Getting Ready for school - Part 2 Getting me and my child ready

So you have know what uniform to buy and where from, but how do you prepare your child (and you as the parent) for starting school? In the second post in my Getting Ready For School series Lauren from answers my questions on the practical things to know and how to prepare emotionally.

If you missed it you can read the first part of this blog post here

Text saying: Starting school soon? How to prepare your child (and you) above a photo of school uniform

What can I do to get my child ready for school?

Talk to them about what to expect. School is very structured and there are a lot more children there than they might be used to at nursery, although at our school the Reception classes have their own play area and entrance away from the main school playground which makes it a bit less daunting. Reception is very much about play, but there will also be times where they will need to sit and concentrate for a while - practicing doing that with activities at home might help.

At lunchtime, children queue up and get their food and then sit at big tables together. Lunchtimes are staggered a bit and the younger children go first. The midday supervisors will be there to encourage them to eat but they don't help them clean up after themselves - reminding your child to wash their face after eating might be useful otherwise you'll be able to tell what's they've had for lunch when you pick them up from school just by looking at their face! At our school the toilets are shared between the two reception classrooms and children have to look after themselves there too, so again, reminding them of good toilet manners might be a bonus.

Posting on local forums can help you to find other parents with children starting at the same school, and arranging a couple of summer playdates with them can help things feel a bit more familiar once the term starts.

Do make use of the opportunity for the induction day - visiting the classroom, meeting the teacher and seeing where everything is and then talking about it afterwards will help them to get clear in their mind what is going to happen.

Also be prepared for your child to be very tired for the first term or so. Encourage a good bedtime routine, and eating a larger meal at lunchtime with a snack type tea which will mimic the school routine. My kids regularly fell asleep on the sofa shortly after getting home from school for the first few weeks!

Also make sure that they know who they can talk to at school if they need something or they are feeling sad. You may have a home visit from a member of staff before they start and it's an opportunity for your child to show them what they likes and who they are, and to recognise a familiar adult face when they first arrives at school. 

As a working mum what do you do before/ after school?

Our school runs a breakfast club which starts at 7.45. It doesn't have to be booked, you just turn up and pay on the day. Children are given breakfast and a choice of activities. Generally they like children to have been in school for a week or two so they are settled before they start going to breakfast club, so be prepared for alternative arrangements for the few days. At the moment for our school it costs £3.50. Most schools will have similar arrangements.

There are also external breakfast club providers, which offer a similar service but from slightly earlier. One near us will drop children at school using a minibus and they also provide an after school club, between 3.30 and 6pm. Children are picked up via minibus (occasionally they will walk, dependent on how many children are going and their ages). The after school club offers them a hot or cold tea, space to do homework, and various semi-led activities. Some schools also offer an after school club onsite.

Our school also offer regular half-termly after school activities for specific areas. These are split by year groups. At the moment, reception children can do singing club, arts and crafts club, and multi-sports. There are only limited spaces available and children may not get a place every half term if they are oversubscribed. Generally they cost £2 a week, payable half termly. 

Another option is to use a childminder, which is something we have done in the past. This has the benefit that children will be in a smaller group and may have more time to relax if they are tired (the after school club is always very rambunctious, although a quieter chill out area is available). The negative is that a childminder may not be as reliable if they are ill, or if they have their own children that are unwell, and they may also not offer holiday childcare or alternatively, charge half fees or full fees over holiday periods even if you don't want to use their services. 

You could also hire a nanny, or au pair, but this is obviously a more expensive option - if you can find another family who wants similar childcare a nanny share could work well. 

In any case, as a working parent it is worth having back up options for emergencies - if your child is unwell and the school can't get through to you or your partner, if you get stuck in traffic or on public transport etc...there have been a few times where I have had to call a local mum friend and ask if they could help. 
A little girl already for her first day at school reception
First Day at school

How are we going to cope with school holidays?

This was our biggest issue! I literally felt like my head might explode trying to get holidays sorted out the first time I had to do it. If you have a regular childminder they may offer holiday care too, but this can add up to be quite expensive as it's quite a lot of additional hours. There are also holiday clubs available - some are more flexible than others in terms of hours and age ranges and the activities available. We alternate between a holiday club local to my work, and one local to home. Some clubs only cover the major holidays and don't cater for half terms. Our school also regularly run a sports academy, but this only covers school hours. The same tends to be the case for local authority arranged activities, which tend to be a lot cheaper than other options but will finish by 3.30 or only run over half days. If you know other local parents using the same childcare or holiday camp then you can often work out a pickup sharing arrangements/after camp playdates which can help.

So it really comes down to how flexible your work is, whether you want to use some annual leave, and what location/activity type you are after. And budget of course!

What time do I need to get my child up in the morning for school?

We get up at 7. I try and get uniform, book bags etc ready the night before (the kids each have their own 'morning box' that I put everything in for each of them) so that they can get up, have breakfast and then get changed, then having a bit of time to chill out or read their school books before we have to leave. It's useful to have that time built in for the inevitable 'where did your shoes disappear to overnight' or 'why didn't I know it was non-school uniform day' or 'how did I only just find this letter that says you need three cardboard boxes and a red t-shirt today' kind of panics. In the early days having a good amount of time built in to dawdle on the way can be good too, being relaxed rather than in a rush can avoid tantrums and refusing to get dressed and general 'planking'. 

What happens if we are late for school?

Our school has a 'late gate' - it's a walk of shame! A member of school staff stands with a clipboard at the entrance to the office, asks your child's name and the reason why you are late, and also what they would like for lunch - the hot or cold menu, or they may have brought a packed lunch with them. Children are then escorted by a member of staff to their classroom. 

Is there really a playground mafia/ rivalry between school mum's at the gate?

Yes and no... many parents will already have older children in the school, so they know each other and can sometimes be a bit difficult to get talking to. It's not necessary cliqueyness, just a matter of lack of time and forgetfulness about what it's like not to know anyone. There is also often the family element involved - in our area there are a lot of people who have grown up in the area and have extended family all with kids in the same school. 

And of course, there are always people with different opinions to yours, especially in regard to things like school uniform (I was amazed when one mum said she would never send her child to school in a polo shirt with marks on it - said whilst looking pointedly at my child. Cleanliness, yes that is important, but if I was to always send the kids in wearing pristine unmarked shirts then 1. They'd be constantly in fear of doing anything fun because of the ensuing wrath and 2. I'd be having to buy new shirts every week). I can't say I've experienced much in the way of 'my child is doing better than yours' but then, I don't get the opportunity to chat to the other parents so much because I don't pick the kids up...which brings me to:

Working mum vs stay at home mum

And I guess that's the biggest issue. 

As a working mum, I don't ever hang around to get the opportunity to talk to other parents. I have to dash off as soon as I've dropped them off in the morning, and I'm not there to pick them up after school. I know a lot of the mums will wander up the road for coffee once they've done the drop off, and many of them have younger children and will go to a library of children's centre group together too. As a working mum you can miss a lot of the rivalry and the gossip - but it can feel quite isolated as well. There are occasionally evening events organised by the PTA but I've never worked up the courage to get to one of them yet...

What else do I need to know about being a "school mum"?

It is very different to being any other kind of mum you have been before. Before school, things are a lot more flexible. Once kids start school, everything has to revolve around the school routine. Family breaks are in the school holidays - and all your annual leave goes on school holiday times too if you are a working mum. The school will call you for things that a nursery wouldn't - if for example, your child has an 'accident' they will call you and expect you, or someone you send on your behalf, to come and clean your child up. Events will constantly be scheduled, but not always with any more than a day or two of notice...plays, sports days, trips, open 'evenings' (usually 3.30-6), fetes, book fairs, random playground stalls...and with those come the constant regular demands for money. Not necessarily big money, but the odd £3 or £4 in exact change and sealed named envelope (stock up on change and envelopes!).

You also get far less feedback about what your child has been up to - basically you only know what they tell you. There is no daily report. At our school Reception children do get updates posted on a programme called 'Tapestry' and that can give you a really lovely insight into a bit of what they've been doing, and each class has started up their own blog too, but it's still very different to what you'd get at nursery or preschool. A lot of school stuff will remain a complete mystery, and your children will come home talking about things and you will have absolutely no idea what it all means!

But there will also be moments of proudness and joy when your child suddenly pipes up with something that you didn't even know they knew, or when they read out a word on the side of a bus for the first time, or they talk animatedly non-stop at the dinner table about something amazing they've learnt, or when they walk past random other five year olds on the street and high five them with a smile - and you realise they are learning and growing so much, without you even being there.

Part 1- What do you need to get?
Part 3 - Advice from other mums

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