We’re only a couple of weeks off starting school (every day I get asked, ‘when’s September?’) but I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp of the things that need to be checked off before starting. So I thought I’d pull together a post sharing those points you may have forgotten as well as the obvious ones. Oh, and the approximate timings.
I’m assuming primary school (or kindergarten in the US), but nursery or preschool starters’ parents could also find these useful reminders.
My rule is don’t leave it all til the last minute (although some bits are out of my hands when it comes to timings!)
On receiving your school place:
There will be forms to complete. First accept (or decline) your place. Don’t leave it til the last minute. Accept. Even if you’re appealing somewhere, still accept the place you’ve been offered because you can always turn it down. If you don’t, you might lose it.
Fill in whatever forms you need to. The number, type and timings will vary depending on where your school is. I panicked because most of my online friends and friends in our area with reception starters, had all received letters and details from the school. I didn’t. We had only the offer letter, and a school nurse form. Bizarre but true!
2. Find out about open days and settling in sessions
If your child is in a preschool attached to the school, chances are the preschool will just have organised days where the children walk to the school and have a play and meet the teacher. If not, there’ll be a variety of options.
From talking to friends, most schools have a parents morning or evening, and then sessions for the children. Sessions can be over several weeks for around an hour at a time, or they can be a full day at school.
I had to chase when ours was because I’d not heard anything since the offer letter – schools don’t seem to think about the fact that nowadays most people work and therefore anything during the school needs organisation and permission for time off from work.
3. Meet the teacher
Some schools do home visits, others send the teachers round to the nearby nurseries or preschools to meet the children who’ll be starting in their class. Bizarrely we had the school ring to arrange a home visit, saying they didn’t have us down as being at one of the nurseries, when N goes to both that they visit. So home visit was aborted, and the teacher visited the children in nursery instead.
4. Attend parents’ and children’s settling in sessions
We had a parents morning (effectively a couple of hours that were mostly not that helpful), and then the children had a morning or all day at school depending on what they wanted. We could also speak to the people who provide the free meals, and try out uniform samples.
It was a chance to meet other parents and for the children to get used to being in the classroom (or playground in N’s case as he spent most of the day in the rain outside) and learn where they’d be for the next year.
We were also given a pack of information and forms to fill in and return before school starts.
If you’re appealing for a place and haven’t heard if you’ve got the place yet, do ask if you can still attend any settling in sessions in case your child does win their appeal.If you're waiting on school appeal results, ask if you can go to settling in sessions in case you win Click To Tweet
One of my friends did this with their son who got in to the school, while another parent didn’t. Her son also got in but he’s not met any of the children before, so has missed out on that opportunity to be there with all the other children. It does feel to me silly having the appeals so late that the settling in sessions get missed, but it’s worth asking the question.
5. Ask questions
At the parents sessions, you can’t always think of everything you want to ask. So try and store up all your questions beforehand so you have them with you instead of having to think of them on the day.
A big one is communication – how and how frequently does the school communicate about school events, class events, homework and general progress.
After school clubs – while you might want to leave it until they’ve settled in a bit until thinking about after school clubs, it’s worth finding out about them early. Ours tend to finish at 4pm, so will be no good for us because there’s no way of picking him up then or getting him to wraparound care afterwards. What is the lead time for booking, and when do you find out what clubs are running and when.
Uniform – you’ll have a list, but check if you need to have official school supplier tops or if they can be non-logo’d (or plain with then the suppliers just embroidering the logo on).
Water bottle – most schools ask children to bring in their own water bottle. Check if they have to be clear bottles or if anything goes.
6. Order school lunches
Reception age children in the UK currently get free school meals, and usually it’s online ordering, with a deadline in the school holidays. So get your logins and get ordering early. Our hardest choice has so far been sausages or macaroni cheese – 2 of N’s favourites being served on the same day!
7. Wrap around care
If you need it, make sure you start thinking about it early, ie before the summer holidays. Do they have it at the school, when, where, how much, can you use work childcare vouchers to pay for it. And don’t forget to cancel any automated childcare voucher payments that go to an old childcare provider.
Our school doesn’t have any wraparound care. The nursery school now has after school club, but they have to transport the children from the school to the nursery by cars because they’re now just outside the village. You might have a childminder – but when you’re looking be aware of where they’ll drop off or pick up. You might also find that if they’re the only one picking up at that specific school, that they’re fully booked. So start looking early.
School drop offs are my nightmare at the moment. With after school sorted, it’s now working out what’s going to happen in the mornings, because I was think I’d have to request different hours to be able to do drop off. However, it looks like they’re trialling breakfast club (well, we provide the food, they provide the staff). They didn’t tell us about it at the settling in day or parents session, so if you’re looking for something like this it’s always worth asking because if they don’t have anything, but find out that a few parents would want it, they might start one up.
8. Plan the first week (and more) of school
If you’re a working parent, school logistics are horrendous. Unless of course, you work school hours and term time only (yes, I know someone who wangled this), have a nanny, family, wrap around care to cover school drop offs and picks up. But for other working parents, after the ease of day nursery hours, school hours are hard to work around.
So start thinking about it early. I haven’t. I thought about it, but haven’t done anything about it, because it could mean requesting the one allowed change a year, and then finding I didn’t need to change it. So I’m winging it based on the hope that I can temporarily share drop offs if required.
Check early on (preferably when looking round schools in the first place), what the starting arrangements are for reception children. We’re lucky in that all children start full time straight away after the September inset day. But I know lots of people whose children are going in mornings or afternoons only, term time starts later, or reception classes start a week after the rest of the school, or any permeatation of part days that schools might think work well.
If it was our school, I’d be making a point that they have an obligation to take my child full time from that point, but something to bear in mind if you need to coordinate work, childcare (many nurseries wouldn’t be able to take a reception child while the school’s only doing part time), and other children.
9. Buy uniform
Check with the school at the settling in sessions if they have second hand uniform sales. If not, and you don’t know anyone to have handmedowns from, then why not try asking on local selling sites, or freecycle.
I didn’t want to buy N’s uniform too early, because I know he tends to grow around 5 cm over each summer. But buying earlier in the summer means you get more choice of sizes and styles. I found trousers come up really big because many are dual sized, but managed to find age 5s in Next, M&S and BHS. I’m fussy about avoiding the really hard fabric of the teflon coated, cheaper trousers, so do shop around and try out lots of shops until you find ones that fit, or will fit come school starting day.
10. Buy school shoes
Feet are meant to grow faster in the summer months than winter, so it’s worth leaving shoes until later in the holidays. But if you’re buying shoes from high street stores do see if you can book an appointment, rather than having to queue with everyone else.
11. Label everything.
Clothes, coat, hat, shoes, bags, water bottle.
12. Talk to your child about starting school
If you keep the discussion going and a countdown, it should help them understand the change of routine so they know what will be happening.
13. Enjoy the summer
We don’t have the summer holidays yet because I’m working and N’s still at nursery until a week before he starts school. But we’ve made the most of weekends, and having a few days off here and there to get some breaks.
And a final one, why not arrange to meet up with other mums of new starters on the first day of school. You can all celebrate or commiserate together.
So that’s my list of 13 tips for getting ready for your new school starter. What tips would you add?
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