It’s possible I learned more lessons than my children in their first years of school:
1. That they’re probably not a genius. It’s been nice to harbour secret hopes over the possible brilliance of your children since they were – you know, born, but school is your wake up call. The place is full of other children, some (possibly a lot; I try not to enquire too much) of whom are cleverer than your child.
2. That it’s OK that they’re not a genius in reception. That first year is about understanding school, learning to cope with routines, coming to terms with the fact that the whole world doesn’t just revolve around you;understanding that smashing up other people’s Lego is a totally unacceptable thing to do, and that yes, they have to go to school EVERY day, not just when they want to, and coping with the fact that your child isn’t a genius.
3. That your child’s teacher is the most important person in his or her school life. Naturally, they don’t have favourites, but if they do, you want your child to be one of them. Be nice to them. Smile. Assume they know what they’re doing. Don’t question the reading book they’ve given your child in the first week. Buy them nice things at Christmas and in the summer. Vouchers are best I’ve found; teachers do drink a lot of wine but 30 bottles might be a challenge.
4. Remember that there are 29 other children in the class. Yours is the only important one, naturally, but the teacher has no way of knowing this. Don’t begin your relationship with the teacher by questioning how they can not have seen your child’s amazingness already. (is it not CLEAR? Look at those Lego models/ drawings/ letters/ shapes – sheer genius in the making obviously. How can you not SEE it?) The trouble is, all those other 29 parents feel that way too. The best teachers understand that, to you, your child is everything and entirely special, and they somehow manage to marry that successfully with making all the other parents feel like that too. They deserve a medal. Or much higher pay.
5. That even though the teacher has 29 other children and they’re not you (I’m a control freak of the highest order; I had to spend the journey to both children’s first day at school muttering ‘they know what they’re doing, they’re the experts, they KNOW WHAT THEY’RE DOING’ Teachers make the WORST parents for schools to deal with);they’ll look after your child just fine. Better than that, they’re the experts on educating them, and it doesn’t matter how much of the early years learning objectives you memorise and attempt to force into your child at home, most of their education will take place at school. With an expert. Who’s been trained. And is probably much better at it than you.
6. That phonics groups are differentiated, and you’ll be obsessed with finding out which phonics group your child is in. And whichever one it is, unless it’s the top one, you’ll disagree with it. You’ll understand, underneath it all, that since your child never heard of phonics before they attended and a LOT of other children have, that they can’t be in the top one, but you still want them to be. What did you read all those stories for otherwise? It makes you a bit bitter over those hours of stories actually.
7. That it doesn’t really matter which phonics group your child is in. In reception, child 1 was pretty rubbish at phonics. (and maths, and writing, and behaving) He sailed through his phonics test at the end of year 1, and is now a total little bookworm who reads a book a night in bed. He also loves school, behaves himself, can write, and is, in short, a completely different child than he was in reception. (we’re still working on the maths)
8. That your child learning to read is a tortuous, lengthy, immensely tedious process. You’ll know far too much about Biff, Chip and Kipper. You’ll want to kill them when they sound out words they’ve been reading for the last ten months. You’ll have to do a lot of faking: ‘Oh well done! What an amazing reader you are! Wow, a whole page! Yes, please do tell me every tiny detail about the picture of the sodding dog. I’m fascinated.’ It will take everything you have not to scream ‘ can we PLEASE just READ the WORDS! The WORDS! What are you, totally dim?’ Meanwhile some other parent will be posting on Facebook about the challenges of being the parent of a gifted child and how they just can’t stop them reading and you will want to stick forks in their eyes.
9. That you will worry all the time about your child’s friends. Do they have friends/ are they the right friends/ are they being secretly bullied/ are they secretly bullying their friends? You will feel a rage unlike you have ever known when your child reports that their ‘best’ friend told them they wouldn’t play with them today, they’ll play with them tomorrow instead. (worse: your child ACCEPTS this as the natural order of things) It’s best not to march round to the child’s house and demand to know what the hell they are playing at, not recognising that your child is the nicest, best friend they’ll EVER have and they’re not to darken your doorstep ever again, but instead to have a chat with your child about true friendships and having lots of different friends. And secretly glower at that child at drop off.
10. That the school gate is a terrifying place. All the other parents (usually mums) know exactly what they’re doing – look at them juggling their three perfectly behaved children, not a plait out of place, delivering them on the dot of the bell before heading off for a run (a RUN!), a London train, some glamorous office somewhere. Remember, this level of perfection takes a lot of work and they were probably screaming ‘we’re going to be LATE! Why are we always LATE? Why can NONE of you put your shoes on?’ in total despair just as you were before leaving the house.
11. That you should never discuss reading books/ reading levels/ phonics groups at the school gate. It will only result in you feeling despair and some other mother feeling smug.
12. You’ll have to have a lot of playdates. Remember: you’re not on trial. The child probably won’t go home and report to their parents that you’re the most irresponsible mother they’ve ever laid eyes on. They will, however, remember precisely (and only) the bit of the playdate that you’d prefer they forgot; the moment your older child hit your younger child around the head with a hardback book, the five minutes of telly you let them watch when you couldn’t stop the wailing, the seventeen minutes you left your child on the naughty step because you forgot all about him; all these will be reported back with glee. You might as well not have bothered with the hour of paints, the baking of biscuits, the reading of nineteen books.
13. That the Christmas card writing is just a handwriting contest. Unless your child has appropriately magnificent handwriting, step away. Let the other fight it out. And panic, naturally, about the amazingness of other children’s handwriting.
14. That your child is about to embark on an amazing, life changing journey. That school is a wonderful, fun, absorbing, hard, brilliant, challenging, astounding place where your children will learn to love learning and begin a journey that will end as they grow into adulthood. That first day is hard, but it’s a monent also of great pride and emotion: your child, your unique little creature that you made from scratch, is taking their first steps into an independent world. Watch them with pride, and enjoy.