With the start of October came amber sunshine, brown dry leaves all over the pavements and the sense of pre-ordination. I might not have stepped foot inside a school since my last day of sixth form what seems like a lifetime ago (where I was awarded an Oxford dictionary, a book of quotations and a Dictionary of Philosophy as school prizes, still to be found on my book shelf) but it would seem that not much has changed. Governments have come and gone, disagreements and debates about what constitutes the best way to teach and test our children have raged, but by and large it seems the arcane admin systems and weary worn but warm hearted teachers still provide the backbone to our new routine.
In the hope that it makes another new school parent less alone, this is what I’ve learnt so far:
1. What goes on during the school day will remain an enigma for days, possibly weeks.
When she comes out of school all Pip wants to do is eat. And often play. Sometimes question why I’ve picked up her up so early (and “why can’t I go to drama Mum?” – see point 2). What she won’t do is answer any questions about her day.
In her own time though, she volunteers enough that I know she is eating and apparently starting to learn. This is usually out of no-where and unrelated: I know that her dining chairs and tables are fixed together, that custard *is* served on its own without the accompanying fruit if requested and that circles are 2-D shapes with curved sides.
It’s not just me – Gill at A Baby on Board wrote a great piece about this too, on trying to extract the secrets of your child’s school day.
A couple of tips I’ve found working in relation to this:
- Pay attention in the class room at drop off – I’ve taken to scanning the white board and looking at the activities set out, so I can then try and guide the conversation later to include what I’ve seen, and in the last couple of days, that has meant we’ve had some conversations where I can vaguely follow what she’s telling me.
- Find some space and time in the evening where you can relax and allow the conversation to flow out – I’ve found that by having a bath with her and the baby after supper and just sitting and listening that she’s been able to tell me all about the writing she is learning. Not the most relaxing bath for me, granted, but still.
2. Keep your ears (and eyes) open: Lots *is* happening, it’s just hard to work out what or how to find out when you don’t know what you’re trying to uncover.
For example, it seems our school has various after school clubs which are different to the ‘after school club’ (if that makes any sense) – i.e. there is *the* after school club on til 6/6.30pm every day BUT there are also things like drama and music and French and yoga which run until around 4.30/4.45pm and which any child in the relevant year group can sign up for and pay for. Except it wasn’t mentioned (I don’t think) at the info evening last year or how to sign up and it was only when Pip asked why she wasn’t allowed to go to drama that I realised this was an option.
I went to the office and enquired and was given an email address, but told bluntly that the classes were all full and I should have signed up back in June. Lo and behold, on the wall by the office is a list of the classes and contact details. I had just never seen it before.
Likewise, read the posters on the doors!
3. Don’t expect any feedback from the teacher either if everything is going well.
One afternoon I tried to speak to Pip’s teacher after Pip was dismissed. I hung around and still was ignored. I then remembered reading on one of those mum related forums that the teacher will only speak to you after all the children have been dismissed, and even then, they probably won’t be keen. So I abandoned that exercise and am now working on the presumption that should there be an issue I need to be made aware of, she will tell me somehow.
4. Working parents need not apply (or need lots of leave & flexibility)
At the parents meeting for new reception children in June we were told that once all the children had started there would be a meeting for parents to discuss what the children would actually be doing and learning. We got 2 weeks notice of this meeting, which is at 3.45pm. 3.45pm!! I really do not know what we will do when we are both back at work next year, or, more to the point, what people who don’t work office jobs are supposed to do.
It is so frustrating the lack of awareness. And to top it off, the way to respond as to whether one could attend this evening was to fill in a bit of paper and take it personally to the school office. So arcane, so out dated. I feel like someone needs to be employed to sort out this crap and make it possible for all parents to both participate and work. (And yes, I have put my money where my mouth is, joined the PTA and volunteered as a class rep – one step at a time).
5. Playground politics – do not stress about it
I think it takes weeks of seeing faces day in day out but only briefly before people start to integrate. I know it can seem like people already know each other but I really believe everyone is too preoccupied with being late, their own children/work/other issues to be deliberately unfriendly.
More than 1/3 of the places in our year went to siblings so that means 1/3 of the people doing drop offs are not new to the school – they already know (or think they know!) what happens where and when so they are not doing everything for the first time. Chances are, they already know people. Most people will naturally say hello to the people they recognise first, but that doesn’t mean they are cliquey or unfriendly.
6. Check your child’s book bag!
I remember Alison at Not Another Mummy Blog telling me this last year and it really is great advice. Sometimes they do come out holding the bits of paper, other times, things are just tucked into the book bags.
7. Get a calendar…
There are *so* many dates and things to remember that some form of organising system is a must unless you don’t mind being the only one who forgets a cake, or that green is required on a non-uniform Friday! Mind you, on Genes for Jeans day Pip refused to wear jeans because she loved her school uniform so much and hates wearing jeans and no one batted an eyelid.
8. Label everything (and even then, expect to lose things)
I think I hear of someone looking for an item of clothing almost every day. We almost lost a labelled cardigan this week after the owner of the next peg took it by accident and luckily I realised before we left the playground and had some good sleuthing skills (and the balls/crossness to march back into the class room and look for myself). Other children have not been so lucky and I have *no* idea where it all disappears to, particularly the named things. No doubt it will all reappear just after new items have arrived – I’m not looking forward to coat and glove weather. It is so hard to get a 4 year old to marshall and remember their possessions…