the school series : a guide for mums

Che’s first year of school was also my hardest year of motherhood to date. I don’t say that to scare you, merely to be honest about how significant the change was for me. If you are anything like me, you will spend all your time and energy preparing your child for school without much consideration for your own experience or wellbeing. You’ll ride the anticipation and novelty of the first few weeks with enthusiasm but before long you’ll realise, the role of “school mum” is both demanding and exhausting.

It took me the better part of the year to find my feet, to navigate the new 5-day-a-week routine and to let go of a few of my parenting ideals. In retrospect it was an enormous learning curve and regardless of my struggles I now feel confident and positive in my role. As we prepare to embark on the new school year (grade 1 for us) I thought it best to share a few lessons I learned through kindergarten. I hope they help!

Realise that school is a new kind of normal – perhaps the hardest part about sending my first-born off to school was accepting that it was now the norm – for the next 15 years (or more!) of my life. The spontaneity of the toddler and pre-school years were behind us and our days were officially dictated by the bell. For a few months there I really grieved the loss of our carefree days and I wondered: “Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?” I always heard stories about all the free time school offered mums but the reality was/is the complete opposite – I found I had less time. Recognise that it’s a new stage of parenthood that takes some adjusting; you will feel like you’re in a state of flux for a good few months. Feeling sad and wistful is ok – it will eventually lead to contentment as you embrace your new role and this new stage.

Learn to accept that school is the catalyst for a whole range of emotions – put simply, your child tries so hard to be good at school and when they get home they just let loose. This was particularly true for the first few months of school (and the last few weeks of every term). I learned to expect tears, tantrums, whinging, moaning and even a little bit of anger. It all stemmed from exhaustion – physical and emotional. The best way for me to deal with it was to be incredibly gentle, have little or nothing planned for our afternoons, give him a wholesome afternoon tea and serve dinner early.

Don’t plan extra-curricular activities for the first six months of school – this is a completely personal choice but let me tell you, I was so relieved I had made this decision at the beginning of the year. It’s not for everyone but it definitely served us well. It was a lovely feeling knowing that ‘school’ was the only thing we had on our kindergarten schedule.

Cancel homework (sometimes) – I was quite shocked to learn that homework was part of the kindergarten curriculum. Half-way through the first term Che came home with a reader, some writing and some sight words. I felt really conflicted about it at the time and questioned whether it was necessary. Most afternoons we got through it without much drama but on the days when exhaustion was overwhelming, Poet was needing my attention and it just seemed like too much, I cancelled it! However, every night we always encourage Che to read before bed. Nurturing a love of reading is far more important to us than memorising sight words.

Organise a school drawer – encouraging your child to get dressed in the morning (without your constant supervision) is one way to ease the stress of getting to school on time. I quickly realised that having school shirts in one drawer and shorts in another was not ideal (and frankly, it wasn’t working for my dreamer of a child). So, the bottom drawer in the wardrobe quickly became the “school uniform” drawer and everything was placed in it – shirts, shorts, underpants, singlets, socks and jumper. His hat lives on the hooks in his room and his school shoes by the door.

Get up 30minutes (or more, if you can) before the children – this is a tough one if you’ve got a baby but I quickly learned that it was the best way for me to deal with school mornings. If I could be showered, dressed and have a cup of tea in hand by the time the kids woke up I felt like I was well on my way to having a relatively calm morning. On the days when we were running late I literally had to stop myself and repeat: “Running late to kindergarten is not the end of the world and it’s definitely not worth the yelling and screaming.” When you become a school mum it’s really easy to become a shouty mum – we’ve all done it, we’ll all do it, we can all decide that there’s a better way to go about the mornings. A big part of getting up early is going to bed early – a strict bedtime ritual is essential for school mums!

Be sure of your parenting values and expect them to be challenged – a tough one, particularly in regards to computers and junk food. I was quite taken aback by the general complacency to junk food and sugar at school, especially considering that Che’s school has a “healthy” canteen (and apparently it is healthy compared to other schools). I also came to realise that birthday cakes and lolly bags will make an appearance every week or two in the classroom and that by saying “No” the social implications are huge. So I did let go of a few of my ideals; he ate every single birthday cake that was shared in class and, if there was a lolly bag, he brought it home (to be put at the top of the pantry) – we agreed to that arrangement and as far as I know, he stuck by it. I fed him a good breakfast of porridge or eggs, packed healthy school lunches and never expected him to eat it all (kids are far too busy playing to be concerned with food). Computers are a huge part of school now and whilst I agree that they are a fabulous learning tool I don’t think they need to be an everyday occurrence. When Che is on the computer he tenses up, he gets anxious and angry. We’ve set a limit to 2 x 30minute computer sessions a week – for us that’s plenty (and yes, you will constantly hear: “But so-and-so get this and that and eats packet chips and gets a computer in his room!).

Volunteer at school but know that you don’t need to do everything – reading groups, writing groups, maths groups, canteen, organising readers, craft afternoons, excursions and assemblies. If you wanted to you could be at school every single day of the week volunteering your time. My advice? Offer to help at one session a week and if you can’t make it don’t be too hard on yourself. You can’t do everything and your child doesn’t expect you to (well, maybe they do, but they’ll soon learn that it’s just not possible).

Embrace friendships with other school parents – this can be a tricky one if you’re a little shy or nervous but rest assured, most school parents are in the same boat. Throughout kindergarten I formed the most beautiful friendships with women that I might not have met if it weren’t for our children. It’s reassuring to know that regardless of where I am, there will always be a warm, welcoming face waiting at the school gate for Che. Kindergarten mums are one of a kind; always eager for a chat, a complain and a coffee after school drop-off.

Good luck fellow school mums. It’s a big step for everyone. Go gently.

Click here to read all my posts in The School Series.

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Showing 33 comments
  • Kacie

    The 5-day-a-week thing is what has me most worried about my first born going to school this year. On time? Every day?

  • casso

    There is no evidence to support homework in primary school – *especially* infants school (K-2). I go up and tell the teacher as much at the start of each school year. My daughter won the 'application to studies' award in her year (and her school only gives out 2 awards per class at the end of the school year – it doesn't do the empty certificate ethos at all!) and she doesn't do homework and was the only child who didn't sit NAPLAN in her year either. I think that says something.

    I would add to that list – be prepared to be your child's advocate when necessary. Not wanting to be one of *those* parents meant that I let a certain situation get a bit further long than I would have liked. This year, with my younger starting kindy, I am more prepared to be whatever kind of school parent he needs me to be, regardless of what I may wish for myself. 🙂

    • Jodi

      A brilliant point re. advocacy. I haven't had to step in as yet but rest assured, mama bear will rear her head when necessary. x

  • Katrina@capturingmoments

    What a great post with excellent advice. I shall cherish our final year of no bell time and look forward to re-reading this post this time next year! xx

  • Alison Smith

    my son also just finished his 1st year at school and I can attest that all of this post is true! I think you take the good bits of school life with the not so great bits. Try to find that elusive balance and remember its just for a season, maybe a longer one, but a season all the same… Here's too a wonderful school year ahead!

  • Amanda

    Loved this post Jodi… I am currently 'mourning the loss of the days with my eldest at home' as she begins full-time pre-primary here in just over a week (here in WA we do kindy when children are 4 and pre-primary when they are 5). I was comforted to read that some of my 'ideals' and what I plan to do this year were things you too recommended (eg. the school uniform drawer and the limited computer time). I'm not an advocate of busy 'after-school' lives either and for us, it will be simple slow afternoons after school each day (perhaps later in the year I will introduce one session of swimming lessons). As a teacher myself, I've never been a believer in homework, however, sometimes this comes down to school policy as opposed to the decision of the individual teacher. I am sure I will be re-reading this post of yours many times over the coming week as I try to accept my new 'reality' as a school Mum… x

  • Mama Shara

    I've been filled with dread this week. Roman detested prep, and this week we've shopped for school supplies and been met at every turn with a defiant "I am NOT going". Sigh…. He says that the teacher this year is mean and he feels scared around her…. I'm really not looking forward to another year of distress 😔

    • Jodi

      Oh that's tough. Sending you much love and patience as you navigate the first few weeks together x

    • Margaret

      My son was very unhappy with a certain teacher and we made a deal," stick it out for the first term and if it is still bad, I will have you put in a different class" things settled down ok, but I was always ready to talk about his concerns, sypathise and help him problem solve.
      I was prepared to back him up all the way, because he was a lovely natured child, who worked well at school, not a spoilt brat.

  • aluminiumgirl

    I really appreciate this post, Jodi.
    My eldest starts Kindy on Tuesday. My biggest anxiety is about how I will cope with the change, the routine etc. I think she will be fine. I'm not sure how I will go. 🙂

  • Du (Yo) and Jonah

    Our youngest started Junior Kindergarten last September and we couldn't agree more with your post.

  • Amber {we stood together}

    Such a great post Jodi. Thank you for compiling your thoughts and experiences, especially as someone who has *just* come to the end of this first year of the long school journey. I started doing most of these things in Finn's Pre-school year but I know that with five solid days I need to take it up a notch and really nut out my plan of attack for this big year.
    As a primary school teacher I can confirm Point #2 is so true! Parents were often completely startled when I told them at the beginning of the year parent/teacher interviews that their child was adjusting well, joining in and happily following the rules. Most of them would burst out laughing and confess that their child had been very difficult to parent once they got home from school. Most children reach their maximum capacity to concentrate, get along with others and manage their emotions by the time the home time bell sounds!
    Thanks again for this post. x

  • Cha

    I feel exactly like you about school… Even here, in France, the difficulties are the same.
    The same violence of the scolar "rythm". I feel so disconcerted behind this problems…
    I am so agree with you and I will apply your advices !
    I hope you "Courage et patience" for the next few weeks of solo parenting… a real chalenge…

  • jody

    Thank you so much for sharing this Jodi. I am so anxious about Riley starting school, this is probably just what I needed. xx

  • Pink Ronnie

    Oh Jodi. I can't say thank you enough for this.
    I am extremely nervous and emotional about next week…. this has helped immensely.
    Ronnie xo

  • Lucy W

    Oh my this is good advice. I'm already starting to cling on to what time we have left! My eldest won't start til 2016 when he's 5 and a half and I'm already getting "why aren't you sending him next year?" comments from friends. You should publish an article about this Jodi as it's the first time I've read advice to emotionally support parents for the start of school. The advice is always practical for parents and emotional support advice for the children. And yet, our children usually surprise us and take to it well and it's us who need support.

  • Alison @ BaysideVintage

    Great post Jodi with lots of wise advice. I would also say (especially related to points 2 and 4), keep up the communication with your child's teacher. My eldest is going into Year 2 and it's really only after the first couple of years, and conversations with many parents, that the more proactive you are in approaching their teacher to discuss things, the better. Don't wait for the (very brief!) school interviews!

  • Kathy

    Great advice for people with little ones entering school this year. One thing to be prepared for is all the paperwork and sometimes the paperwork has to be back the next day and/or sometimes you get a week. Stay on top of it. I had two clipboards and when the kids came home and emptied their bags they had to clip all their notes to the clipboard (different colour clipboard for each child) and that way when I had to fill in the notes it was on something sturdy and all the notes stayed together. Endless amounts of paper work come home from school.

    I agree with the afternoon behaviour that they have sat still(ish) all day listening, being polite, learning and concentrating that when they get home they are tired and emotional and exhausted. I am actually warning my kids now (10 and 7) that when they go back to school next week they'll be tired and exhausted until they get back into the school routine.

    I'm with you on the afterschool activities. We actually have football training one night and that's it along with homework. Also on the friends front often the friends you make in your child's first year you'll have them as our main friends throughout the whole schooling. I've just found that because they all usually have siblings coming through 2 years later when your ones might be coming through as well and starting off at a school where you know no one you make a big effort and that effort pays off. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane, Australia

  • Meryl & Russell McLendon

    Thank you very much, Jodi. This is a thoughtful, well organized piece on a topic that is very important to so many moms. My oldest will be starting kindergarten next fall. I appreciate your perspective, having finished up your first year with a kindergartner. It's nice to know what to expect (good and bad) and how to embrace this big change. Thank you! Meryl

  • Mel

    Great post. Thank you. My daughter is half way through Kindergarten now so I'm feeling a little better about it, but I still miss our carefree days… A LOT!

  • katerina

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  • marinette rachacha

    Hey…I just discovered your blog and read my 1st of your article! It's funny how I feel connected…I am starting to realise my son will soon have to start school and I am…shitting myself! As you say …15 years ahead dictated by the norm school, when we have full freedom right now! I guess it's just a another way of remembering we always need to enjoy the present moment…A bientot, Marine

  • fynn.

    Our daughter has been in pretty much fulltime preschool x 2 years (USA) while I also attend school to finish my nursing degree. Her preschool has no strict set times and we can take her as we please. We've already been fighting the challenge of parenting values (seriously computers and junk foods!), and the roller coaster of childhood emotions (learning is exhausting!). She starts kindergarten this summer and the closer it gets, the more anxious I become. Anxious about new schedules, the loss of spontaneity, how am I going to get my child to school at 9am when I work at 7am, and several other points you mentioned.
    This is a timely, and a much appreciated post. I'm sure I'll be reading through this again.

  • edgeofevening

    This is such a lovely & thoughtful post Jodi – so full of wonderful advice. My oldest (6 and a half) is in her third year of school here in the UK. I'm still sometimes envious of the freedom (long day trips! holidays! no planning!) of friends still firmly in the pre-school years. It wasn't until she started school that I realised that I'm still just in the foothills of motherhood with much more challenging terrain ahead!

    The advice here is wonderful. I think it all just comes down to being incredibly kind, both to your children and to yourself. And acknowledging that it's a huge change is the first part of that. I'm also aware that for my younger two, the school run is a huge part of their lives & so that's another reason to make it as stress-free as possible. My 13 month old will have been going to & from school every day for nearly five years before it's his turn…


  • Lisa and Matilda

    This is a top post Jodi. We are going into year two this year…and its isn't any easier yet. You have articulated all the things that I found challenging and also adjusted…the food , the technology, the tiredness, the waking early to keep it calm. Thanks for the thoughtful sharing! Lisa and Matilda

  • Lisa and Matilda

    ps. I agree with the homework comment. I am also a primary school teacher and I detest the homework. Teachers often set it out of expectation from a few parents who want to push their kids or have structure at home – fair call for some – but for many of us, that precious hour before dinner is the only down time we might have together all day. I have done homework at times and at others I have said to please not send any home, that Matilda is reading, shopping etc with me and learning lots from home activities. 🙂 Don't be afraid to say no. Many teachers will agree with you anyway.

  • Sam Stone

    Thanks so much for sharing, my little miss is going off to school this year.

  • Janey G

    great list, even with all the extra extreme challenges of parenting a child with smith magenis syndrome as well as my other two, i have to say this list still holds up! x

  • Dre @ no frills mum

    Thank you for sharing Jodi. We are about to embark on our eldest daughter (3.5yrs) first year of kinder. It is only two hours a week, then 2015 is three days per week with much longer hours. This post has reminded me to make the most of this year. It has reminded me to be grateful that I get to be at home with my girls in the first years of their lives.
    It is easy to get caught up in the daily grind of raising babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers, rather than embracing these years of 'freedom' before school dictates our lives. Although exhausting at times, I'm sure I'll look back on these years at home with my girls as some of the best of my life!

  • Manda Grubner

    Oh wow, this all feels so long ago for me but those feelings are still so fresh too. My son just turned 10 and he has had a similar experience to Che. Even now he never has more than 30 minutes of computer time a day and we don't have a TV. Occasionally he'll make a comment comparing himself to another child but he really does have a good understanding of why we limit things the way we do. It's hard when they enter the school world, all those things we shelter them from are all suddenly open. Jay came home so sad one day at about 6 saying "oh Lucas said I have girls gumboots" about his beloved floral gummies. It's certainly not easy, but it needs to happen and some wonderful things can come from it too. My youngest is nearly 3 and I can see how different this journey will be with her already. Thanks for sharing. x

  • flyingjen

    Thank you! We aren't in a regular school yet and only pre-school one day a week. But I'm scared to death of the whole school thing and I love your advice!

  • Lauren Knight

    This is such a great list! We are in the midst of it all right now (my oldest boy is in kindergarten) and I agree with every part… especially the emotional and physical exhaustion. We seem to live very similarly- lots of unstructured free play, and even though Milo had many years of preschool under his belt, kindergarten seemed to be a whole new ball game. It's true that extra gentleness, compassion, and understanding (as well as space!) after school is necessary.

  • Grace S

    Such a great article/series! Im enjoying going back reading thru the blog posts. My little Kobe bear is starting pre-kindy this year, I am super nervous but excited for him. He is going to love eating all that cake at everyone's birthdays (me not so much when I have to deal with the sugar highs…)

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