Nakedness Dens and Food

My life with four little boys

A Survivor’s Guide To The Primary School Years

on September 14, 2014

school

With September well under way, if you have school aged children you will no doubt by now have heralded (with optional trumpets sounded… or tears… or maybe both in a conflicted sort of not-sure-how-I-feel-about-this kind of way) the arrival of a new term within your household. So it seems fitting at this time of year that dealing with the whole school thing is the subject matter of my latest blog post. The other day I was discussing with son #3’s occupational therapist what a sad indictment of our education system it is that his “condition” (as yet unidentified and being investigated) which manifests itself through amongst other things physical tremors, has been exacerbated by the stress of being in the school environment. He is 5. I have alluded in other posts to my dislike of how we educate our children in this country. Indeed I could go on a full scale rant here about 4 year olds having homework, 7 year olds feeling the pressure of SAT tests and 8 year olds crying about workload (just some of the things I have experienced with my boys). Or I could start deconstructing the “helpful” role that Ofsted play in the improvement of our schools. Or I could even write an impassioned essay for you entitled “Children: robots or humans? Discuss.” BUT *everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief* I shall in fact resist from doing any of those things. Instead, I shall take a more (hopefully) helpful route with this one. Rather than an armchair critique of our education system in England, I humbly offer you instead, seeing as it’s the only system that we and our children have, my survivor’s guide to getting through the primary school years. I hope it’s useful, entertaining or at least passes the time pleasantly for you… x

Playground Politics.

playground mums

So. It might not be you going back to school but it jolly well feels like it standing in the playground waiting for your child to go in. Whether you have managed to embrace a proper, grown up and totally well-adjusted social demeanour these days (well done you), or still have that feeling of an awkward 13 year old at the end of double P.E. on your way to the dining hall looking for adoption into one of the “tribes” (like I still do in most situations…. Think Bridget Jones), you need to find a way to survive the long waits in the playground. It’s more likely to be “known each other since toddler group”, “glamour mums” and “P.T.A. parents” than “sporty”, “geeky” and “popular” but there is just a complex system of peer groups to navigate as when you were at school as a pupil yourself. So, if you struggle with this task you have a number of options.

  1. Identify another parent looking equally lost and try to strike up a conversation. This is really easy for the first few days. “Which one’s yours? Are they excited? How do you feel about them starting school?” are all good openers. If you’re feeling brave you can initiate exchanging of names too. But be warned, you will run out of conversation pretty quickly if you don’t end up chatting to someone who you actually have something in common with other than the fact that your children are in the same class. I recommend practising the art of small talk in front of the mirror or at the hairdresser in preparation for standing in the playground. Weekend activities, holiday plans, the weather and the purchasing of uniforms are good topics to get a handle on.
  2. Look for a grandparent who appears to be on their own and offer to be helpful. “Have you put their lunch box on the shelf? Did you see that notice about P.E. today? They usually go in about now so I think it will be any minute” will do. Just make sure you don’t actually mention the grandparent status… in case they are in fact just an older mum! Seriously. I nearly fell fowl of this one once!
  3. If you’re feeling really confident you can try and infiltrate the “loud ones.” You know the ones, the mums all standing round confidently chatting and giggling like the “popular girls” did when you were at school. This is not for the faint hearted and can possibly lead to the same feeling of rejection you felt countless (in my case) years ago trying to fit in as a bumbling teenager. But it can also lead to new friendships forming. Just depends on whether they are “loud and friendly” or “loud and cliquey” or “loud and only to be embraced if you’re happy to end up agreeing to a still-sexy-at-forty drunken Friday night to celebrate Tasha’s latest divorce and the fact that Sandy can still get into her sparkly boob tube from 1999 after 3 kids ”
  4. Keep your head down and pray that the teacher appears at the classroom door to beckon the children in soon! This used to my approach and I found pretending to text someone on my mobile phone worked wonders. Rather like a comfort blanket.

Don’t worry, eventually, assuming you don’t just stick with option 4 you’ll find you’re niche and might even form some actual friendships at the school gates. Just avoid standing next to the “glamour mums” – unless you are one, or you don’t mind feeling like you’ve done the school run via a journey through a wind tunnel wearing in an ensemble put together by your toddler.

Homework

homework 2

Ok. So regardless of how you or I might feel about it, our children are going to get homework. Not just spellings, reading, time tables etc. But proper model building, research gathering, project making homework. And that’s on top of the aforementioned spellings, reading, times tables etc. After lots of tears, tantrums and little chats from the teacher (and yes you guessed it, that’s just me) I have sort of hit upon the 3 Rs: Routine, Rewards and Relax.

  1. Routine

We try to keep a routine around homework so everyone knows what to expect. For us it works well to, in the main, assign Saturday afternoons as homework time. This also ensures that we have at least one day in the week (in our case Sundays) where no one in the family has to think about “work”. My boys always come to the table to do their homework individually whilst the others have screen time – computer, ipad, TV etc. This allows one parent to be fully available to offer appropriate one-to-one support. (In case you’re wondering, the other parent splits their time between fielding the baby, refereeing arguments and monitoring the said screen time!)

  1. Rewards (NOT bribery in any way honest coz you shouldn’t bribe your children… Oh ok then maybe it is…!)

We usually accompany homework tasks with something yummy like a biscuit or slice of cake to take the edge off having to do school work at home, and after everyone is done we always make sure we have something to look forward to such as going out to the park, playing a family board game or watching a DVD together. Sometimes we incorporate a trip to the library to complete whatever the task is which can easily be coupled with a milkshake or hot chocolate in a café afterwards and makes the whole thing a little bit more exciting for them (yes, my boys still find the library exciting. I’m sure the novelty will wear off eventually but I’m enjoying it whilst it lasts!).

  1. Relax

This is a reminder to me. I have found the more relaxed I am about the homework, the more relaxed the boys are about it. Children do pick up on stress and tension so the key seems to be not to make much of a big deal of it or be negative about it. Never let them hear you say things like “well this is stupid! Why have they set this?!” even if it’s what you’re thinking. Try to keep it fun and light hearted and see it as something positive that you can enjoy doing together with your child – through internalised gritted teeth if you must… which I do… often… especially over any homework that starts with “research….” Or “using craft materials of your choice…” Grrr!!!

And as a last resort there is always another R: Refuse. Not to be taken lightly but you can decide to simply not do it. If you feel it is just not set at an appropriate level, or you happen to have a good reason such as “Granny died and we have been dealing with heightened emotions instead” then that is your choice. But make sure your child knows there is a proper reason for not doing it and that you’re not just being uncooperative or disobedient (not a great example to set!). Also talk to the teacher about it and explain clearly why your child has not completed the set homework that week. Word has it, some of them are human!

Talking of which…

The Teachers

Hero teacher

Just a quick note about the teaching staff.

  1. I don’t know how they do it! All teachers in my opinion are complete superheroes.
  2. Teacher are in fact NOT superheroes. They are human. This means they make mistakes sometimes. Give them a break! They honestly care about your child. They really do.
  3. Whilst their intentions are always none other than honourable, at times, just like in any job, for any number of reasons things might not go according to plan. If you feel your child is being overlooked or not dealt with appropriately please let them know. Teachers are not mind readers. Never be frightened to fight for your child but also, see point 2.
  4. They spend most of the day talking to children and sometimes seemingly struggle with the gear change. So you will more than likely feel patronised by the way they speak to you on more than one occasion. Try not to take it personally at such times, and see point 2.
  5. Remember they are trying to please lots of different people all at the same time; children, Ofsted, the head teacher, parents, politicians, governors, their own families… this means they sometime set STUPID (subjective assessment!) homework to tick a box or because they simply forget that us mere mortals do not have the same skill set as themselves to support a child through it, which is probably why they have chosen teaching as a profession instead of us. Again, see point 2 and do remember what you would tell your child: “Just do your best”

Money

money

Yes I know we have a tax system in our country which provides for all the free-at-the-point-of-access primary schools however….

Uniforms, school trips, raffle tickets, costumes, craft supplies for *stupid* homework, sponsored events, cake sales, cooking activities, after school clubs, school photos, 30 presents for children you hardly know who all have class birthday parties, birthday party to invite said 30 children who you hardly know to because *everyone* has a class birthday party for the first few years, fancy dress for charity, the Christmas dinner, countless replacement gloves, coats, shoes, bags etc for the ones that get lost and, if you feel so inclined, a present for the teacher at the end of the year! * HASHTAG Just saying.*

Trust me. You need to budget, budget, budget for those primary school years (admittedly probably for all the school years but I’m not qualified to talk about the next stage yet!).

Lost Property

lost

Make friends with whatever the system is at your child’s school because you are going to spend A LOT of time with it. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you have bought those cute little name tags with pictures on to sew or iron into everything that they will not get lost. If you’re lucky, the items *might* end up in the aforementioned system but more often than not they will never be seen again. My advice, learnt the hard way, is don’t bother with expensive sets of hats/gloves etc because the same pair will not come home again after about day 3 of the winter term. Basically, if it can’t be pinned down with industrial strength superglue about their person, ANY item is at risk of being lost by your schoolchild. My eldest even managed to come out of class without his trousers which were never seen again… No. I don’t know either. Oh, and on those cute little name tags, biro on the garment label works just as well you know.

One final thing…

time flies

You remember your mum always used to nag you about getting your school bag packed the night before…? Well the same thing applies now you’re a parent of a schoolchild: Locate the uniform to avoid last minute panic about no clean school shirts in the morning (she says recalling many a time of rescuing an unwashed jumper from the laundry basket and wiping it down with a wet wipe on the way out the door at 8.30am….ahem!) sign any letters that need to be returned (of which there will be many) and get them in the bags and crucially, ensure school shoes are paired and by the door to ensure there’s no “I can’t find my other shoe” performance when you’re already running late because it has been PROVEN by school run parents everywhere, that the last 15 minutes prior to leaving the house ACTUALLY takes about 2 and half minutes in real time. Seriously. Time goes by abnormally quickly when you’re trying to get everyone out with everything they need wearing everything they should be… and no matter how organised you manage to be there is some sort of law in place that means it is the final minute before walking out the door somebody says something like “Oh, it’s my turn to take in home made cakes today for the sale, and did you remember I’m supposed to have my trainers today for PE?”

Ok. So that was more like 6 final things but hey, that’s the thing about the primary school years; there’s always something else you have to remember.

Right then, that’s me off to locate, sign and pair. Good luck my friends. See you somewhere in the trenches… Oh and if you’ve got any survivor’s tips yourselves, I’d love to hear them…

Helen -x-

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