Most parents are longing for term to start by now, but how do you ease the transition from holiday to school mode? Lucy Tallon seeks the advice of those more experienced
Saved article for later
My children have gone pretty much feral during the holidays, and although I can't wait for school to start, I'm also approaching it with trepidation. Yes, the routine and discipline will be a good thing, but is there anything one can do to make the change of gear less traumatic?
I feel we've really reached the nadir of the seemingly endless summer holidays. Even though our actual holiday was in the last week of July - Cornwall, since you ask, and the weather was 'mixed' as per usual - and we've been in London for all of August, bar a couple of weekends with grandparents, their behaviour has gone into freefall.
It's impossible to get down to breakfast without one or two tantrums each. Logie (aged four and two-thirds) claims not to be able to get dressed by himself any more, despite doing it unthinkingly all of last term. We haven't left the house on time for weeks. How am I going to cope when school starts?
Up and down the land, at 8:15am next week, there will be a chorus of parents all shouting 'Put your shoes on. Put. Your. Shoes. On! PUT YOUR SHOES ON! Well where can the other one be?!'
Part of my problem is that I don't really know much about going 'back' to school, as this is Logie's first proper year - he is starting Reception. However, it's sort of at the same school he was at for nursery last year, which made the children feel very much part of the big school, even though they only went for half a day. (He didn't get into that school, but he did get into the brand new sister school nearby, Ark Byron. But that hasn't actually been built yet, so it's going to be housed on the top floor of his old school for the first year - are you still with me?)
So I did what I usually do when I need advice: I asked some parents and kids that I know and respect (well, that have yet to do each other serious bodily harm) for their take on it. And this is what I discovered.
I realise now that although we have been talking about school quite a lot, it's usually been in a fairly negative way, eg 'You'll have to eat peas when you're at Ark Byron' or 'Big boys, who go to Ark Byron, don't throw the remote control at their brother - even if he did start it.'
Alex, mum to three boys under six, suggests: "If you're worried at all, don't let them know. One great piece of advice I was given is that children are ALWAYS listening, so even if you think they're playing while you're chatting quietly on the phone, their ears will pick up anything to do with them. So only talk positively in front of them."
Her eldest had a tricky start to school, and despite being one of the gentlest, most empathetic people I know, I was initially surprised when she talked about how they overcame that. "Last year, F took ages to settle. He'd come home or get up in the morning and say 'I don't want to go to school' - it was awful. The best thing was not to let him indulge in it - so I'd say 'I understand, I know it's hard,' but then try and distract him. If he wallowed too much, he'd get upset. It took two weeks for him to settle!" Now I can see the logic in that, and am totally going to adopt that as my mantra.
Caro, mum to two girls aged nine and seven points out that it's important to "talk about school AND new teachers in the hols a bit, so they keep thinking about it all". Then even if they've only met Miss X once or twice, they might feel more comfortable around her, because her name is so familiar.
Everyone highlights the value of arranging play dates with friends, or schoolmates-to-be, near the end of the holidays. The benefits are obvious, and most parents have probably already done this.
Sorcha, aged seven, says that they don't even have to meet up, she just "starts thinking about her friends and that helps her get closer to school" and feel ready.
Logie had a play date yesterday with a boy due to be in the same class, and then murmured at bedtime "I think he might be my new best friend when I'm at Ark Byron." I just hope Logie isn't getting his hopes up prematurely. I don't think he's got over having found out that the girl he was planning to marry 'every day' in his previous class had also made the same promise to two other boys.
Threats and bribes are the fundamentals of my parenting method. That's why I like it when they get to three, because they properly understand the concepts of both. Caro says she and her girls always "buy new back-to-school pencil cases, cos it’s fun." (Note to self, buy Logie a pencil case full stop. An old icecream tub will not suffice.)
Maddy reinforces another of my favourite techniques - delegating. "Shopping trips for new kit have been fun. And aunties like to get involved with that in our family," she says, with an obvious note of relief and gratitude.
Alex has a fun suggestion: "For the first term, we had Friday night movie nights for F to look forward to - we'd get a film, popcorn, pizza and make a really special night of it. That was a great idea."
Becky, mother of two boys under six, admits to the following: "We didn't need any new kit this term, so I saw off my son's first-day-back nerves by promising to buy him a treat of his choice. He was so brave as I left him in the clutches of his new teacher that I had (against all instinct and principle) to put my money where my mouth was and get him the Batman onesie he coveted. Ghastly, but effective."
I am well aware that Logie is going to be exhausted in the early days. Going from doing three hours a day, to 8:30am-4pm is a lot. So I have scrapped all his afternoon sporting clubs apart from swimming.
Michelle, whose kids are eight, six and three says that "for the first few weeks of term, I try not arrange any play dates etc, as the return to school tends to make everyone tired."
Caro, who has a big job, as does her husband, recommends flexibility: "Go in late or leave work a bit early to do pick-ups and drop-offs for the first week (if you are working) so their days aren’t so long, until they are back in the swing of things. And don’t plan too much after-school stuff. They get so tired the first week or so back," whatever age they are.
This goes hand-in-hand with the tiredness issue. Again, it's one that all the parents I consulted agreed upon. Alex sums it up: "They're always STARVING when they come out of school, so make sure you have something for them to eat when they come out."
Michelle adds "I also make dinner earlier than normal, as they are both starving as soon as they get out of school."
Tola, aged 11 and heading for secondary school, has practical advice about making sure you're not late - "practise the cycle route/walk" - and has also learned a golden rule impressively early on in life, which is "prepare EVERYTHING the night before."
Michelle reminds me that it's not just the kids that need to prepare; the adults need to get into new routines as well. "I get into the discipline of preparing the book bags and anything else which needs to go into school the night before. I also try to look in both book bags every evening in case I need to action anything (lots of paperwork back and forth!)...which I try to do instantly otherwise it can be forgotten!"
Maddy shares a tip which I think sounds rather lovely, and might actually do for once, rather than just write about. It is "an autumn dinner where you chat about the hols, swap stories, pictures, photos etc. So you celebrate autumn, and then agree new groundrules about school term."
This is a toughie. Do you make the most of having a break, especially if you feel they're given too much homework in termtime anyway? Or do you "always get them to do some homework/school-type work over the holidays so they aren’t totally out of it," as Caro does?
Perhaps there's a halfway house. Alex admits she's "been 'subtly' trying to do maths i.e. 'I bet you can't tell me what 4 + 4 is' - that kind of thing, just to get his brain working. I want to do it by stealth, so he doesn't feel pressured! Apparently, if boys think they're being pushed, they'll do the opposite and resent it..."
Maddy, who is a teacher, shares some excellent tips: "Just to ease them back in, I get them to write postcards to family, enter a competition or two in a magazine, play maths in the car, etc. Times tables are good for older kids to encourage/teach younger ones. In my experience, the drilling is much better received from an older brother, than from a mother too pre-menstrual to read the sat nav and be gently enabling at the same time."
Given that we've just forked out a shedload for an entirely new school uniform (new school = no secondhand shop) we've been having some fun letting Logie play whilst wearing it. One of his heroes, Tola, confirms that he also likes to "hang out in the school uniform, role-playing if you like that" and also sounds frighteningly like my own mother when he add the reminder that one should "wear new school shoes in the house before the first day."
Michelle reminds me not to forget "the PE kit too and indoor/outdoor shoes" as well. When it comes to PE (or peepee, as Logie insists on calling it) stuff, it's not just about the wearing but the finding - and repacking. "When they started, I also spent time explaining and showing them what exactly was packed in all the bags they had to take in!"
So we had a go at trying on some of Logie's new uniform. I'll save his blushes and omit the photo of him wearing nothing at all except his blazer, but you can probably tell from this video of him dancing in his shorts and shirt, that he thinks his new uniform is pretty cool...