Big School 101

Stephanie Brown has some homework for parents of children starting school.

I wish someone had given me an honest and realistic list of things to be prepared for as I navigated the start of ‘big school’ alongside my five-year-old. So here’s my contribution to the greater good of first-timers out there.

I hate lists. I hate being told what or what not to do. But as I reflect on my experiences of having children

start school, I realise there is a list I would have liked. One that told the real version of what to expect; not the sugar-coated, all-is-rosy version, or the your-life-will- never-be-the-same, the-best-years-are-over version. I wish someone had given me an honest and realistic list of things to be prepared for as I navigated the start of ‘big school’ alongside my five-year-old.

So here’s my contribution to the greater good of first-timers out there. Along with the pride, joy, relief, sadness and emotional roller-coaster for which you are no doubt preparing, this is my list of some of the less talked- about facets of school life.

  • No matter how long you agonise over selecting a school for your child, it won’t be perfect. Things will happen that won’t be ideal, and they will be outside your control.
  • Your child will be in a class with many other students. While the teacher will do their best to cater for them individually, there are times when your child will be ‘one of the team’. This is actually very good for them, and while you may have a problem with it, your child is unlikely to.
  • If you are expecting your child to cruise into school, be prepared for a few hiccups. If you are expecting a clinging, screaming child, give them the chance to pleasantly surprise you. Try not to pre-empt their experience.
  • You need to be your child’s advocate. As much as you don’t want to be the over-involved, helicopter parent, there will be times when you need to stand up for them because if you don’t, no-one will.
  • Choose your battles. Stepping in on every situation you don’t like is not good for your child. Decide what matters and what doesn’t. You know your child better than anyone and your gut instinct will often be right.
  • Although they have conquered a huge milestone in entering the real world, your child will actually need you more (especially initially) than in the past. Be switched on, engaged, talk about their day and give them time to process and express how they are feeling. Be available and open.
  • Children learn at different paces. Their work levels in kindergarten will not necessarily dictate their achievements for the next 12 years. Although these levels can seem varied, in later years the gaps often disappear. Some kids learn quickly, others more slowly, but most get there in the end. Be careful about labelling your child a struggler or genius too soon.
  • There will be the opportunity to make wonderful friends with other parents and share the experience of watching your children go through school together.Be open to sharing your life and your child.
  • There will be painful parents who believe they are solely entitled to everything the school has to offer. They will want their child to be given more than yours. They will be competitive and pull your child down to lift theirs up. They will be hard work, and you will dread seeing them at the school gate.
  • You have the chance to be a positive role model. If you want your child to be accepting of others, kind and considerate, don’t be a snobby parent who judges and excludes people. Be the kind of person you want your child to be.
  • Home-reader levels will move too slowly for you the majority of the time, but it doesn’t really matter. Your child will learn to read.
  • School reports don’t tell you much. They are full of cut and paste comments about what your child can do, most of which you will already know. And they won’t give you much information about the social or emotional side of things. If you really want to know how your child is going, make a time to meet with their teacher.
  • It is likely there will be a year when your child will have a teacher about whom you are not overly thrilled. This is not ideal, and sometimes even wrong, but in most cases, there will be little you can do about it.
  • A teacher who is not very comfortable or good at talking to parents can still be an excellent teacher. Don’t judge them on your experience; let your child guide your opinion.
  • Schoolyard gossip will be rife. It will be about parents, children, teachers and many other topics. For every factual thing you hear, there will be 10 questionable things, and it’s hard to discern one from the other. You will need to choose how much weight you place on what you hear, as the negativity will be overwhelming at times.
  • Your child will embarrass you at some point. Whether it is a tantrum, an embarrassing journal account, constant forgetfulness or simply bad behaviour, they will not be the perfect representative of your parenting skills. Let them be themselves and don’t worry about how they make you look. Expect to be humiliated at some point, and show grace when it happens.
  • Your child will do the wrong thing by another child. Be realistic and willing to help your child learn how to behave and how to treat others.
  • Don’t expect your child to be perfectly happy every day. Like you, they will have good days and bad days, lazy days and motivated days, sad days and happy days, days when the world is against them and days when the world seems perfect. They are learning to be citizens, members of a community, functioning individuals and well-rounded people.
  • Although you hand them over to a teacher for the majority of the day, your job is not over, depleted or made obsolete. Walk with them, lead them, listen to them, guide them, love them and don’t ever let them doubt that you are in their corner.
  • Enjoy the ride!