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How we prepared for kids' first day at school


The day a child takes their initial steps in education can be nerve-wracking and tear-filled - and that's just for the parents. Here, three writers reveal what the build-up to this landmark event was like and how they felt about their little ones starting to grow up.

Claire McNeilly: ‘There will be tears ... that’s one thing I can confidently predict’

Proud mum: Claire with Soley in her uniform

Of course, I ignored the warnings. It's a shoe shop, for goodness sake, and one I'd visited many times before. Really, how bad could things be?

But Clarks on a mundane Monday during the year and Clarks on a Monday in mid-August, two weeks before the new school term, are vastly different animals.

For functionality, read hysteria. It's every parent (and child) for themselves; fortune favours the brave and all that.

To be fair, the young staff at the heaving Forestside branch - which gave a more than passing impression of being ransacked - managed the mayhem brilliantly.

For them, it's the same thing every year at this time.

For me, it's a fraught, frightening first.

Okay, that's not strictly true; this was actually my second attempt at buying my four-year-old daughter her first pair of school shoes.

Indeed, the pre-primary countdown has brought plenty of tears, traumas and flailing around the floor - and that's just me.

There have been many significant firsts since Soley came along in 2014: her first words, unaided steps, milk teeth, the first, nervous, foray into a nappyless world, foreign holiday, swimming lesson - and even the first terrifying, potentially life-changing injury.

Where on earth did the time go? Surely it wasn't so long ago I could hold her (born weighing just 6lbs 4oz) in one hand...

As milestones go, however, the first day of primary school takes some beating.

My no-longer-little princess is, naturally excited beyond belief; some day I'll explain that mummy wasn't feeling exactly the same way.

First item on the list: black shoes (Who knew how vast that selection was going to be, never mind how expensive!).

After stretching the shop assistant's patience to the outer limits, Soley settled on a pair: "Look at the dinky buckles, mummy!" she trilled. Even better, they were a couple of quid cheaper than their rivals.

So, an hour or so later, we left with shoes (and PE trainers) in an upbeat mood.

Next task: jumper, tie, PE shorts and tracksuit bottoms. This seemingly effortless mission was thwarted by the fact that the stockist didn't have anything in her size, apart from the jogging bottoms, which, despite what the label says, are far too big. So we ordered in the sweater and shorts ("It'll be two weeks") and were then (wrongly) informed that the tie could only be purchased at the school itself.

Thank goodness I'd had the foresight to buy the shirts and skirts (well, pinafores...fingers crossed!) during the Marks and Spencer sale some weeks earlier.

My smugness, however, evaporated precisely one hour later, over lunch, when I came across a hitherto unread section of the school's guide book, stating: "Velcro on shoes and trainers are essential."

Desperately, I grappled with the word 'essential'. Like, does it mean 'essential'?

I phoned my mum for a second opinion. She delivered the devastating news: those perfect shoes had to go back.

And, naturally, it took a lot longer to get served during this unplanned, late afternoon visit.

Moreover, they didn't have the replacement shoes in her size… so we had to place yet another order. Back to Bedlam in a few days; oh, the joys!

There I was, thinking the stress had gone in April with the letter confirming that Soley had been accepted by our first-choice school. Welcome to the world of primary-school-era parenting.

No one will be prouder on September 11, however, when she's standing outside that building alongside scores of others, in her pristine uniform, waiting to begin a wonderful new chapter of her young life.

There'll be tears from her emotional mum that Tuesday morning - and that's the one episode of this roller-coaster ride I can confidently predict.

Lisa Smyth: ‘It was a wrench as she took her first steps into the big bad world’

Best friends: Lisa Smyth with daughter Grace

This week marked one of the most important milestones in my daughter’s life to date – her first day at school.

I know Grace (5) has already completed a year at playschool and a year at preschool — both of which were extremely valuable experiences — but her time at primary school will naturally play a much more significant part in her life.

Parkgate Primary School will be the place where she will forge lifelong friendships and where her desire to learn will be fulfilled.

But it will also be her first real exposure to the trials that come with growing up, where I won’t be immediately beside her to wipe away her tears when things go wrong.

You see, Grace is my eldest child and the first few years of her life were a challenge for both of us.

Within days of her being born, the darkness of postnatal depression consumed me and while I knew I loved her with all my heart, I only felt numb.

As the fog began to clear in my head, her daddy suffered a number of strokes and, while he recovered, the lion’s share of childcare fell to me, and the bond between Grace and I grew strong.

My job allows me to do most of my work at night, so unlike so many families where the mum works, Grace’s time in childcare has been minimal.

I’m by no means unique as a mum in that Grace is my best friend, and my world, but my working arrangements mean that I’ve been in the fortunate position of spending much of the past five years with her.

So, watching her take her first steps into the big bad world this week was a wrench to say the least. I’d like to say that her steps were tentative, that she at least looked over her shoulder as she left my side, but that simply didn’t happen.

I’ll admit there were tears, but they were mine — not hers.

Thankfully, Grace has been oblivious to my trepidation — her main concern about the whole experience being what I put in her packed lunch and how she would find out where the toilets were.

The past few weeks have been spent stopping her from putting on her new uniform so it would at least look smart on her first day.

Born in July, most of her friends started primary one last September, so she had to watch as her play pals took that big step without her.

Have you ever tried explaining academic cut-off points to a disappointed and bewildered four-year-old?

It does mean, however, that she is more than ready, emotionally and intellectually, for primary school, and my husband and I are already delighted with our choice.

Discipline, education and pastoral care are all equally important at Parkgate Primary School and, with it being a small school, she was welcomed on her first day by name — something that meant a lot to a very emotional mum.

Paul Ferguson: ‘It’s the start of independence, a time to have fun and to learn’

Mya and Jackson Ferguson ready for their first day at pre-school with their mum Kate

My three-year-old daughter Mya seemed overly excited for a Saturday morning school uniform shopping spree.

Her beautiful blue eyes were gleaming and there was a sense of anticipation akin to Christmas morning.

Jackson, her older twin brother (by one minute) appeared nonplussed, not sharing his fashionista sister’s love of clothes. He was only too happy with his selection of jeans, jogging bottoms, t-shirts and tops already in his wardrobe.

Mya, my wife Kate and I assumed, couldn’t wait to try on her new uniform.

On reaching the doors of the shop Mya strode in, cast her eyes around and then, having not found what she was looking for, simply asked: “Where is the school unicorn?”

So much for my wife’s all-important groundwork earlier in the week about going to buy their first school uniform.

Disaster had struck for unicorn loving Mya and her bitter disappointment somehow affected her ability to try on her new uniform.

Usually, in these situations, Jackson is the cool and calm head, able to reason with his sister and say just a few inspirational words to get her back on side.

But inside the shop Jackson suddenly turned into Gok Wan, rummaging through the rails until he found the colours he liked best and deciding he wanted to go to a particular school because it had a nice pale blue t-shirt along with navy jogging bottoms and jumper.

Forget the fact his mummy and daddy had to visit pre-schools, fill in endless forms and then wait a few months on tenderhooks to see if the twins managed to secure their first pre-school choice or even any choice at that. Dark green jogging bottoms, a grey t-shirt and a bright red jumper just didn’t cut it for Jackson.

Mya, still smarting from a lack of unicorn, was further disgusted by the colours on offer to her, refusing to believe they matched and immediately starting to enquire about a uniform in pink.

But if that’s Mya and Jackson’s biggest concern during their pre-school year, then I’ll be more than happy.

This is a huge moment in their lives — their first steps into the real world and even though pre-school is just two-and-a-half hours each day, it’s the start of independence. A time to have fun, learn and develop those all-important social skills.

Of course, there is a sadness that they are growing up quickly and a realisation that daddy’s influence on their lives may be diluted due to the impact of their three new teachers. But there is also a pride that since Kate and I were given the job on February 3, 2015 of looking after our precious babes, they have developed into great kids — full of fun and laughter, reached all their milestones and with the bond they have formed over the last three-and-a-half years, they should hopefully settle in at school when it starts next Monday.

Mya, since the day she was born, has always been strong and confident. Due to her weight, a little bit over 4lbs, she was supposed to go straight to the neo-natal ward, as they feared she would struggle outside the womb, but she showed immediate strength and soon had her arm around her big brother, who was at least a pound heavier, in the incubabtor.

Jackson, despite being a decent size for his age, is that little bit more sensitive, but in recent months has developed an inner confidence that will hopefully hold him in good stead as the year develops.

Nowadays, with modern technology, you can actually track their daily school progress with an online system as they chart their way through the curriculum — all a far cry from my day when a creaky wooden slide in a church hall and a few building blocks were the main features of pre-school.

But Jackson and Mya will be following in my footsteps, going to the same school I attended as a child and last darkened the doors of some 26 years ago.

In the intervening years it has undergone a much-needed facelift but as a school, if so desired by Jackson and Mya, it will allow them to achieve academic excellence, sporting prowess, musical mastery and dramatic performances on stage.

However, that’s in the future.

The coming year is all about having fun while starting their learning process... and finally accepting the colours of the uniform.

Belfast Telegraph


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