Updated January 2017
This week, I’m preparing to send my youngest son to school.
And while I have mixed feelings about this – hashtag emo – I’m mostly excited for both of us as we start new adventures. Being a third time school starting mum, I also have a better idea of what to expect for all of us.
But I still remember what it was like first time around.
This time five years ago I was preparing for my eldest son’s first day of school.
Turns out it was my first day of school, albeit as a parent, too.
I was incredibly excited, nervous and full of anticipation of what this next chapter in our lives would look like.
My son was ready.
I was ready.
With his brand new school uniform ironed, fresh hair cut, new art smock, library bag, hat and lunchbox packed and labelled, we had all the “stuff” to start school. We walked happily but nervously to school that first morning.
My son was excited and quickly ran in to his classroom. We actually had to call him back outside for the obligatory first day family photo.
The day itself and the transition went smoothly.
It was a huge relief.
As the first day and then weeks passed, it slowly occurred to me that this whole going to school thing was massive, completely new and honestly, a tad overwhelming. There were so many notices, so much to know, not to mention the logistics involved in wrangling younger children in and out of the playground every day.
While the school gave us loads of information and helpful tips for creating a positive start to school for the kids, I would have loved a more experienced parent to pull me aside and give me the Larry Low Down on all things school for parents in those first weeks. So I decided to write the post that I would have liked to read.
Before we start though, let’s acknowledge how far we’ve come – well done on reaching this important milestone. It’s massive and it wasn’t easy. You’re awesome. High fives all round.
Now boil the kettle, take a seat and let me give you the heads up.
1. Take it one day at a time – starting school, while fantastic, is a huge adjustment for the whole family and the new routine (hello ten pick ups and drop offs) will take a bit of time to get used to.
This is particularly so in Term 1 when it is hot and everyone gets tired and testy. As you will no doubt learn quickly, it is always the hottest/coldest/windiest time of the day or there is a sudden downpour two minutes before school pick up time;
2. Sign up for the school newsletter and find out whether it is distributed digitally – most are these days (you may be notified by email when a new version is available online) – or handed out to the class.
Frankly, the newsletter the school equivalent of the Bible and will let you know important dates that are coming up, Curriculum Days, school photo and sports days and so on. I plot all the dates in my diary ASAP to help keep on top of what’s coming up.
It’s also critical to find out what day it comes out as it often has information and reminders that are relevant for the following day. Like excursion notices, they tend to sink to the bottom of the school bag and often require fishing out.
3. Ask for your teacher’s and school administration contact’s email addresses. This is handy if you need to touch base about something from time to time – any concerns/issues; if your child stays home because they are sick, has to leave early or will be late because of an appointment; or if you are going on holidays and missing a day or so of school.
4. If it’s possible and you’re interested, sign up for class help – I wasn’t able to do this when my eldest son started school as I was breastfeeding a young baby. Plenty of other parents are restricted too with young children and work commitments.
Mr SnS, who had some flexibility with his work, did it instead and loved seeing our son learning in his new environment and getting a sense of the teacher’s style. As first timers, it was also a great opportunity to get to know some of the children in our son’s class, as only two children in the class were from our kinder.
I was able to help in my second son’s classroom when he was in Prep and he loved it. I managed once a fortnight thanks to another mum who also had a younger child – we babysat each other’s child every other week so we could both help out which worked really well.
This year, I’ll be doing it again so I can meet my son’s new classmates, see him in action and get to know his teacher. It’s almost incredible to me that there are no logistics involved this time around!
5. Make an effort with the other parents – I think it is incredibly important to meet and establish a friendship of sorts with your child’s classmates’ parents.
Even if you know a few people from kinder or mother’s group, there will be parents who don’t know anyone. I can imagine how nervous they might feel. A friendly hello or a chat will make a huge difference to them and you never know, you could meet your new BFF or your child’s new BFF’s parents.
It can be harder to get to know your child’s classmates’ parents in later years too with kids walking themselves/riding to and from school, so at the start, when you’re all in a similar position, is the perfect time.
I also think it’s well worth going to some if not all of the social events for the parents and carers in your child’s class if you can or sign up to be the class representative so you can organise them yourself.
At our school we usually have a coffee morning and a dinner each term and a dinner for the entire year level at the end of the year.
It’s also good to start building up your support network and being a part of other parents’ support network. It’s a great feeling to know you can call on several people if you happen to be running late to pick up or that other parents are looking out for your kids in the classroom, on excursions and camps if you can’t be there.
6. Get ready for the avalanche of information – Starting school brings with it a never ending avalanche of information and paperwork – excursion slips, class notices, homework sheets, homework books, reading records and so on.
While the move to digital newsletters, teachers emailing parents and school intranet programs like COMPASS (where you can pay accounts and sign excursion forms online) reduce the actual paperwork, there is still plenty of information to read, action and stay on top of every week.
It is Relentless with a Capital R.
I have a Typo clip board for each of my kids hanging on the wall in our kitchen on which I hang their excursion notices/reminders, class notices, sports rosters, birthday invitations, canteen price list and anything else. It really helps me keep the paperwork off the kitchen bench and is a handy way to keep up with what’s happening.
7. Have a Lunchbox Plan – Aside from extra curricular activities, when I think of school term re-commencing, I think of endless lunchbox preparation.
Talk to your child about their options in advance to streamline the process. For example, I asked my son to give me three possible sandwich filling ideas that I would rotate depending on what I had. Some kids might be able to make their own or help the process.
How much they eat will vary too and it takes a while to work out. For example, my middle son takes three more pieces of food than his older brother for instance, but eats less afternoon tea and dinner.
Also think about when you will prepare them – the night before or on the morning and ask your child to participate if that is helpful for you both. I generally start our lunch boxes the night before (I add dry food like crackers and get out whole pieces of fruit) and Mr SnS will sometimes finish them off in the morning by making the sandwiches and cutting up fruit/veggies, adding yoghurt.
If you’re looking for some lunchbox inspo, check out these fantastic posts:
– Sweet and savoury lunch box ideas by Stacey, aka Veggie Mama; and
– 50 Freezable Lunch Box Ideas by Katrina, The Organised Housewife;
– Lunchbox ideas that can be freezed by Nicole, of Planning With Kids;
8. Prepare for Dress up/Costume days – Just a friendly heads up as these seem to occur with alarming frequency.
By being prepared, I don’t mean start searching Pinterest for the perfect costume which you can lovingly hand make over the next ten weeks (but go for it if that’s your thing). I simply mean have it on your radar and PUT THE DATES IN YOUR DIARY as soon as you receive them. Invariably, you will be reminded two days before (if you forget to read the newsletter) or worst still, on the morning when you arrive in normal uniform.
At our school we have Book Day (usually in August), Chinese Day, Footy Day, several sports days as well as free dress days once per month and year level specific dress up days (dress as a school child circa 1890) etc. I don’t spend a lot of time or money on these costumes but if you have them on your radar and happen to be in the $2 shop/Chinese grocer/Target/Op Shop and see something that could come in handy ahead of time, it’ll save last minute stress.
9. Print out a copy of your child’s weekly timetable and stick it on the fridge or somewhere else handy. This will remind you all when it is library/sports/art day so you can pack what you need or wear the right shoes on the right day;
It will also help your post school chat/debrief if you know what they have been up to that day.
10. Keep after school activities to a minimum – starting school is absolutely exhausting for everyone. Even with reduced hours or a day off in the first few weeks, school is a huge adjustment for your little person.
With reading practice and other homework after school, afternoons are busy enough. We generally kept up only swimming on Saturdays for our school starters, keeping the week free. This will change soon enough, so enjoy it while you can!
11. Pace Yourself
Having been a school mum for 5 years now, I can see how the terms ebb and flow. There’s a distinctive flavour for each term.
There’s always a frenzy at the beginning of Term 1 with loads of notices, information nights, parents’ dinners, sign up sheets and new routines to get your head around. It’s hot and there’s a lot on, and it tends to go really quickly. Our school also hosts a welcome BBQ for new families.
Terms 2 is generally a loooong term in Victoria and that’s when it seems a lot of the year’s work is done. It’s also when our school has Parent/Teacher interviews and reports go out towards the end of term. It’s only broken up by the odd excursion, the Mother’s Day stall and the Queen’s birthday long weekend.
All of us – not just our school starters – are often limping towards the finish line at the end of Term 2 which is why we’ve booked a family holiday a week or so before term 2 has finished every time we’ve had a child in Prep – this year is no exception!
Term 3 seems to be busiest term for us and is heavy on the costume front – I had to come up with NINE costumes last year in Term 3 for my kids thanks to Olympic Day, Book Day, Footy Day and a couple of excursion/incursions. And there’s the Father’s Day stall and school camp for older kids as well.
Term 4 seems to go really quickly. It’s when our kids have their school swimming for 2 weeks too and combined with the Melbourne Cup long weekend, I’m always amazed at how quickly the weeks fly by. It also seems like the kids wind down from the end of November, so it’s a good time for a family holiday if you like to travel off peak. Late November seems to be the time for school concerts though while mid December is the time for morning teas and other farewell and thank you do’s.
This post was originally published in 2015 but has been updated with new info, experiences and reflections.
Are you “starting school” this week? What tips and traps would you share with newbies? What has made a difference to you? What do you wish you had known?