This mothering lark is hard. Who knew? Obviously the newborn stage is tough, I grant you. However, even when you’re getting 10-hours sleep a night and your offspring can wipe their own arses, I wasn’t quite prepared for how hard the ‘starting school’ stage would be, for both of us.
This might be a timely post for readers waving their littlies off to school in September. Gird your loins, people. The eldest, Dante, had been at nursery for 3 years, so I presumed moving next door into the big school with all his friends wouldn’t be too much of a biggie. Wrong. It has been a MASSIVE learning curve, both for his little brain (he can read! he can write!), but more than that, he is now learning about the big. wide. world, he is part of the school community and working out his place in the pecking order of playground politics (don’t get me started on Pokemon cards…). It’s hard.
Don’t get me wrong, he is at an AMAZING school where he is truely thriving and he adores both his class mates and his teacher – I just think they are learning SO much amazing stuff and they are constantly being stimulated and inspired that their brains are constantly firing and it’s hard to switch off. We had a bit of burn-out in the first term where he got sick a lot and in hindsight I don’t think he was getting enough down-time to let his brain switch off. So, we are now trying these little tweaks to our home life to help him navigate his school life better:
1/ We have a few mantras, mini pep-talks in the car on the way to school to set a positive tone for his day. Some my mum used to say to me and some are our own. ‘Be honest and kind’. These are the only two things we ask Dante to be. I think for a 5 year old, simplicity is best. He knows that as long as he tells the truth he will never get into trouble and being kind is fundamental to everything else he will learn to be at school. Kind to his classmates, friends, teachers and to himself. ‘If something is hard, try harder’ – this is a BIG one for him, maybe it’s his nature, or maybe it’s his age, but if he feels he’s not very good at something, or is finding something a challenge, he tends to get frustrated and give up quickly. Trying to instil in him the fact that we all have to do things in life we find a challenge I think is important, but also showing him that succeeding in something we find hard is actually all the more rewarding.
2/ Making our home a sanctuary. This is something I read about on Cup of Jo aaaaages ago and it stuck with me. The idea of when they walk through the front door and kick off their shoes they can unwind and feel revived is so simple but so key to balancing out the pace of school life. Whether it’s hot chocolates, onesies and a bit of trash telly in the winter, or ice lollies and the paddling pool with his brother for an hour in the summer. Before we get into the dinner, bath, bed routine I always make sure he has some down-time to unwind.
3/ Make the most of the weekends. Before he started school I feel like we had all the time in the world, now in those 48-hours we have at the end of the week, I try to make sure we are focused on being together as a family. It’s so easy as working parents to spend the weekends catching up with jobs at home, getting the chores done ready for the week ahead, but we are trying to carve out time to actually just BE. Whether it’s just a leisurely pancake breakfast (Dante’s favourite), a bike ride, beach trip or even hopping over to Italy for the weekend to see his beloved Zia Maria, I want him to feel like life isn’t just about school, he has a ‘home life’, too.
4/ Do a bedtime brain dump. When you’ve spent the whole day learning about how rubbish and plastics are killing the ocean’s wildlife, that can kind of stick with you if you’re a sensitive 5 year old. Bathtime seems to be the key time, once he’s unravelled from his day, where he wants to process the stuff he’s learnt or has stuck with him through the day (how do snail’s shells stick on? Why do whales have noses on their heads? Why didn’t X want to play with me at lunchtime today? I’m worried I’m going to come last on Sports Day…). Just like I try and write down any ‘to-do lists’ or worries from the day before I sleep, it’s a bit of time for him to off-load and I think he’s sleeping all the more soundly for it.
5/ The great mystery of what they had for lunch. So, I’ve polled approx. 30 parents and not ONE of their offspring can answer the question: ‘So, what did you have for lunch at school today?’. Similarly, if I ask Dante what he’s been doing at school he will usually reply: ‘I can’t remember’. Which at the start of the year INFURIATED ME. I’d look at his timetable and he’d have had a day packed with science, PE, art, Spanish…. and NADA had sunk in. It wasn’t even so much that I was worrying that he wasn’t learning anything but more that I had missed him for the previous 8 hours and wanted to know what he’d been up to! Over dinner, we now try and ask him more leading questions to spark his memory:
‘Tell me something amazing you did today’
‘Who did you play with at break time today’
‘Did anything funny happen in class today?’
‘What book is Miss H reading to you at the moment?’
‘What was your least favourite part of your day?’
‘Tell me something that you bet I don’t know?’ (this is always a winner, he is such a fact-lover!)
‘What are you looking forward to about tomorrow?’
Obviously we don’t bombard him with questions! Usually it only takes one or two to get the ball rolling and he’s off on a tangent.
Trust me, we do NOT have this parenting thing sussed, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve seen all of these things really help Dante settle and grow in his first year at school… let me know how you get on!