How to be (Mostly) Prepared for School

It seems like the second that Christmas is over and the streamers from New Year have been cleaned up I start to spot back to school posters, pamphlets and adverts all over the place. Crikey, can’t we at least enjoy the last stretch of the holiday before the cold, hard reminder that work and school are just around the corner.

Alas, it seems like there is never any down time for us moms (or dads) and we need to start mentally and physically gearing up for the new school year.

Whether your little one is going back to school after the holidays or is starting school for the first time, the beginning of the first school term can be a rollercoaster of emotion for both parents and children.

I have done it twice now and let me tell you, it is no easier the second time round. When my eldest daughter first started play school at the age of 3 I was a wreck. I couldn’t bear the thought of dropping off my daughter to be in someone else’s care for a whole 3 and a half hours 3 times a week… I mean, a lot can happen in that amount of time can’t it? My friends thought I was nuts!

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Looking a little apprehensive on her first day of play school.

In retrospect, it was a really great idea. I had a 6-month old baby and it gave me the one on one time with her that I had taken for granted with my first daughter. Plus, my eldest daughter was playing with other children her age; taking part in creative activities that I didn’t have the time or energy to do with her at home and was enjoying the time away from her crying, boring baby sister.

No sooner had I gotten used to the 3 day a week play school 200m from our house that it was time for me to pack up my daughter to big school. Big school being grade 000 (not really big school but it certainly seemed big to me). We were taking the leap to 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, yikes!

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Not as nervous the second time around.

My daughter took the change in her stride and despite some initial reservations regarding making new friends, she casually said goodbye to me on her first day and didn’t look back. I am not sure what I was more upset about, the fact that my little girl was growing up or that she was so confidant and comfortable about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I may have made it sound reasonably easy however we have had days filled with tears, begging me not to leave and to stay with her at school (my heart broke a little each time this happened). We have had days where she has loved school and days where she has hated school. Sick days, very sick days and even more sick days (school is a germ’s best friend).

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Playing with my friend at my new school.

On the other hand, we have also had new friends, playdates, birthday parties and a new found love for ballet.

Starting school is a huge event in your little one’s life and, as I mentioned above, it is one that can be fraught with emotion. Having done it twice, here are some of the things that, I felt, helped me and my daughter cope with the change and thrive with our new routine.

1. Be prepared
Well before my daughter started school I introduced her to the concept of school. I read her books where children went to school and showed her some of the things that they did in their school day. I drove her to the school so that she could see where it was and get a feel for how close it was to home.

2. Get Your Children Involved
Although I knew that my daughter would be a bit scared and apprehensive about starting school, I wanted her overwhelming feeling to be one of excitement. I took her shopping for her school bag and lunchbox and a new pair of school shoes. As she didn’t need school books to cover or stationary to mark at her age, I let her help me label her clothes and stick stickers on her lunchbox. She picked out her lunchbox food and helped me pack it the night before.

3. Make your Children Feel Secure
One of the biggest fears that I encountered was that my daughter didn’t know when I was coming back. When she started play school I was lucky enough that I got to stay with her at first and then take her home with me. Then gradually I would leave her for longer times and she would learn that mom would always come back to get her. At her big school I wasn’t able to do this and so on bad days where she didn’t want me to leave, I used her routine to help her map out when I would come back. She knew that after outside play they ate lunch and then had a story and that when the story was done, mom would be there. This method worked really well and I think that when she is old enough to tell the time, I will get my daughter an inexpensive watch so that she can see the time mom will be there on those wobbly days.

4. Get Involved
I wanted my daughter to see that school was as important to us as it was to her and so I tried to make as much of an effort to be involved with her school events. I went to her ballet concert and her sports day. I made sure my name was on the library reading list every term and I always made sure that we planned out and made our bakerman every term too. Seeing how much I liked being involved really made my daughter want to do more at school and I found that she had fewer negative days overall.

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Running with mom at sports day.

5. Allow the Occasional Sick Day
As adults, we all have those days where we aren’t sick, but we just need some time off to stay in our pyjamas and rest. Children are no different and I clearly remember having days like that when I was growing up. I am very lucky in that I have a mom who recognised that and so, once a term, we were allowed to have a free day where we just got to stay at home, without being sick, to just chill. I have decided to take the same approach and I found the effect of the freebie day quite spectacular. A mid-week day, spent quietly at home, could turn a run down, moody 4-year-old into a vibrant, happy and excited little girl, just 24 hours later. Amazing!

And that is it really. Now I know that my tips above might not work for everyone, but they certainly made life easier in my household. Hopefully I can repeat it when my youngest daughter starts school in a year’s time, however, knowing my luck, it is going to be completely different and going to require a whole new set of tips and tricks.

For more advice on how to handle that first goodbye, have a look at these tips from Clamber Club.

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