Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England
Here we are again, the time of year when we have to start tweeting M&S about them having no slim fit white polo shirts in 5-6 years. It seems to have come early this year, I am not even sure if I have quite sorted out childcare for the remainder of the holidays yet. As ever, then, I am probably not qualified to write this blog but I am going to do it anyway. Here are my tips for new parents-of-school-aged-children.
Like Hermione Granger, you are going to have to get yourself a Time Turner to cope with 13 weeks’ school holidays on 4-6 weeks of annual leave. Start planning for October and Christmas now.
Like Lord Voldemort, on the other hand, as you send your child on their way, you are going to feel as if your soul has been broken into two or more pieces. This will be worse if, like at our school, the reception teacher isn’t a cuddly old lady but someone you suspect doesn’t like children at all - but who will now be your child’s hero. Unless you are going to homeschool (LOL) you are stuck with your soul being broken apart, but I can say the pride of what you are about to see in your child is pretty good compensation. The learning that goes on from ages four to six is incredible. And are you ready for the Nativity? I would start preparing yourself now.
If you haven’t already, you need to get yourself to Clarks. You can make an appointment online and jump the queues for measuring. We have had a very mixed experience, though, with their measuring so double-check you think the shoes fit too.
Make sure you have enough uniform - working parents don’t really need the added pressure of washing on demand mid-week. The little ones get dry-wipe markers and boards to write on and dry-wipe pen stains do not come out of white polo shirts. Don’t make the mistake I did and buy days of the week pants or, an even worse mistake, days of the week socks. When I’m in charge (soon, now, I think) I’m going to ban multipacks of socks where every pair is slightly different but it is truly horrendous trying to look for two Thursday socks whilst you are also, say, trying to find yourself some tights with no ladders/feed a baby porridge/get something out for dinner/get a puppy to do a wee outside/try to remember which court you are going to and what you are supposed to do when you get there.
If, like my children, yours is a stickler for rules (made by people that aren’t their parents) make sure you get the PE kit right. Our school have suddenly this year asked for black or white trainers. My five year old is a goth so we happen to have some black trainers for her, but the other one will be mortified if I send her back in with her hot pink ones. The good news is that PE bags themselves haven’t changed in 30 years so a drawstring bag with their name embroidered on and made by their gran is fine. Put some socks in there for when they are wearing tights.
Although Key Stage 1 children get free school meals, I would still go to the bank now and get a stash of coins for non-uniform days, raffles, sponsored events etc. The new reception classes usually get photographed for our local paper and the school supplies us with a copy but asks for exactly 62p or something in return.
If you have had (or are about to have) a home visit from the teacher, my sympathies. I object quite strongly to these visits, as I am sure, if we are honest, the main purpose is to see what kind of home the child comes from, and I feel children should enter the school gates without any baggage or judgement having been made about their family. Not only did our teacher refuse to get my child’s name right but she also asked said child 'where we kept our books'. Now if this was not a loaded question I do not know what is. Our house is bowing under the weight of all our books but of course the dastardly child said 'dunno' and started playing on her tablet. She also asked me for £2.40 in exact change, which I didn’t have, so that I could come in for a school dinner in her first week (see above re cash).
That aside, teachers are human and it is important to me (and I’m sure, important to you) to have a good line of communication with them and, well, to some extent impress them. It is not right, but they are invariably middle aged women who are impressed with clean faces, punctuality and a completed reading record. If you aren’t going to be doing many school runs, work out how you are going to communicate with them. I know one lawyer mum whose child’s teacher didn’t tell her he was behind in maths because she hadn’t seen her to tell her. I know that is not on, but as I say teachers are human. When you have established the line of communication, feel free to ask what costume days might be coming up so you are not blindsided at the last minute.
On the subject of reading records, having gone in to hear the whole class read last year, I would say that if you are hearing your child read three or more times a week you are doing more than most. They will be too tired to read at bedtime so if you are at work after school you might want to delegate this job. The staff at the after school club at our school hear the kids read. More importantly than this, though, in my opinion, is reading to them at bedtime. I don’t want to sound like Mary Poppins here. I am sorry to say I mostly hate reading to them at bedtime. I am shattered and I’ve read these books a hundred times. Then when they get a bit older and the stories are better, because my husband and I take it in turns, I only ever get to hear every other chapter. But I’m certain that it leads to a large vocabulary, a good sense of humour, as well as all the other things stories teach us outside of our narrow existence. It should lead to a calmer bedtime too but I can’t promise that.
Beware the Whatsapp groups. Sometimes these are fine, and helpful. Sometimes, though, someone asks if you’ve seen James’ trousers and you get twenty messages back saying 'no' and you get back from a client meeting and assume there is some emergency. Worse is when one parent asks for an explanation of a homework question, only to realise their child has been given easier homework than others and feels affronted. Or when someone thanks another parent for a party invite and you realise your child wasn’t invited. My one request is this - make the dads join too. I’ve one friend who asked for her husband to be joined to the whole class Whatsapp group and this was refused because 'it was a mum’s group'. This particular friend is a full time lawyer and her husband was a stay at home dad.
My final tip is this: There will be junk modelling. Enjoy.
*Some facts and identities have been altered in the above article