Do you remember finding out you were pregnant? Thinking about the amazing new life you were going to bring into the world?
As either a Mum or a Dad, or even someone who has a child who isn’t biologically theirs through adoption or fostering or any other way I haven’t covered I’m betting you made some amazing plans for that new life.
From the early days, deciding how you would feed that baby, whether you would use cloth nappies, what type of buggy or carrier to buy, what colour to paint the nursery. You imagined them growing up to do amazing things – become doctors, dentists, vets, win a nobel prize, cure cancer, solve the plastic problem…
Well, let me tell you something; something that those with older children probably already know. Something that I seriously think all of those parenting books have glossed over. Not something you don’t know about already, just something you haven’t yet considered…to do all of these amazing things you’ve imagined for them, your child is going to have to go to school. (Que dramatic music)
Now, I am fully aware of how the school system works here in the UK but just in case you’re not au fait with the way things go, here’s a run down for you. At 3 years old and sometimes before, all children qualify for some government funded nursery hours. You can use these or not – I don’t believe its compulsory. This nursery provision carries on until they start school, usually the Summer holidays of the year they turn 5 (ish).
My first child has been in nursery, merrily plodding along doing her 3 hours a day since she was 3. I have somewhat glossed over the details of her starting nursery but I do remember I cried. I struggled with the fact she was away from me as it wasn’t something that had routinely happened before and certainly had never happened with near strangers, whether they had qualifications or not! However, look at us now, two years in and we’re old pros. And so to the next hurdle. Giving her up to the school system for double that time, 5 days a week for the next 12-14 years of her life.
Now, the lovely thing about nursery, for us at least is that I’ve been able to drop her off and pick her up each day. Assess her physical and mental state, see her interacting with her wee friends, speak to her teachers – basically, even if she hasn’t told me herself I have had a pretty good impression of how her day has gone. We don’t get to accompany our children into school, or speak to their teachers daily, they’re going from a classroom that maybe had 20-30 pupils to one that is perhaps the same size but instead of two, three or sometimes even four members of staff, there will be one teacher. One. I’ll let you think about that for a second. Think about how some days you find it difficult to bend your one, or maybe you have multiples so two, three, five children (the number doesn’t really matter, I’m counting on it being less than 10) to your will, to engage them in meaningful play and learning for a few minutes, an hour…now imagine doing that with twenty plus children for six hours a day in the confines of a classroom for the most part. Eek. (Medals for all early years teachers!)
Now go on from that and imagine your child in that melee. Have you raised them with enough resilience to cope? Enough confidence to speak up? Enough kindness to help others? Do you see where I’m going here? It’s a bloody minefield!
None of the academic things bother me in terms of school, I know that every child will eventually attain the skills they need within the classroom setting, getting additional support if they need it. I know that teacher has had adequate training and knows what the curriculum is (s)he should be following. I know they have ways to deal with conflict and negative behaviours in school settings. I also know that I have a confident and assertive pre schooler but equally one that can be very sensitive. How will she cope with being told off for talking when she shouldn’t be? Who will she ask when she can’t open her snack? What if shes bullied, or worse, what if she takes part in bullying? These and many other questions have been keeping me up at night for weeks now.
Lots of people think they know me, they see a confident Mum who has for the most part got things together. But, let me clue you into something. Most of the time there is a fission of nervous energy bubbling just below my skin, worrying about what could possibly go wrong and making me doubt my parenting capabilities! Some days are better than others, but with situations like this, my anxiety can definitely get the best of me! I have a few suggestions for you however, should you get to this same precarious time with your child and you feel as though you are standing on the precipice staring into the abyss!
1. Talk to your child. The likelihood is they are way less worried about the whole situation than you and you are making it into some massive melodrama that it really doesn’t need to be! This goes for while their at school as well – I’ve been assured that the answer to what they did that day is usually a non committal “can’t remember” or “nothing” and this is totally normal but keep the dialogue open!
2. Be positive. Ask in your current provision what their strategies are for bridging the gap between school and nursery – its likely they’ll have one and this can be hugely reassuring!
3. Talk to your tribe! If they haven’t already been through it, they’re going through it with you or will be at some point so they’ll be able to tell you that its not all bad or share in your angsty cake eating sessions while you all google home-schooling.
4. Seriously think about home-schooling. I looked at a lot of websites, blogs and insta accounts that sing the praises of home-schooling. For one reason and another its just not right for us just now but I can definitely see the pros!
5. Attend any information sessions the school of your choice holds and ask questions, don’t worry about them being dumb, they’ve likely heard them before and someone else is sitting there desperate to ask too and grateful you did it for them!
6. Positively reinforce starting school at home. If your pre-schooler is anything like mine then then you know they soak up knowledge like a sponge! Talk about the things you enjoyed at school, your favourite lessons and how it was so much fun to make new friends! Acknowledge your childs worries, you don’t need to write the off, find the answer together! Your kid is worried about not knowing anyone in their class – set up a playdate or book onto a holiday activity where they’ll be with their peers; not sure about uniform – check the school policy; worried they won’t find their way to the toilet, ask if the school will do a tour! It’s not so daunting if you face it together!
7. Remember you got through it. Whether you loved or loathed school, you’re here and you made it through. Your little is going to as well. And bonus, (s)he has you as a parent to be a total rock throughout the whole experience!
8. As with everything, be it a new baby, a new job, a new car, the feeling of things being new and overwhelming soon wears off and things become second nature, the way things were is forgotten and the way things are is just the way life is – so to for school!
Writing this has genuinely helped me work out some of my anxiety. I have gone from bumbling mess, neurotic wife to mute Mum whilst considering the topic of starting school. There have been tears and tantrums and most of them have been from me! I won’t lie, I’m still not 100% comfortable with the idea of delivering my baby to the school gates in August and waving her off happily but broken down into manageable chunks everything does seem easier! She's also 5 today so all the emotions for me really! I sometimes feel like I’m the only person in the world who feels the way I do about school so I’m genuinely looking forward to peoples thoughts on the topic! I know there are a number of teachers on the Freddie Fox Team and who regularly read the blog too so – top tips appreciated!