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What I wish I had known when I became a school mum

About to embark on your first year as a parent at the school gates? Set your alarm even earlier, join the class Whatsapp group and, for your own sake, buy twice as many school jumpers.

By Jo Dunbar

In September 2018 my son William began Primary School. His uniform was labelled, his hair cut smartly, and I had noted the term dates in my diary. I was ready to be a school mum. Or so I thought.

William’s first year at school was a huge learning curve for us both. Two years later and I’m about to send my youngest son to school. Here’s what I learned the first time around, and wish I had known then…

PAPERWORK

I had thought I ran a pretty tight ship family-admin wise, but I had soon doubled the size of a noticeboard in our kitchen for the amount of school literature coming home via William’s book bag. Literacy meetings. PTA cake sales. A list of dozens of dates for class assemblies, book week and – of course – the much-awaited Nativity play. This year, school fairs, sports days and the Nativity are very much up in the air thanks to Covid but keeping an eye on your child’s book bag is your only route to knowing what is going on. Some schools also list all letters online so it’s worth scouring their website, too.

HOW MANY JUMPERS?

I was staggered by the sheer amount of ‘spares’ we needed: when my son’s regulation smart grey socks went ‘missing’; when one pair of mittens lasts roughly three days; when their labelled water bottle apparently vanishes into thin air. Oh, and the school jumpers that go walkabout too. Buy an extra jumper. Your future self will thank you on a Wednesday evening when you can’t find any others…

SAY MY NAME

Grab a needle and thread or a fistful of permanent markers because you need to label everything. It became clear very quickly that worn-out Reception class kids grab the nearest cardigan, water bottle or coat on their way out of the classroom door. And post-PE lessons, shoes can go awry so label those too: plenty of my sons’ classmates had the same shoes as him and William once brought three shoes home.

THE ONLY WAY IS WHATSAPP

You might try to resist but getting involved in the parents’ WhatsApp group, but it will save your bacon over the next 12 months. Whether it’s a non-uniform or charity pyjama day you forgot about, or what they need to take on a school trip, this group will be your go-to source of school know-how. Plus, ‘Has anyone seen his jumper..?’ is a common question.

TIRED AND EMOTIONAL

Following weeks of lockdown, plus some pretty restricted summer holidays, starting school is going to be a big deal for this year’s intake. Despite having gone to pre-school or nursery, the new school experience can take it out of children. My son was completely worn out – which translated as stroppy and hungry – so early nights and plenty of food might be in order. And after a day of sitting still, listening and taking in their new surroundings, it stands to reason that your little one’s behaviour might slide when they get home.

DON’T COMPARE

Much like when you took your son or daughter to baby groups, there will always be some parents jostling for position about whose child is brightest, sportiest or doing 27 extracurricular activities. It’s easy to get caught up and start comparing your child’s handwriting or reading to others but try to relax: your child is at the very start of their school journey.

LIMITED INTEL

You’ll be desperate to hear who she or he played with or what they had for lunch. Expect zero information to be forthcoming. “I can’t remember,” was my son’s daily response. It took me a few months, but I started phrasing my questions differently and then got a bit more description. For example, don’t ask ‘What did you do?’ but try, ‘What was the best thing that happened today?’

PICK UP THE PHONE

Don’t underestimate what might affect your child. Their teacher wants to be made aware of anything at home that might be unsettling for them. In my experience, Reception teachers don’t want to stand in the playground each morning placating a line of parents. But they are often available at break times on the phone or by email.

BE ENTHUSIASTIC

When school is a novelty and everyone comments on his or her smart uniform, there’s likely to be fewer issues with resisting school. After a few weeks, don’t be alarmed if the initial excitement rubs off – help them look forward to school whether it’s taking in something for show and tell or choosing food they love to eat for lunch.

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