It’s that time of year when parents of 3 and 4-year olds across the land are starting to get a little bit anxious. I’m not talking about Christmas. However, if you want some tips on how to make some extra cash for the big day this will help.
Instead, I’m talking about applications for primary school places. With the closing dates for applications looming in January, adverts for open days have been popping up nearby. It made me realise I was debating the question of which school to choose a whole year ago. So while you prep manically for Christmas, the important decision of which primary school to apply for will also be on the back of your mind.
I made endless visits to different schools but didn’t have a clue what I was meant to be looking at or asking. Luckily for me, I didn’t have too much choice and my catchment school seemed to be very good. Of course, that didn’t stop me worrying. Should I put Lily in the pre-school? What if we didn’t get in? Would she be overwhelmed by the size of the class? Was the smaller school up the road a better choice? Would Lily make friends?
what i wish I’d known
We’re now three-quarters of the way through our first ever Autumn term. In many ways, I’m still getting used to school etiquette. But here’s my reflections on the build up to her starting school and what I’ve learned about the school run.
how to make a decision
- Your child’s happiness is the most important thing as they settle into school. Don’t be distracted by the headlines of grades and Ofsted reports. Instead, be guided by whether it’s the right type of environment for your child. Try and gauge how friendly the teachers and staff are. Ring the school with any questions you have. Their response can be insightful. I was put off one school simply by a snooty receptionist.
- Open days are designed to show the school in a good light. If you have doubts about the school, ask if it is possible to visit or have a tour at a different time. There’s more chance to see the school in action as it normally is.
- Speak to people who have children at the same school. What do they like about it and what annoys them?
- Don’t panic if you don’t get the school you want. I’m not speaking from experience but I know from talking to other mums that appeals are unlikely to be successful. So look again at the other options in your area. Bear in mind that places do still become available after the formal offer date and through the school year. So fight to get yourself to the top of the waiting list should a place become available.
familiarise your child with going to school, but…
- Try not to make such a big deal about starting school. This is tough since it’s the most momentous occasion for you and them since they were born. But for most of last year, it’s all anyone spoke to Lily about. We pointed out the school whenever we drove past; school was the favourite topic of conversation with grandmas and grandads; she learned a new song at nursery all about going to school; she visited the school lots; and the teachers visited us at home too. I also constantly reminded her that big girls who went to school behaved or did things differently. No wonder she was nervous queuing up that first day!
- Don’t worry about your child if they don’t know anyone. This was a constant worry for me, since Lily had gone to a nursery which wasn’t in the local area. A lot of the children will be in a similar situation. If you keep talking to your child about making new friends this will become an issue when it needn’t be.
- At the age of 4 & 5, children flit between friends very casually. They also love meeting new children, meaning Lily was welcomed with open arms into the different friendship groups which already existed. They will also fall out with people too, something I’ve not had to deal with before. As a mum of a girl, it’s tough watching this happen or trying to explain why. But, if you’ve ever watched The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds you’ll realise it’s completely normal and something they need to go through. And lo and behold, they’ll all be friends again the following day!
- If getting out of the house is already an exercise in military planning, be prepared to take it up a notch!
- Gone are the days when there’s flexibility if you are ever running late. Instead, you absolutely need to have your child in that queue at the start of the day and be there waving at them when they finish.
- There may be a stern look from the school receptionist when you sign your child in late in the morning. Asked why their son was once late, my friend tried to garner some sympathy blaming it on a mix up with her husband. No sympathetic smiles were forthcoming though!
- I’m not perfect and have been a little late collecting Lily on a couple of occasions. The teachers understand. However, it is heartbreaking seeing them standing to the side desperately searching for you across the playground.
- Watch the weather reports. If there’s likely to be frost and you have to drive then the alarm unfortunately needs setting just a little bit earlier. And be prepared with an array of outfits suitable for all weathers. It’s no fun turning up at school looking like a drowned rat!
- The school run is tiring and relentless. You’ll be looking forward to a break from it come half term as much as them!
- It’s a bloody nightmare! If there’s any way you can avoid taking your car, do it! If, like me, you have no choice, then be prepared with snacks for little ones stuck in the car with you while you wait or queue. And sit back and enjoy the occasional spats you’ll see break out!
- You’re unlikely to get any kind of response to the question what did you do at school today? Instead, be prepared for snippets of information to be forthcoming at random times like when they’re on the loo or you’re in the middle of getting dinner cooked.
- The school playground is a scary place. Don’t panic if you find you inadvertently lead your children into the middle of a raucous game of British bulldog. Remain calm, look for the nearest imaginary boundary and try and move out of the way as swiftly as possible.
- It can feel like you’re back at school again as you stand in the playground not knowing anyone. The faces will soon start to become familiar!
- Your own experiences of school will flood back: the school whistle; queuing in the playground; the playground games; the smell of the school hall/canteen (which must be universal no matter which school you go to!)
- You’ll lose track of all the different events: school assemblies; class visits; non-uniform days; fairs; charity days; and school photograph day to name but a few. Thankfully, the school does email you about all this. But make sure you check your junk email; most recently this saved us from the embarrassment of turning up to school in uniform on a non-uniform day after stumbling across the email the night before!
- You will have lots of homework to complete! Yes, you! Every week there’s sounds to be identified and practised, maths games to be played and books to be read. Clearly this is all aimed at helping my daughter learn but, as she’s still only 4, it does require quite a lot of effort from parents too! And don’t get me started on the school squirrel.
prepare to be amazed
- We’ve been blown away by just how much Lily has thrived at school. She loves it! They will astonish you with the different things they pick up and how everything they are learning suddenly starts to sink in. They suddenly seem very grown up which does make you pine for their younger selves somewhat. But it’s also very exciting starting this next stage of their lives.