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Starting School Hints and Tips

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Is your little one starting school this September? It’s a daunting time, but having had my eldest start school last year, I wanted to share some things to help plan what you might need, and make things a little easier.


Find your tribe

My absolute top tip is to find other parents/carers who have children starting in your child’s class. I could not have got through the first year of school as easily without my School Mums Whatsapp group. Chances are many of them will have older children at the school, so they can advise on what you really need and answer any ‘first timer questions’ (like me, you will have many, I’m sure!). It’s also a brilliant way to share the load on all the many many things you need to remember, as there will always be someone who’ll drop a memo in our group like “don’t forget it's school photos tomorrow”. Finally, and perhaps my favourite thing about having a School Mums Whatsapp group, is you may find yourself with a whole new group of friends- from playdates, to trips to the pub and “if anyone is at a loose end we’re at the park…” messages, there’s always someone who’s around.


School Info

Our school sent lots of information ahead of our son starting, so there will be lots you can read ahead to get prepared. Don’t be afraid to ask the school if you have questions or need extra support- they’re there to help.


Helping your child to be “school-ready”

Attend any school induction days that are planned- our face-to-face preparations were limited due to covid, so take advantage of any sessions that are offered.

Talk about school and familiarise them with their teachers’ names, what their day will be like and answer any questions they might have. Make the idea of starting school fun to help your child look forward to it. We had a great visual pack from the school with pictures of the different parts of the school and information about what happens during the day. Maybe even arrange a playdate with friends who have children already at the school, as they’ll love telling your child about their day there. My son also loved knowing older children at the school before he started as it made him more excited about going.

Practice getting ready for school by helping your child to put their uniform on and remove it (they’ll need to do this for PE, so it’s good to practice). Buttons on polo shirts can be particularly tricky.

Help them with their independence by letting them practice going to the toilet on their own. Working on confidently using a knife and fork is a good idea too. Independence will not only help them in practical ways, it will also help their confidence.

Get social- We also used our Whatsapp group to arrange meetups at the park over the summer ahead of starting school, so the children (and us parents) could get to know each other, which made first day nerves a lot less daunting.

Read books with your child about school, and if they’re anxious about being away from you, a lovely book we read is The Invisible String, which explains that no matter how far away we are from people we love, we are still connected by invisible string made of love. 

Point out letters/words/numbers in everyday things like street signs, TV, cereal packets etc. Get them to recognise their own name written down even if they can't write it yet and practice letters and sounds with them.


Uniform

It feels like there is a lot of uniform to get! Most schools will give you a list of the items you need, and many now don’t require you to have branded items (school logo, not Gucci, don’t worry!), so it’s easier to shop around.

Get plenty of each item – we often get through a polo shirt and jumper every day as he often comes out covered in white board marker pen and food. During winter, his coat often comes out looking like he’s done Tough Mudder, so best to have a spare or get it straight on a quick wash and on the radiator overnight!

Stains - I’m no Mrs Hinch, I’m afraid, but start doing your homework on good stain removers as you’ll be needing them! A fellow Mums Guide To-er swears by the Elbow Grease Stain Remover Bar, which is going on my shopping list.

PE Kit - We found we didn’t need lots of PE kit items as his PE kit stayed at school for the whole of half term (some times longer, oops!).

Shoes - Hold off on buying these until August as you don't want them having a growth spurt BUT if you need their feet measured, then make sure you book an appointment in advance as it can get busy.

Other Items - For items like wellies, raincoat and PE trainers, I found it easier to just buy ones to leave at school and duplicates for at home. One less thing to remember!

Photos - If you’re buying new school jumpers, it might be an idea to keep one aside for photo day, so it’s shiny and new.

Discounts - Keep an eye out for uniform discounts- the main retailers all have periods where they offer discounts on their uniform.

Second hand - Your school may have a second hand uniform sale or a PTA Facebook group to pass things on- it’s well worth hunting these out and getting some second hand uniform to save some money.

Labelling – make your peace now, you will likely lose uniform this year (it drives me mad!). Sadly your child probably won’t care that you spent a small fortune on their new uniform and will leave it all over the place. Give yourself a fighting chance and label everything- sticker name labels are great, as they are wash-resistant and last for ages. I saw the pain in the eyes of the parents who’d hand sewn every label on to their child’s uniform, when another parent told them about sticker labels! Sharpies/permanent markers work well to write their name on labels too. However you choose to do it, just make sure you do, and give yourself a fighting chance at retaining some of the uniform you buy!

Another tip is to label ahead- if you buy uniform in a bigger size or are lucky enough to be gifted larger size uniform, and keep it in your child’s wardrobe/drawers, then you may run the risk of them grabbing it to put on, regardless of how many times you tell them “current size uniform is this side” (I speak from experience). Unlabelled uniform is almost a dead cert you won’t be seeing it again!


Other bits and bobs

Water bottles - your school may have requirements on the type of water bottle your child can take (ours must be clear), so make sure you check that.

Appearance - your school may have rules around hairstyles, nail varnish etc, so double check before having an end-of-the-summer-holidays crazy haircut!

Beware the tired Reception-er! - Don’t be surprised if your child is very tired after school for the whole of the first term, whilst Reception is a real transition year between nursery and Year 1 in terms of play vs desk learning, it’s a lot for them to adjust to, and my son was exhausted. Watch out for big emotions too- it was a relief to hear that many other families were in the same boat. Having a very level-headed 5 year old, it caught me off guard that he could be very emotional throughout the first term as he adjusted.

It's a secret society - Don’t be surprised if your eager questions about their day are met with “I don’t remember” / “dunno” / <shoulder shrug>. School is a secret society and our Mums' group survives on one child providing a titbit of info, which is promptly shared in the Whatsapp group, so we can have some idea of what they get up to! I’m sure they have playground discussions about keeping us guessing!


Parties

Share with other families - Be prepared to go to a lot of parties! Very quickly, my son had more social events in the first term than we’d had all year. Parties can be expensive affairs, especially when they may want to invite all their class as they get to know each other. Ask other parents/carers (there’s that Whatsapp group again!)  if any of their children have birthdays around the same time as your child and see if they want to share the organisation (and cost!).

Stock up on birthday gifts too, it’s useful to have a backup selection for when you undoubtedly forget to buy one and the party is today (oops!).

Who to invite? Most of the parties in Reception included the whole class. It’s a really nice way for all the children to get to know each other, but equally there’s no pressure for everyone to have a party, so do what’s right for you.

You can find a wide selection of party venues, providers and suppliers in the Parties section on the website.


Finally, try not to worry too much, yes there’s a lot to do, but you’re all in the same boat, and there’s no better support group than other parents/carers! It’s an exciting time and we’ve had a great first year making new friends and learning lots. Don’t be afraid to speak to the school if you have questions or need extra support, they’re there to help settle your child in to school life and will have seen every type of child and issue before, so don’t be afraid to reach out.

I hope my guide helps, if there’s anything you feel I’ve missed, or have any questions, please get in touch.


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