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Our first day at school

As little ones face up to an important milestone, Kerry McKittrick talks to four anxious parents

It’s the rite-of-passage we’ve all been through. That memorable day when — shoes shined, hair brushed, wearing an oversized new uniform and with a sparkling new pencil case — we took the first big step into the world of education.

Across Northern Ireland this week thousands of four-year-olds will be going to school for the very first time.

Some will be the first child in their family to enter primary one, while others will be following in the footsteps of older brothers and sisters.

For parents and pupils alike, though, it’s a poignant milestone, the day when a child takes a small step closer to the outside world and mums and dads have to begin the process of letting go.

To mark this special occasion, we talk to four mums about the mixed emotions they are feeling as their little ones start school for the very first time.

'I'm not weepy, just really excited'

Nicola McCleery (37) is the head of marketing for Tennants. She lives in Belfast with her husband Andrew, a doctor, and their children Isabella (4) and Patrick (2). She says:

Isabella started Victoria College prep last Wednesday which is where I went to school. It's great because I know it's such a safe and secure environment as I went there and had a really positive experience. It is a bit strange walking through the halls, though, as everything seems a little smaller than it used to.

I'm really excited for her first day – not weepy. She's starting by going for just two hours on the first couple of days then it's straight into full-time class until 2pm.

I've been chatting to a lot of friends who are mums on Facebook – it's funny how the topics change. These days all we seem to talk about is name tags – should they be ironed on, sewn in or written with a pen.

Isabella has to start the year wearing her summer dress and blazer but she'll change to the maroon tunic and shirt and tie. Both uniforms cost just over £100.

Isabella's really looking forward to school, too. She attended the nursery of the same school so she'll run into some of her wee friends. She's really looking forward to showing off her Moshi Monster lunchbox."

'He'll have an iPad, it's so different to my day'

Naomi Holland-Beggs is a reporter for Cool FM. She lives in Bangor with her husband Russell and their son Theo (4). She says:

I still can't quite believe Theo is big enough to be at school. I can remember when he was a baby discussing schools with my friends with children. We were joking about putting them down for schools in 2013 and it seemed forever away but it's been like the blink of an eye.

I went to St Patrick's Primary School in Holywood and I can still recall my first day. I brought a teddy bear with me but the teacher took it away. I remember the classroom with lots of desks and lots of toys and I couldn't understand why I had to sit at the desk and not play with the toys.

It shouldn't be too bad on Theo starting at school. He began Bangor Central Integrated Primary last Thursday but he attended the attached nursery school last year. They start them off slowly, two and a half hours for the first couple of days then until midday for the first month. They'll be up to a full day of 9am to 2pm by Halloween.

They wore a uniform in nursery – a school sweatshirt and school trousers. Now Theo will just add a shirt and tie to the rest. There's a PE kit of a T-shirt and tracksuit bottoms too. The uniform cost around £100, with the shoes being the most expensive part at £40. He needs sturdy Clarks shoes or he'll go through them in a week. We also bought the schoolbag from the school – that has everything he needs in it so we don't need to search for stationery.

Theo won't need many exercise books anyway – the school is taking part in an iPad trial so lots of exercises will be done on that. It's very different from my day. At my school there was one of those BBC computers on a trolley that was wheeled from classroom to classroom."

'He already has friends in his class'

Angie Dickson (35) is a full-time mum. She lives in Lisburn with her husband Russell and their sons Matthew (7) and Mikey (4). She says:

Mikey has just started at Wallace Prep. He went to the nursery class and most of them have gone into the same class. They staggered the start so half of the class started last Wednesday, the other half started on Thursday and the full class didn't meet until Friday. Then they'll only be in class until 12.15pm each day for about three weeks until they move on to a hometime of 2.10pm.

It certainly helps that Mikey (right) has gone to the school's nursery and that his big brother has been at the same school for a couple of years – Matthew is going into P4 now. Mikey has been going to the building for a year and has already made friends that will be in his class.

I think the uniform will be the biggest change for him. At Wallace they wear shorts, knee socks, shirt, tie, jumper and blazer. They also wear a PE kit of navy tracksuit bottoms and a white polo shirt with the Wallace crest on it. The uniform cost me around £250-£300. The biggest expense by far has been the shoes. A good pair of Clarks shoes costs £45 and my boys go through three pairs each in a year. There's a school coat and schoolbag too. They don't really need pens and pencils in P1 and P2 but because his big brother got them Mikey got them, too.

I went to Braniel Primary School in Belfast then onto Grosvenor Grammar School and I do actually remember my first day at school. My mum walked me up to the school and on the way we ran into her friend who had just dropped her daughter off for the first time and was really worried about her. I told her not to worry, that I would talk to her and be her friend!"

The funny thing about our boys going to Wallace Prep is that my husband went there. He's finding it a bit strange because one of his old teachers is still there and, in fact took Matthew's class last year. Her name is Mrs June Wilson and she actually won a teacher of the year award."

'I can't wait to watch his personality grow'

Mairead Rooney (31) is a fundraiser for the Northern Ireland Cancer Fund for Children. She lives in Newtownabbey with her fiance Barry, a barman, and son Matthew (4). She says:

Matthew is starting at St Bernard's Primary School in Glengormley next Monday – it's close to the house and I went to the open night.

Matthew's been really excited about going to school all summer – I think he's expecting to see all of his friends from nursery but it wasn't attached to the school. We've been putting him to bed early and getting him up at the proper time, though. I can't wait for Matthew to go to school. When he went to nursery it was wonderful to see him develop and learn things so quickly. I can't wait for his next stage and to watch his little personality develop. Time passes by so quickly..

Matthew's uniform is simply trousers, a shirt and tie and maroon jumper. There's a coat and a school bag too but that wasn't compulsory so he's going with a Spiderman bag instead.

I actually don't remember my first day at school – I have a terrible memory – but I do remember my P1 year at Holy Rosary on the Ormeau Road."

Do your homework...

Invent a secret signal with your child – something like squeezing their hand three times – that means 'I love you'. It's something that's secret and special and will give them confidence.

Practice at home. Have lunch from lunchboxes and a fashion parade with the new school uniform – they'll feel more comfortable by the time school comes around. If your child is able to take his or her coat off and hang it in a special place it will save the teacher a lot of time.

When leaving your little one on the first day, explain that you will be back to collect them at a particular time and place.

Ensure your child's teacher is aware of any illnesses, allergies or medications. Make sure things like inhalers are well-labelled with your child's name and that they know how to use it.

Talk about it – discuss with your child what happens at school and how it works. Make sure they know what's coming.

Find an ally at the school gate – another new parent who's going through the same process as you. You'll have a lot in common over the next few years.

Check schoolbags every day – teachers often send notes and letters home in them.

Belfast Telegraph

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