End of term assessment: 12 things I learned during my daughter’s first year at school

School’s out for the summer! Reports have been read, sports day is over and one final rummage around the lost property box has been done. B has made it through Reception and, by default, so have I. I hadn’t expected her starting school to be such an education for both of us but, hey, there’s lots to get to grips with being the parent of a primary starter. Here are 12 things I’ve been enlightened to over the last 12 months…

1. You won’t get your life back when your kid starts school.
The staggering of settling-in days (or half-days) which went on for nearly a month, meant mums and dads of younger class members, especially, had to call in serious favours from their employers. Being self-employed, I got off lightly but was by no means off the hook. When this phase passed, then came letters pressurising inviting parents to ‘stay and read’, ‘get mathematical’, not forgetting requests for trip volunteers and PTA meetings. You become adept at adapting your own schedules.

2. All parents will subscribe to a Class Whatsapp
Until recently, I’ve used WhatsApp for keeping in touch with family overseas, sending pictures to friends and arranging the odd dinner date. Don’t think I’ve ever been in a group of more than ten, so you can imagine how ping-y my phone got once inducted into the Class WhatsApp. We have three groups actually: one for missing uniform and trip reminders, while the other two — one for mums and one for dads — focus on socialising. Having never heard of a Class WhatsApp before, I was assured the concept was virtually OFSTED requirement. As it goes, some schools aren’t fond of them. One parent from a neighbouring prep told me her headmistress tried to ban them at a welcome meeting (not sure how enforceable this is) because parents ‘gang up on teachers’ and issues best handled within school can spiral out of control. I can see how this can happen but, thankfully, other than my phone behaving like a microwave bag of popcorn from time to time, I’ve found the inset day reminders more useful than I’d care to admit.

School meals are happy meals

3. School dinners aren’t what they were.
Despite issues with food being chief migraine causer in our household, I was impressed at the official school lunch menu. We may never — not once — have defected from the daily packed lunch, but had B suddenly felt the urge to try a ‘Popeye’ pizza, a Mexican wrap or shepherd’s pie made with locally sourced produce, we could have opted in by the day, at a day’s notice. And it wouldn’t have cost a penny.

4. Dress-up days will catch you out.
Even if you note World Book Day in your diary at the beginning of the year (clever) — heck, you might even have an old Harry Potter cape ready for upcycling. Just don’t rest on your laurels. There will be at least one more dress-up day scheduled at some point during the year, and you’ll probably hear about it with about three hours notice. For us, Pirate Day crept up out of the blue. Thankfully, me hearties, we had something passable in the cupboard and the proverbially bullet/cannon was dodged. Had we been in one of the upper years and asked to produce something Roman-esque or Victorian, I wouldn’t have been so lucky.

It’s Pirate Day me hearties!

5. Every other term sees a new playground craze.
Where loom-banding was so 2014, this year the eventually banned fidget spinners and Lego cards have been the talk of the playground. I’m not sure who was more committed to completing albums of the latter: parents or kids. But with the help of said WhatsApp group, swap stations were arranged and mums and dads got more involved than what’s age-appropriate. Cards distributer Sainsbury’s was laughing all the way to the bank.

Lego cards: the latest craze to sweep the nation’s playgrounds. Anyone got a spare Unicorn Girl?

6. Five-year-olds have a favourite brand of stationery.
It’s called Smiggle and there are whole shops dedicated to selling its products. Who knew?

7. Bake sales are as frequent, if not more so, than dress-up days.
Now I do like an excuse to get out my wooden spoon. BUT, over the course of the year, I’ve come to realise you don’t have to go all out with the fanciest creations for fundraising purposes because anything with sugar in it will sell. When I was at school, Mum used to rustle up a batch of her own secret recipe Krispy Cakes in less than half an hour on the morning of each sale and I often wondered, given how creative she was, why she never branched out. I understand now. It’s all about speed and quantity.

8. You’ll never feel more inadequate than when comparing your social life to your child’s.
I’ve plucked a birthday invite from B’s book bag almost every other week. And the type of events hosted, ranging from jungle gym-ing to ceramics painting, are something to behold. And while it’s taken me almost a year too figure out what’s appropriate to spend on presents (between £5-10) I haven’t yet mastered the art of breaking the news that it’s physically impossible to go to all of them without tears.

Easy does it. Bake sales are all about keeping it simple

9. Learning to read doesn’t involve words coming home in tobacco tins.
You’re showing your age if you get this reference, but it turns out those ‘stay and read’ sessions are quite helpful if you weren’t reared on phonics.

10. Taking holidays during term is taboo, but not forbidden.
When we got the chance to visit family in Thailand, it meant taking one day off school either side of half-term to travel. I won’t lie, from what I’d heard about taking unauthorised leave, I had a few sleepless nights. Upon declaring it (I like to do things by the book) I was sternly handed forms by the main office and told a pardon was unlikely — we were to ‘expect a fine’. B’s teachers were way more understanding, seeing the wonderful opportunity it was, even incorporating her experiences when they covered ‘travel’ as a curriculum topic. To this day (touch wood) I’m still awaiting said fine…

11. Waiting lists for clubs are as long as your arm.
At least, they are in our part of town. I thought it was hard getting nursery and school places, but when it came to signing up for extra-curricula stuff like swimming and trampolining, if you weren’t in there like a shot, you could forget it. 14months was how long we persevered to get a place at the local gymnastics club, but it was worth it — even if that slot was allocated Mid-July for 6pm on a Friday…

12. Gifting your teacher is standard practice.
Whether you go solo or club together as a class, gifting teachers at the end of the academic year is a universally observed ritual. I’ve noticed over the past few weeks how much thought goes into these offerings: from boards on Mumsnet to broadsheet articles, debate surrounding gifting has been rife. And while admissions of a giant kestrel ornament being purchased for one garden-loving teacher and donations towards a Unicef goat for an African village featured amid discussions online elsewhere, happily, the parents of my daughter’s class agreed a five quid donation towards vouchers for both the teacher and teaching assistant would be most appreciated. No-one wants to figure out how to get thirty ‘Best Teacher’ mugs home on the last day of term, now do they?

School’s out! Let’s have a bag of chips to celebrate.

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Lyndsey Gilmour

Lyndsey Gilmour is an entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She's also a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, feminist and ex-procrastinator.

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