By Juliet Ranieri

Sending your firstborn off to school is a bit like having a baby. You excitedly work out the date it will all happen. You spend time preparing for the event, making lists, arranging uniforms (and questioning why you’re spending more on the school uniform than you have on your own wardrobe in recent times!). You pack their bag (and wonder how on earth your child’s tiny shoulders are going to cope with a bag that’s seriously bigger than them!)

The day draws closer and the nerves become more pronounced – yours not theirs. But you try to be cool so they don’t notice. You read over, and then over again, all the information you’ve received to ensure you’ve got everything covered.

The day arrives, the camera is packed, the butterflies in your tummy flutter. One push (might be big, might be small, depending on the enthusiasm of your child) and just like that, your firstborn is through the school gates, out of the safe little cocoon that has surrounded them for their first 5 years … and into a big, new world. And instantly you have become a school mum.

In the past, we’ve seen lots of preparing for school posts in the Hills District Mums group. Here are some pearls of wisdom from the seasoned professionals to the soon-to-be school mums:

RECESS AND LUNCH

There was a lot of advice surrounding food and lunch boxes – and just as well, as I’m sure many of us have children who experience the hunger crankies!

The general consensus was this – go for basic food and simplicity! Recess and lunch is precious playtime for little ones at school, particularly in that first year when they’re making new friends. They won’t be impressed if they have to waste hours eating when they could be playing. Erin attested to this and said foods that are able to be eaten quickly are best, so leave those fancy bento boxe creations for the weekend.

To ensure the sanity of teachers is maintained, other mums strongly suggested opening packets before putting them in the lunchbox. Unlike our beloved preschool or daycare teachers, school teachers don’t have the luxury of a 1:10 child ratio and don’t really have time to be opening 30+ snack packets.

Hint – a mini bulldog clip holds open chip/biscuit packets together perfectly! Zip lock bags are a great alternative to cling wrap – we all know the superior skill required to open a cling-wrapped sandwich!

The notion of saving some food for lunch can often be lost on little ones in their first year of school, so several mums suggested clearly separating recess and lunch, otherwise your little one might find they are opening an empty lunchbox come lunchtime! Separating can be as simple as popping recess into a trusty old paper bag! Remember, simple and basic.

Don’t forget a drink! No need for sticky juice or cordial, stick with water. Lisa received lots of ‘likes’ with her comment about drink bottles. She suggested that you half fill and freeze your child’s drink bottle overnight then top it up with water in the morning. And just like that, you have an instant icy drink and useful cold pack to keep their lunch fresh at the time. Clever.

BELONGINGS

If there was one tip that was agreed upon by all, it was this: LABEL EVERYTHING! Yes, everything, down to undies and socks, rulers and pencils, lunch boxes and hats. Failure to use your trusty laundry marker (or if you’re feeling enthusiastic and a wee bit fancy, personalised iron on and sticky labels are great!) may result in your child’s belongings being whipped up and carried away into the chasm that is the school lost property box. New school mums – you want to avoid that for as long as you can! Very few un-labelled items ever find their way out of the box. You have been warned!

Tiffany suggested a special keyring to help your child identify his/her bag. This is particularly important if your child uses a ‘official’ school bag. Heard of the saying “needle in a haystack”? A kindy kid finding their school bag amongst hundreds can be just like that, so save them the heartache and buy that tacky, glittery, monogrammed keyring they’ve been begging for.

Oh, and on the topic of names, when labelling and encouraging your child to write their name, make sure you use upper and lower case letters. Kindy teachers will breathe a sigh of relief when they see your child writing using the correct combination of letters rather than all capitals!

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CLOTHING

Fortunately, most kindy kids are more than excited to wear their uniform! For us mums (and dads!), it certainly does pull on the heart strings a little to see our children (who we swear were born just yesterday!) in their uniform for the first time.

Uniforms can be very expensive (yes it hurts spending more on your children’s uniform than your own wardrobe!) so several mums suggested checking out your school’s second hand uniform shop for bargain buys. It was also suggested to check out generic uniform items at shops like Lowes and Best & Less if your school is not super strict on where you buy the uniform.

Good quality, comfortable shoes are really important for growing feet so many mums suggested buying the best shoes you can afford. After all, by my rough calculations, your child will be wearing their school shoes for at least 6 hours a day, 3-4 days a week which is a whooping 700+ hours worth of use a year. If your child is not confident with tying laces, do yourself, your child and the teachers a favour and buy shoes with velcro!

Hats are a compulsory uniform item and Rachel suggested buying two hats. One to keep in the car and one to take to school. Failure to have a school hat results in no play at recess and lunch. You so don’t want to be the parent facing the child dealt this punishment at afternoon pick up! Having a spare hat in the car means you won’t have to go home to get it and your child will never have to face the dreaded ‘no hat, no play’ scenario.

Uniforms get dirty. Some schools have beautiful, white shirts and socks (what WERE they thinking?!). Melissa suggests stocking up on good old sunlight soap to keep those whites white.

ORGANISATION

Having a child at school involves amping up your household organisation to a new degree. You don’t want to be that parent who forgets mufti day and sends their child to school in their uniform! Jennifer suggests buying a calendar and marking all school events and special days on there as soon as you receive notice. Melissa goes one clever step further and takes photos of all the notes sent home as they’re prone to disappearing into thin air!

Your child may or may not receive homework in kindy, but if they do, setting up a dedicated homework station means this process is made somewhat less painful. Your homework station could be as simple as a plastic tub that all homework items are placed in that also holds pencils, scissors, glue and the other bits and pieces required. You can also place school library books in this tub to save yourself the stress of the dreaded term 4 ‘lost or misplaced library book’ note that will make its way home should library books not be returned!

As summer holidays are in full swing, it’s likely that slow mornings are being enjoyed by all and that alarm clocks have been switched off. Elizabeth suggests that in order to ensure little bodies don’t go into shock at having to wake up early again when school finally begins, you start the morning routine a week or two in advance. That way, little bodies and their circadian rhythms get back into school mode in plenty of time.

When school does finally begin, if you do need before and after school care, it’s important to look into this early, as in some schools it’s very popular and books up very quickly.

HYGIENE

Up to this point in their lives, most children have had assistance, if needed, when using the toilet. Chances are they haven’t really had to worry about closing toilet doors either (going to the loo at daycare and preschool is quite the social affair, with communal and unisex bathrooms). For their sake, Tanya really encourages you to teach children how to go into a toilet cubicle and lock the door (and more importantly unlock it!). This is a skill children really need to master prior to school. It’s good for boys to learn to use urinals too, as some schools still have these in the boys toilets.

On the topic of toilets, Crystal emphasised the importance of including a spare pair of undies and socks in your child’s school bag. Socks you ask quizzically? Socks and undies are both necessary as socks generally get a little soaked too when the visit to the loo does not happen fast enough!

YOU – MUM AND DAD!

Christy’s suggestion of wearing sunglasses on your child’s first day was a popular one. Raining and overcast – wear sunglasses. Snowing – wear sunglasses. Blowing a gale and -5C – wear sunglasses.

Chances are, you may shed a tear or 80. As well as covering your eyes for your own reputation, it’s also a good idea not to let your kindy kid see you cry. They’re going to be at school for 13 years so you want them to start their school career believing that it’s a great occasion and a great place to go –  not one to cry about.

After you’ve got home and tended to your broken heart with chocolate and a cuppa (you swear again that they were just born yesterday!), check out your school’s Facebook page. It’s likely to be your new favourite page to bookmark (after Hills District Mums of course!) as a valuable source of school based information. Whilw you’re at it, find yourself a buddy parent who has older children at the school. They can be so helpful in answering those obscure questions that seem to crop up often when you’re a first time school mum: what do they wear for the sport carnival? What does kiss n drop mean? What happens if I forget to send my child’s library bag?

Before you know it, their first day will be over. You’ll have been at the school gate 45 minutes early, just because you couldn’t really focus on anything at home anyway. The bell will go and the sea of identical hats and bags and uniforms approaching you will be overwhelming at first.

Then out of the corner of your eye, you’ll see a weary little kindy kid, uniform 2 sizes too big (they WILL grow into it!), hat on back to front and bag on their back almost as big as them. They’ll stop, you’ll start running and before you know it, you and your little buddy will be reunited again after what has seemed an eternity.

Now is not the time however for a Spanish Inquisition. They’ll be tired and emotional and won’t have necessarily made a best friend (but that will come) or be able to tell you the 101 things they did on their first day. Keep it simple and perhaps ask them to “tell me one good thing that happened today” (thanks Elizabeth for the lovely suggestion). Take them home, read the school notes they’ve already received and get ready to face it all again tomorrow (and the next day and the next day and the next day…….!).


 

Juliet Ranieri is a stay at home Hills mum of 3 boys. In a previous life, she was teacher but is now experiencing schooling and education from an entirely different perspective – that of a parent! Juliet loves organising and labelling and is a self confessed stationary addict. She adores all things pink and spending time shopping with her boys.

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