Wow what a crazy, exhausting, mentally challenging first month of Finn starting at school. I thought I'd share what I've learnt from Finn starting reception with you as I have to say it has been so much more of an emotional rollercoaster than I ever imagined! A new routine, a realisation that he's left the fluffy cocoon of his private nursery and is entering into the real world with more independence, less adult support around and more structure to his days. He has gone from his nursery environment where he has been loved and cuddled since he was one, knows everyone and how it all works and he was 'king' at the end when he left being the oldest ...to being the youngest in a big local Primary school (the school is amazing by the way!). We are all knackered and it's been such a big adjustment to have to cope and deal with. I've had so many people giving (super helpful) tips and advice and each day has had a new tactic to try and deal with very emotional morning school drop offs. I am happy to say that we have finally turned a corner and he is settling in nicely now after a tricky start (phew). To all those parents who have just experienced the new term well done! Or to those who have a child starting next year, please take a read, I honestly didn't think anything of it but be prepared for the worse! You never know how your child will adjust to this change - and its good to have some tips up your sleeve for this transition to help make it a little easier for you and them. I'm no expert on any account, this is simply my experience of it.
1) It takes time
It's taken a good 3 - 4 weeks for him to settle into going to school everyday. Yes EVERYDAY, this has been an ongoing question I've had to answer - 'Do I have to go everyday mummy?'. The first week or two of settling them in normally entails shorter days where they just stay for the morning but as the days get longer a realisation sets in that this is what they are going to be doing for a very long time (if only they knew how long for?!). As with anything, change does take time for all of us. Finn cried in his second and third weeks, everyday - the teacher literally had to pull him off my leg - It was heartbreaking stuff, he just didn't want to leave my side. The teacher said that as soon as he was in the room and register taken he was fine and I always picked him up full of beans. If you get the dreaded (but lovely at the same time!) 'I'm going to miss you so much mummy' on the walk there (often an indicator that he was starting to panic slightly) I found it really helpful to explain how much I would miss him too and talk about and list all the family members that would be thinking of him all day and then play a game to distract him like 'I Spy'. I also learnt some other tips including kissing his hand or tummy button and 'filling it with love' to remind him of me in the day, or drawing a heart on his hand to touch if he every felt sad and needed reminding of home and reassurance. If I forget to do it now he reminds me! I also think having a routine like always walking the same way, even discussing similar things every day (e.g. what he's going to have for dinner, what we are doing at the weekend, who he's going to see at school etc) also helps and agreeing in those first few weeks a different after school treat for him to look forward to - ice-cream, new game on the iPad, a kinder egg, a playdate with his best (out of school) friends, a pizza dinner out...etc. All these distractions really helped.
Also not turning up too early (but equally not leaving the house late and stressed out!) - I found the waiting around before the classroom opened really triggered a nervousness and tears. Sometimes a little walk around the playground together if we were early and a chat to show me where he plays helped too. But the biggest difference and best advice that has been most effective is play dates! Making new friendships and knowing they have someone they can recognise and talk to in the morning and in class. We put a feeler out on the class email group to see if anyone wanted play dates and ended up having a few - all in the local park and park cafe, neutral territory! He now has some new friends and its also been nice for me to meet some new mums and share what we all find out from our kids on a daily basis (which is often not a lot!). There will be good days and bad days but that is normal! It just takes time to adjust.
Someone also recommended these yesmum mini cards - great for reading out positive messages for your little ones to embrace each day, or simply a conversation starter to help them talk about this new chapter in their lives (please note I haven't bought a packet yet so can't give an honest opinion on if they work but have heard good responses from other parents).
2) All hands on deck
I know not everyone can take time out from work but if you can I would suggest that you and your partner (if you have one) are both available for the first couple of weeks to help out and support each other. Be it helping with the drop off, cooking some meals or for me it was getting my partner to take Violet to nursery on the 2 days she goes so that it was easier to focus my attention on Finn. Get family to come and do pick ups with you if you can - it's such an excitement at the end of the day for them to see family and also another good distraction to discuss who is coming to pick them up later. But get as much support as you can for the start of term - even if it's a friend as back up if you do end up having some problems, we all need help every now and again. All hands on deck helps!
3) Your day will go fast
I cannot believe how quickly a day that ends at 3.15pm goes! If you have to work or even just have life admin and household chores to run it is amazing how little can be achieved on most days. Especially, if like me you have another child most days and after drop off, a coffee/ play date, lunch and nap that's basically you done for the day as you return to do pick up, let them watch TV, make/eat dinner and bed. If you need to get a lot done in the school week days then I would recommend making sure you get them done first thing or go straight from drop off to wherever you need to be to maximise your time. I also try to get grandparents or sisters (I know we don't all have this luxury!) to pick him up once a week and take him for tea - he loves it and it gives you a day where you aren't rushing around like a mad woman to get to pick up on time. We will be starting after school clubs in the new year hopefully which I'm hoping will give me one or two longer days to get through the weeks tasks! Trying to find a new balance with this new quicker day is a challenge so be prepared to feel a little, ahem, all over the shop!
4) The tiredness is next level (for both of you)
Yes this big change in your routines is both physically and emotionally tiring. Making sure your child goes to bed on time (if not a little earlier) on school nights (without them knowing of course) has worked well for us so they are well rested for school. Also the promise of going to bed later on a Friday or weekend night is always novelty for him! Making sure your diary isn't too busy or booked up for the settling in period as well (I was guilt of this sadly) - a ratty stressed out parent doesn't mix well with a tired and emotional kid so clear the decks and make your little one is the priority for now. The school drop off and pick up I have found to be much more hectic than I had envisioned, there is a real hustle and bustle to adjust to, so take your time, especially when navigating a buggy!
Take time for yourself - be it going for a run or having a relaxing bath and face mask - you will need to take extra care if it has been a stressful experience. Make sure you talk to other people or seek out other parents having issues - you can help and support each other. Oh and I recommend in the first few weeks of them coming home post school of literally plonking them in front of Cbeebies (or whatever floats their boat) so they can chill out as they are knackered. If you can have some meals planned as this was a big change for us - having to cook him his dinner every night - so you do need to be prepared to get some meals on the table, oh and I recommend easy food that they love - end of the school day is not a time to have a battle with getting them to eat something new or healthy! We have been eating lots of beans on toast and pizza!
5) You will feel all the emotions
As a parent with a reception kid you will worry a lot. You will see the wide eyed panic in each others eyes at the school gate in those first weeks, it's normal! My anxiety has been through the roof recently and I think the whole starting school thing has really set it off.
Some of the common worries are...
-Food - will they eat enough, how do I know they aren't just eating dessert etc. Well sadly this is out of your control but you can speak to the school and ask how lunchtime works for peace of mind and what their process is for making sure they eat some food before getting pudding etc.
-Wee & Poos - Toilets has been a big worry for lots of parents I know. Will they hold their pee in all day? Yes they probably will on some days as you walk home and realise they are walking funny and rush for the front door! But they will adjust and learn that yes the loos often have pee all over the toilet seats or a big poo that hasn't been flushed, sadly kids have lazy toilet habits unmanned and my slight OCD child has had to adapt to finding the cleanest loo he can!
-Drinking water - I'm still working on this as the water bottle he takes in always returns untouched and he's always very thirsty at pick up. My tactic is to buy him a fancy ninjago lego water bottle to make the water drinking more appealing! Watch this space.
-Too hot/ too cold - kids just aren't great at taking their jumpers off themselves are they, I've been reassured that they do encourage kids to remove/add a layer if they are looking a little hot/ cold
-Friends - will he make any...New friendships will naturally begin to form but as I mentioned earlier - I really encourage play dates and finding kids with similar interests to try to encourage it if you can, it helps.
-Guilt - you will feel guilty and sorry for your child at some point. I frequently questioned that he was just too young to deal with school life at 4 years old (those Scandis have it right don't they with not starting school until age 7), but going to a recent parents meeting where you actually learnt about what they were up to throughout the day and the way they were being taught and the amount of breaks and playtime they still had was encouraging and settling for me. Also you will learn nothing from your child (well if you do you are very lucky!) about their day and what they did from them. I quickly learnt at pick ups it was actually best to just talk about other things than school - then often at dinner time he would come out with something about his day. I think it's nicer on them that they talk when they're ready rather than being hounded as soon as they leave the school gates!
6) Its all about the bribery and treats
Treats treats and more treats - it may seem excessive but honestly whatever works to settle them in then you can find a better balance as to when they just get the occasional treat. In the first weeks we were even eating sweets on the way to school as a distraction. The novelty of getting sweets (or whatever your little one may favour!) post school is a nice and fun way to make the whole experience more positive. We need to celebrate their efforts and achievements - even if that is just finishing the first week at school! We will probably have to start mixing the treats up a bit otherwise his teeth may rot - so maybe the sweet shop becomes a Friday treat and he earns a bigger treat up over a few weeks to enjoy at half term.
I think a realisation that my life is really now going to be dictated by the school run has kicked in and I am still learning a lot about daily challenges that come with starting school, I'm sure it will be an ongoing journey so I'll keep you posted! Now onto how to fill all those half terms and school holidays!
I would love to hear from you if you find any of this helpful or have any other tips and advice to give.