day.  Wait for all the children to be sent out, they will want to help.  Seriously.  Even I was nervous about ‘making a fuss’ but just get over yourself and your own anxiety and speak up!

7. How to be involved in school life (without necessarily giving your life up to the PTA)

This is a real fear for some people.  For me, I just gave myself a free pass because I had a younger child to care.  This means you can’t think straight a lot of the time, let alone organise a collection for the class or a fundraiser.  But this doesn’t mean you can’t go to a class social / drinks or even have a go at organising one.  If this doesn’t interest you at all that’s fine - but remember point 2 - this is a good way to make friends!  Plus most schools are always looking for people to hear readers, so if you've time on your hands you could go in once a week and spy on your child/other people's children help out.

The PTA will always be recruiting, but you don’t HAVE to do anything. There will be enough requests for jars of sweets, non-uniform day, bring a teddy etc etc etc in the run-up to Christmas.  Brace yourselves for December! Plus there’s always Year 1, once you’ve got your head around the logistics of school life.

8. Getting to school on time 

(See my previous blog post Time/space continuing to be late…
It basically explains how time speeds up as you’re almost ready to leave the house).

I also made a chart of ‘getting ready for school’ and bribed Monster with 5 minutes of TV. It was basically this:

Get dressed + breakfast + teeth + hair + shoes + wee = TV.  The novelty wore off quite quickly, but it was good for a while.  Now I just shout ‘SHOES, THANK YOU!’ Every five minutes.

9. Keeping up with the correspondence

Clear a space, on your phone and somewhere in your house.  Most things seem to be done via electronic messaging now.  I say that as a broad term because there’s a school app for money, a website you’re supposed to check, AND emails.  Plus some stuff on paper.  I now print the newsletter and copy the dates onto our kitchen calendar.  If you’re less of a dinosaur, I urge you to put EVERYTHING into an electronic (shared) calendar so there’s two of you who know what’s happening when.  That way, there’s less chance of forgetting the teddy for the teddy bear’s picnic, or the non-toy thing for ‘show n tell’ or the assembly, etc. etc.  It’s endless, but I found November/December of the first year to be the most full on.  The rest of the year seems better.

10.) Your child’s social life 

Within the first two weeks, your child will be invited to a whole class birthday party.  Be prepared to spend at least one Saturday a month for the rest of the year attending birthday parties.  One of them will be your own child’s.  My only advice which seemed to lessen the pain was to explain to Monster that we ‘won’t always be able to go to all the parties’ and to find another parent to have a joint party with.

Monster was always tired after nursery, so I was unsure about what to keep up once she started school.  We did swimming once a week and that was more than enough until Christmas.  Then there were the occasional playdates, which wiped her out.  By about February half term she could handle two or three things after school per week.  They all get tired, but ends of terms are definitely harder.  I’m really surprised now though how much stamina Monster has, it’s like something finally clicked and she doesn’t get nearly as tired.  Lots of her classmates have done more from the beginning, but as we know, ‘they’re all different’ so you just have to take it at their own pace.  The first few weeks though are mentally and physically exhausting, so brace yourselves!

Bonus point - NITS

Buy a Nitty Gritty comb, use it on wet hair weekly. Spray with Vosene nit spray daily. Tie long hair up religiously. Accept that you’re going to have them at some point and stock up on Hedrin. It’s a big fat pain that can’t be avoided. And at least it’s not worms - we haven’t had that pleasure, but I’m told it’s a common one. Kids are rank. Fact.

So, after almost a year of full-time school, Monster has grown in confidence and now has some really good friends.  And so do I, it’s been a big achievement for us both.  Her Teacher has said some lovely things about her and despite some mega tantrums along the way, she is definitely maturing (do all kids nowadays speak with a Disney twang?  Also every sentence starts with 'basically....' hmmm...)  Plus Monster is already really excited about Year 1, so it can't have been too bad.  We shall see what September brings, just the small fact of the summer holidays to get through first and then we’re good to go!

Written by Jenny aka MamaToMonsterandTrouble 

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