Parenting: What you need to know when your first child starts school

It feels as far away as anything can possibly be when you first hold your first newborn bundle. Instead you are completely absorbed with the smell of their head, the many firsts and new developments they are conquering and marveling as they go from baby to toddler. But one day, in the not too distant future, that toddler becomes a preschooler and all too soon they are stood in a tiny uniform looking so cute and little, about to enter the big world of school.

Yes you may have dealt with nursery anywhere from a few months old to when they became preschoolers, and that is whole other thing in itself that I and others have covered separately. But, there is something unique about starting school for us parents, especially the first time around. 

Perhaps because we have never been through it before. We are completely oblivious to how this whole thing works. Or that whilst we had a certain number of choices of if and where to send our little darlings before compulsory school age, now we do not. They are now in a legal system and we as parents somehow have less say in the lives of our precious children. I'm not sure why but it hits differently.

There are things I wish I had known prior to this momentous occasion sneaking up on me. I certainly wish it wasn't during the pandemic so we could have visited schools, gotten excited about school plays and walking them hand in hand into their classroom for the first time. However, ultimately we are united in similar worries, nerves and excitement as at most other times.

For most parents it feels like a natural right of passage, one we all went through as well, but for others it is a time of separation and anxiety. And for many of us it is both.

I have seen parents sobbing with heartache when they have dropped their little one off. Completely valid. I have seen some positively delighted at seeing their offspring into school. Valid. I have seen others glow with pride at how far their little one has come. Valid. We all feel and show it differently which is why you'll always see me ask other parents how they are feeling on those first days.

I know that during the pandemic when my little ones started preschool, my head was in turmoil and my heart hurt and I would have loved a hug (or socially distant smile and pat to the arm).

On that momentous day of starting school, I feel like I dressed my summer born, a newly turned four year old, still a toddler in some cultures, in a very grown up uniform and sent her into an environment where I had barely seen inside the four walls of her new classroom or barely met the people I was entrusting with my precious girl.

Yet she displayed a remarkable readiness and maturity that astounded me that day. I guess the many weeks of talking about it prepared her somewhat. Her personality is naturally forward and eager, and I have always been led by her.

But, there were still things that I learned and observed over that time that I had not been prepared for. I remember wondering who would remind her to drink or go to the toilet through the day? How would she cope if her clothes were wet after playtime, after the rainy autumn took hold? Having been used to sending her with wellies and a puddlesuit to nursery. 

I worried that she might not like the food, go hungry and have a rumbling tummy all afternoon. I thought about how she might miss me as the long winter days dragged on and that they wouldn't call me to pick her up if she was sad or send me a picture of her smiling to put my mind at rest.

Whilst it is true that it is a much different environment to nursery where you are more involved in the minutiae of their day. You would often get updates on naps, toileting, what they ate and did that day. That all stops as they go to big school and when you drop them off it feels like a gaping chasm exists, as you wonder what their day looks like. 

I wondered whether she would find it easy to make friends, and would everyone be kind to each other. I pushed to the back of my mind visions of her sat alone, hoping that she would find her place in the class.

Whilst many of my concerns were unfounded, it is true that they do come home with full bottles of drink still, as inevitably they are expected to be independent in regards to eating drinking and toileting. Sometimes they do sit in school all day with soggy socks after a drizzling playtime.  

There were days when she came home saying she missed me and her teacher didn't call me when she said she had a tummy ache. There were times that unlearning the separation and isolation of covid proved tricky when forming a bond with pals at school. 

I advocated for time for her to settle into the new routine and being summer born, insisted that she do a 4 day week in her first year. Due to missing  a lot of the crucial preschool phase, I didn't want to overload her straight away.

We found this hybrid approached worked well for dealing with the end of week fatigue and it meant I could do a bit of unschooling / home ed with her too. If we were in a position to long term, I would love to continue down this route.

But largely, what surprised me most was her resilience, her maturity, her development, as my just turned 4 year old sat reading fluently to ME. How she found a way to deal with the noise and overload school can bring. How she formed bonds with teachers and friends.

So I suppose what I wish I had known at the time is that it will all be fine, she will be fine, despite my worries and some of them being founded. The letting go process, of which this is another step, can be harder for some than others. It will feel uncomfortable but let go you will, a bit at least. 

Time, experience, the routine of it all forces you to let go, be comfortable with separation and not knowing what they do there for most of their day. 

And, I think, and I will soon enough find out, the second and any subsequent times are a little easier when you know what to expect. 

How did you find your little one starting school for the first time?

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