BACK to school is a phrase we have been waiting to mutter with nervous anticipation for many months now.
This year, it feels difficult to give advice on preparing kids (and parents!) for back to school when, as I write this, so much is still unknown about what the return to classrooms will look like. However, it is probably the most important year of all to give out whatever slice of advice I feel I can.
This week, I want to focus on the new beginners because it is an unusual time to be starting school and children and parents alike may be feeling nervous. However, there is so much you can do to empower your child before they start school so that both you and they are happy and confident on the first day.
Most years, it goes without saying that you must label everything for your child going into school, but this year more than ever that will be important. Children will not be allowed to share pencils, rubbers, pencil sharpeners (I’m a Sligo woman, I still haven’t come around to the word topper!) so make sure all of those are labelled.
For junior infants, because they can’t read, I’m sure some can recognise their own name, but it might be worthwhile including a little image on the label, like a unicorn or cow, whatever they are into, so that they know instantly that it is their belonging.
When it comes to lunches, make sure that your child does not need any help with opening and closing everything. Ensure they can open and close the lunch box themselves and get them to practice doing it. Same thing with their water bottle, make sure it’s not only easy to open but also obvious when it needs to be closed, we have had a few in the past that you have to twist to open which is easy to do but it doesn’t look obvious when it’s open or closed. More often that not, the school bag came home dripping wet because when you’re five and it’s time to go play with your friends double checking the lid on your bottle is closed is literally the last thing on your mind!
Regarding different foods in the lunchbox, it’s worth checking whether the school has a healthy eating policy and also if there are nut allergies in the class or school to take into account. Make sure your child can open any packets or cartons you give them.
With fruit, if they need peeling you do it at home for them and with bananas put a little slit at the top, it doesn’t go off but children can open them easily.
Every school has a different policy on uniforms so I’m not going to pass comment on that, but what is worth looking at is the coat and shoes you put on your child. There is a great clip on YouTube that teaches younger kids how to tie their laces by putting the top of the lace into the first lacehole on the shoe and making loops.
However, if at all possible buy runners and shoes with velcro, it’s one less thing for you as a parent to have to stoop down to do in the morning and also some laces are silky and tend to open frequently throughout the day and that’s no fun for anyone.
There is also a nice little trick to teach young children how to put on their coats: you place the coat out in front of the child on the ground, upside down so the hood part is at their feet. They bend down, put their arms into the sleeves and flip it over their heads. Do a check that they are able to zip up or button their own coats too.
There is no doubt that starting school this year will be a bit different, but that doesn’t mean it has to be extra stressful, all we can do as parents now is to reassure our children that it will be fine and make it fun by teaching them those simple tricks.
Teachers will no doubt be doing their best to make sure they welcome the new recruits with kindness and compassion.
Eimear Hutchinson is writing a Parenting and Lifestyle column weekly for WoW! The mum of four small girls runs a blog. She has a doctorate in Engineering but is taking time out currently, raising her four girls. She loves DIY projects, exploring outdoors and figuring out how to make life run smoothly in a busy house.