As a Mum to a child who started secondary school last year, I can tell you that the starting school panic doesn’t get any better with age.
Back in the mists of time, when Flea was starting “big” school for the first time, I was a wreck.
I kept reading all these articles about how I should be preparing for this, or that. About how important it was to lay out cereal the night before, practice putting on shoes (Flea, not me), make sure your little one is confident going to the bathroom alone. I mean – seriously – who has time to lay out cereal the night before?
It felt like I was throwing my baby to the wolves. It was barely 2 weeks after her fourth birthday and I remember seeing her for the first time in her school pinafore and wanting nothing more than to bundle her up in my arms and keep her home for the next fifteen years.
As any regular reader of my blog will have predicted, starting school didn’t go 100 percent to plan.
For starters, we slept in, meaning there was a mad rush round the house to get dressed and – honestly – me having the mother of all wardrobe crises.
I was convinced that my outfit selection would determine my social standing at the school gate for the next eight years, and I was determined to get it right. Which I did, if you didn’t count the toothpaste streak down the front of my shirt and the button that I’d forgotten to fasten, meaning I was flashing my bra for about 20 minutes before I realised.
Flea ate cereal in a cup, in the car. Which was probably my fault for not laying it out on the table the night before.
Flea – predictably – took it all in her stride. It was me that worried about how she’d find starting school. I wanted Flea to be happy. To make friends. To feel confident and safe in this new place. What if she got home sick? What if she was tired after a long day and an early start? What if she got confused about where to go, and got lost?
Not that I showed any of this, of course. Our last couple of months before school were filled with stories and pictures and pep talks about how amazing school was going to be. “You’re going to have so many friends!” “You’re going to get to do lots of painting like this at school!” and “It’s okay to feel nervous, because everyone does when they go somewhere new. Just be yourself, you’ll be great.”
And like millions of parents before me, I thanked my lucky stars for a great first teacher. Flea’s reception teacher was kind and smiled and welcomed Flea like an old friend. The reception class also had a teaching assistant who had come up from the pre-school, so the children saw a familiar face for that first year.
This year M&S has asked to me to help them promote a lovely campaign celebrating teachers called “Trust me, I’m a Teacher” and they’ll be sharing some stories of first days at school and how a little imperfection doesn’t hurt! And it’s also a good spot for picking up uniform at the last minute (which is the only way to do these things, surely).
I think that’s why Flea scampered into school that first day without so much as a backward glance. She actually didn’t even say goodbye. And while a tiny part of me felt the blow as she became just a little more independent in that moment, the bigger part of my heart was just relieved, and proud. And wanted to wear a clean jumper the next day.
Flea spent her first day of school being introduced to new children, and catching up on stories and play, and eating lunch. For most of her infant school years, lunch was actually the highlight of her day, and the one thing she could reliably remember when I asked, “How did it go?” at the end of the day.
If you’ve got a little one starting ‘big’ school this year, I’d say don’t panic. Your children won’t remember that you didn’t lay out cereal overnight or practice how to take off their shoes the right way. They muddle through. And teachers are there to help and support them in those early, scary days. Please don’t think of starting school as a military operation with tasks to tick off a list. It’s guiding your child into a new adventure, and the little details aren’t what you’ll remember, when you look back.
Personally, I think it’s more important to give your child a sense of excitement and confidence about the experience. This is going to be a really great adventure and you’re going to do amazing. Because you ARE amazing. And eating breakfast in the car is a special treat that not everyone gets to have…