Andrea Mara

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the do’s and don’ts of starting school

School’s out for summer, and for parents all over the country it’s a significant milestone in any year. For our family, until now, this time of year meant just two things: lighter traffic in the morning and holidays jumping to twice the price.

But for the first time, we experienced end-of-term properly as my junior infant finished her first year of primary school.

I asked her on the way in on her last day, if she remembers her first day – she said she remembers being “a bit nervous” but then she became less nervous because she was sitting beside the one girl she knew before starting school. I love that she has a memory of that nine months later.

She said she’s going to miss school over the summer and miss all her friends. I asked her what her favourite memories of the year were: Tuesdays and Wednesdays every week because she didn’t have to wear her PE tracksuit, and March because there was snow.

I asked her who she liked sitting beside (having avoided thus far pinning her down in any way about friends) – she listed four or five little girls whose names I’ve heard more often than others in recent months, names I could have probably predicted. So I feel she has the start of a gang of buddies. A good end to the first year.

I’ve learned a lot too this year – starting school was a culture shock, though in a good way. Like joining a new club or starting a new job, with new rules and norms, and desperately wanting to fit in. But this time for the sake of the pint sized person who owns my heart rather than for myself. The pressure to get it right! To settle in and make friends not stand out as the child who doesn’t do the homework properly or is sent ot school with jam sandwiches! (OK I do give jam sandwiches, but she insists)

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So, if you have someone starting junior infants in September, here are a few things I didn’t know this time last year:

1. School is not creche

Many would suggest prefacing that sentence with “thankfully”, after recent revelations about creches, but it’s something that is worth noting – teachers are fantastic at teaching however they are not being paid to babysit. So they won’t give you daily feedback at collection time, they won’t put suncream on your child (I know, it’s Ireland, why would we need suncream) and they won’t keep track of missing gloves. But….

2. Teachers are amazing

Everyone knows this already but it’s really only when you have a child in school that you fully appreciate how amazing they are.
My five year old’s teacher, Ms. W, looks young enough to be my daughter (almost) but wow, she’s incredible. We had our first parent-teacher meeting back in November, and I wondered if she’d had time to get to know the kids well enough to give anything but generic “your daughter is doing fine!” type feedback. But she gave me very specific comments that clearly showed she knew my child, and among other points, she suggested that I get my daughter’s hearing checked.
At first I thought this was polite teacher-code for “your daughter doesn’t listen” but one trip to an audiologist later, we had a glue-ear diagnosis and a suggestion of grommets, I hadn’t spotted the problem at all.

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3. Teachers are always teachers.

Notwithstanding the fact that Ms. W could be my daughter, I treat her like I would have done a teacher back when I was in school, only I’m slightly more afraid and humiliatingly eager to please.

I was mortified when she told me my daughter was upset in school one day because I had forgotten to put her bottle of water in her bag (in my defence, she gets milk at school every day and almost never touches the water), and doubly so when it happened again a few months later – on the day in question, I knew that the real reason my daughter was upset was because she’d had to wear a pirate costume to school (long story) but there was no way I was going to argue with the teacher over this. I must not forget the water.

4. School lunches are a pain

Maybe this is just in my house. Maybe you are a lunchbox-guru and your child is really good at eating the varied and healthy lunches that you prepare every day. Please send me your recipes and ideas so that I can stop throwing uneaten sandwiches in the bin every evening. Thank you.

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5. Homework is kind of a pain too

I had visions of enjoying precious one-on-one time doing homework with my daughter, bonding over phonics and guiding her gently with her writing. Oh dear, not so.

My daughter is very distractable as I’m sure many a five-year-old is, and 7 o’clock at night is not an ideal time for homework (I am at work during the day) so it takes a long, long time to get it done. And it takes everything in my power to remain patient and calm and nurturing and supportive and encouraging and all those other things I thought I’d be. Oh the joy when in early June we got a note that there would be no homework for the rest of term. And this is just junior infants!

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6. Playdate Etiquette

Playdates – this was a whole new world for me. When I first invited another little girl over one Friday afternoon, I explained to her mum that I had no way to take an extra child in the car so asked if she could collect her daughter as normal and drop her to our house. I am so embarrassed when I think back on that – as any parent of a school-going child knows, half the point of a playdate is to get a break from the school run. Collecting your child to drop her to someone else’s house completely defeats the purpose.
I gave that little girl a croissant and a smoothie that day, and then two weeks later my daughter was given homemade baked pasta on her return visit. Again, mortified. Now I collect them and feed them. I’m learning.

7. Get to know other parents

This sounds very obvious but it really only hit me when we started in September. There are many reasons for getting to know the other parents – to know what’s going on, to ask questions, to know where to stand when lining up to collect your child (very important to stand in the right place in our school), to have mums to text if you’re running late, to arrange playdates, ultimately to build a network that might help your child settle in.
And other parents are lovely – it’s a whole new social circle of people who have a lot in common and endless material for conversation. And we do our best not to ask nosey questions about how well each child is doing with her reading and maths – it really doesn’t help to compare.

Starting the year was emotional, and ending the year is too, but with all of the euphoria and none of the anxiety. My daughter is more confident than I’ve ever seen her, she’s settled in, she’s made friends, she loves school, she loves her teacher and she’s happy. Me too. Now we’re ready for summer.





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