Starting school is a big deal. Your once tiny baby is suddenly about to enter into the world of education and the fact it will become compulsory sounds formal and inflexible. The truth is, things are about to change, whether your child has been in childcare or not, school feels different. What’s more, 2021 is yet again throwing lots of pandemic related complications our way and I know many transition visits were altered or cancelled.
But, despite all of this, starting school is an exciting and wonderful journey. If you can get on top of the overwhelm and tackle the admin with determination then that’s the first step to enjoying the ride. I’ve been in your shoes, as a Mum, my little girl started school in September 2020 and I’ve also been in the shoes on the other side of the classroom door, as an Early Years teacher and Primary Head Teacher.
Ditch the comparisons at the door
Right, this isn’t an easy one but I promise if you can start strong with this tip, it will set you in good stead for the next 7 years of Primary school and probably much further. I’m talking about comparisons for your child but also you as the adult. As you will know, children all learn at different rates, the babies of friends will have learnt to roll over at different times, spoken their first words, potty trained and taken their first steps all in their own time.
This trajectory is the same for starting school and it’s important to recognise that being ‘school ready’ is a very broad band. Teachers are professionally trained to recognise and support each child from their different starting points. In fact the uniqueness of the children in their class is often their favourite part of the job. Know that whatever skills your child does or doesn’t have when they start school, you can share these with the teacher who will then support your child to do well from wherever they are.
The comparisons also need to be shaken off for YOU. There will be days when you’re smashing it; out the door with a perfectly turned out child at 8.30am. There will be other days when this is a distant dream. Being late and forgetting things is par for the course so prepare for that and know that everyone is the same – but maybe you just won’t see it.
Schools work really hard to communicate well with families; they will have a website and a range of other channels to share with you the dates for events, important information and more dates! The best thing to do to get on top of the communication early is to check the website and save a link somewhere handy, also find out what other methods the school uses. You are likely to have lots of online communication as schools have been trying to minimise face to face sessions in schools. Many schools have a designated app for things like ordering school meals and paying for trips, lots will send newsletters and regular emails or texts so do make sure you have given the best email and mobile numbers to contact you. Forewarned is forearmed and so my best advice is to check the website regularly and get as many dates in your diary as you can.
It’s never too early to check holiday dates for the rest of the academic year. If you can, set up a weekly or fortnightly check in to look at the school communications. Check for any new dates or events and add everything into a planner, diary or calendar which everyone, who needs to know in your family, will be able to access. We have a big whiteboard grid stuck on our fridge with a fortnightly plan of pick-ups, clubs, school events and things to remember. I also add any reminders into our shared online calendars as I’m notorious for forgetting things at the last minute. Even with this meticulous planning, I’ve still forgotten wellies for forest school, the reading book on numerous occasions and even to order my daughter lunch one week. See point one for no comparisons here!
Now if you’re not a list person, this one might feel tricky but I really advise making a list or three!
Before your child starts school you will need to check you have;
• Got all the uniform, any bags, water bottles and other kit including shoes and name it all
• Figured out pick up and drop off including any wrap around care that you need
• Filled out all the forms; there are loads!
Once you’ve got the lists, if possible, share out some jobs with members of your family, it can feel full on being organised in that first term so anything you can delegate will be really helpful. If you haven’t labelled items yet, there are loads of great products out there and a permanent pen does a perfect job too.
Once your child has started school, think about;
• Making an easy list for your child to follow each morning so they slowly start to get ready on their own. Using pictures is a great way to help your child be independent in the mornings and it can just be stick figures on a piece of paper. If they can see the routine in pictures they are more likely to be able to get their clothes on, find their bag and coat without the last minute scramble and stress.
• Creating a list of other parents who you can make links with and who will help ease your worries and help answer questions over the first few crucial weeks. There are often Facebook or Whatsapp groups and these can be a life saver for those last minute welly reminders! It’s also a great way to share the worries of limited transition and to arrange some meet ups before school starts if you would like to help your child get to know some of their classmates.
Finally, if you love a paper planner then do check out the School Starters Planner on Amazon, designed to support parents get organised without the stress and stay that way for a whole year.
I hope these tips help with the overwhelm. There is no doubt there is a lot to juggle but once you get started, things do fall into place. Good luck!
Also read: Is My Child Ready for School?
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