I’m a real people watcher. Absolutely love it. I could spend hours sat in a café watching people come and go, observing their interactions from a distance, making up their fabulous and exciting life stories in my head. Not that I ever get the chance to sit in a café alone by the way. That’s the dream, right?
And there’s no place better for people watching than the school playground in the first few weeks of term. I’ve got three boys, and my middle one started reception this September. So I’m part of that nervous gaggle of parents, warily dropping off their 4 year olds, laden down with book bags, water bottles and PE kits, but I also have the experience of having gone through this a few years ago too. Yes, I’m one of them. Those hardened 2nd (or more) time Mums, who know the score.
I was stood in the playground on the Thursday of the first week of term, which was the first day that the reception kids stayed for lunch at our school. Monday to Wednesday were just an hour and a half of school each day – nightmare for working parents everywhere – it wasn’t until the Friday that the kids actually did a full day at school!
I was casually eavesdropping on a conversation between a Mum who was there to pick up her third child and a Mum who was there to pick up her first, and as I watched a grown woman visibly deteriorate into an anxious wreck with her mind completely blown in front of my very eyes, it got me thinking (and offering a virtual hug to the poor first time Mum).
As a 2nd or more time parent, there’s a few do’s and don’ts to observe when chatting to a first time parent in the playground:
Don’t laugh at their labelling of EVERYTHING, saying that everyone’s uniform will be all mixed up and water bottles broken or lost by October half term anyway. For many parents, part of the process of accepting that their babies are now ready for school is getting stuck in to obsessive labelling, trying to ensure that their kids have everything they need when they are out of the home. It’s soothing for an anxious parent to label stuff. And I’ve seen some very cute labels on book bags and water bottles this year, with fire engines, spaceships and unicorns. Kind of regretting my son’s name just being written in biro on the label now – such a token effort!
Don’t start regaling them with all the details of how the Junior school has a cashless system, so school lunches, trips, non uniform days etc are all paid for via an online portal. This may be the very first time that their child has eaten lunch away from home, so filling their head with thoughts of managing to remember to put money in their child’s online account to ensure that they don’t starve, or their 4 year old ever being big enough to choose their own lunch in a canteen is a little unnecessary and definitely uncalled for!
Don’t tell them about the time that your older child fell off a bench at after school club in the hall and had to go to hospital for stitches to their eyebrow (“It’s fine, there’s only a small scar!”). They probably feel terrible that they are having to use after school club in the first place, so thoughts of blood and ambulances don’t need to be shoved into their heads. Just don’t…
Don’t tell them all about the 3 night school residential trip that the kids go on in year 4. They’ve only just got their head round the fact that their child is in full time school and away from them, Monday to Friday for 30 odd weeks of the year. The thought that their child will go away with school friends and teachers, carrying a bag packed full of clean clothes, wash bag (which won’t be opened) and towel (which won’t be used) and that they won’t tuck them into bed for 3 nights is bloody terrifying!
Don’t tell them about the PTA meetings, the constant fundraising for this and that, the coughs, colds and chickenpox that the first year of school brings. Don’t tell them about how tired their child will be by October half term, funny as it is when you recount the epic meltdowns that you endured trying to persuade your older kids to get dressed for school. Don’t panic them with tales of reading diaries, spelling tests, homework and, ssshhhh, SATS.
Do tell them how happy, confident and settled your older kids are at school. That’s what they want to hear. That their darling child will be encouraged, inspired, motivated and treasured at school. That they’ll flourish, grow and bloom, and that it will be wonderful to see.
Do tell them about all the lovely teachers there are at school. People who actually choose to spend their time with 30 kids every day, never losing their temper, always listening, enjoying craft (imagine that?!) and teaching countless children lots of magical things.
Do tell them about all the fun and creative stuff their kid will get involved in, under the auspices of a ‘good education’. School plays, mad scientist days, visits from local authors, Victorians day, walks around the area learning about local history, World Book day, food tasting, learning about other cultures and religions, bake sales and school fayres, African drumming, ALL the sports. So. Much. Fun.
Or, don’t tell them anything at all, and let them find it all out in their own time, but do ask them if they’d like to meet up for a coffee or a glass of wine. School mum friends are the best!