Keep your cool: Tips and tricks for navigating the first week of school

It's unnecessary - and expensive - to buy everything new. Try picking up some second-hand items. Picture: Shutterstock
It's unnecessary - and expensive - to buy everything new. Try picking up some second-hand items. Picture: Shutterstock

This week, hundreds of children will be starting their school journey in Canberra and at the same time, many parents will be fighting back tears at the thought of their "baby" starting school.

Understandably, you want the best experience for your child and for them to enjoy every minute of school, but as you will have discovered by now, parenting is never straightforward.

Curve balls get thrown from every angle, and school is really just another new, shiny playing field that gets worn down as the year goes on.

My eldest is going into Year 3 and starting school was a steep learning curve for me. I now have my "baby" starting kindergarten in 2020 and thankfully, I have picked up some tips and tricks along the way that I feel, in the spirit of public service journalism, should be shared with others on this journey. Hopefully some of these will make the transition to school life a little easier for you and your children. So, in no particular order, here are my top tips for surviving the school year:

Communicate with your child's teacher

You won't get those daily updates you have been used to in daycare or preschool, and it's likely that any questions you put to your child about their day will be answered with a grunt or non-committal "it was fine". If you're anything like me, this lack of answer will drive you crazy, because this is probably the first time you won't know every detail of their day (yes, I was a self-confessed helicopter parent).

If you have questions or concerns about your child, schedule a time for a quick chat with the teacher. It only takes five minutes and you can get an idea of how your child is settling in and what kinds of things they have been working on. Plus, the teacher will be impressed.

It's OK to give them a day off from time to time 

In fact, the teachers will thank you for it! Can you imagine how difficult it must be to try and teach 20-30 exhausted and emotional kindergarten children? School is huge for young kids and some don't cope as well as others. So if you can manage the odd special day off, you'll be doing everyone a favour.

Be a parent helper 

Most schools will encourage and welcome parent helpers in the classroom and on excursions. It's a great way to get to know your child's teacher and friends plus it will give you a glimpse into their day. If you can't do this because of work commitments, don't stress. There are always parents who have flexibility and can stay regularly.

Set the bar low for lunches 

Like,really low. Trust me, start as you mean to go on because by term three you will be cursing the daily lunch box routine, particularly if you have more than one child. Stay away from cursed Pinterest and stick to the classics; sandwiches, fruit, yoghurt, pretzels, cheese and crackers are all simple and easy lunchbox items that will definitely be eaten.

Also consider a small thermos so occasionally your child can take leftovers from last night's dinner. I know it may seem really lovely and fun preparing handmade sushi and cute sandwiches cut into adorable shapes, but it's impossible to keep this momentum going long term and the novelty will wear off quickly. Kids don't have a lot of time to eat anyway so they just want something quick and tasty to eat in record time so they can start playing.

Keep lunchbox staples simple to reduce stress in the morning. Picture: Shutterstock

Keep lunchbox staples simple to reduce stress in the morning. Picture: Shutterstock

Label everything 

It is ridiculous how many items are lost, especially in the first year of school. If it's not labelled you will never see it again. If you have more than one child, label items with the surname only so you can hand them down to the next child in the future. Your future self will thank you.

Make sure the lunch box lid is attached to the box 

It may seem trivial but your child will likely lose the lid if it isn't attached. My daughter and a friend once decided to play an impromptu game of Frisbee with their lids and they were never retrieved.

Take a photo of school notes that come home on your phone 

Many schools are pretty old-school when it comes to communication. Paper will never die, it seems. Taking a snap on your phone will ensure that you always have the information with you even if the physical copy is lost. Some schools have an online portal or email information which is much easier, just remember to check it regularly.

Starting kindergarten can be a steep learning curve - for children AND their parents. Picture: Shutterstock

Starting kindergarten can be a steep learning curve - for children AND their parents. Picture: Shutterstock

Don't assume your child will be exhausted at the start of term 

Some kids seem to run on crazy, energetic adrenaline and are wired until late at night. This can be especially disappointing if, like many parents, you were looking forward to early, fuss-free bedtimes for a change. But rest assured, if it doesn't hit at the start of the term, at some point your child will be an exhausted and emotional wreck.

When this happens, consider giving them their dinner earlier, around 4pm, and then a light snack later on when they are too tired to eat a big meal - just like when they were actual babies. You may also want to avoid after-school activities for the first term, just until they settle into the new routine. Also have snacks for the drive or walk home from school to avoid a "hangry" child. In others words, if in doubt, feed them.

Pack spare underwear and socks in a zip lock bag.

Even a child who never has accidents at home may have one at school. They often get distracted with all that playing, or are too shy to ask to go to the toilet during class time. I still do this for my eight-year-old, it saves the embarrassment of them having to go to the front office to ask for spare undies.

If your school has an official school bag, attach fancy key rings or ribbon to their bag so they are easy to spot 

Another thing for which your future self will thank you.

Don't feel pressured to take part in every trend or fad 

They come around constantly and usually last a few weeks. You can thank supermarkets for the biggest crazes in 2019. It will seem like life or death for your child that they have the latest toy or collectable, but pick which you give in to or you will be broke by the middle of the year and be the owner of multiple, discarded pieces of plastic.

Consider setting up a Facebook group for your class and invite parents to join 

It is a great way to meet other parents and share information about school and what is happening each week.

Down the track it's also a great way to set up social activities outside of school hours. These will most likely involve wine because ... parenting.

If it is an option, get velcro or buckle shoes 

Shoelaces are difficult for kids in kindy, and they often come undone during the day.

They also take forever to do up during those frantic minutes when you're trying to leave the house and the clock continues to tick on because it just doesn't care.

Teachers will also thank you for one less pair of shoes to tie 20 times a day.

Buy uniforms too big and have them taken up or taken in 

Then as they grow you can just adjust them. Don't feel you have to buy everything new either.

Despite what many - including your own kids, probably - will tell you, there is nothing wrong with second-hand or hand-me-downs. In fact, do it now before your child is old enough to care about this type of thing.

You can get great quality second-hand uniforms in Canberra, because it's such a transient city that people are often selling after only a year or two of wear.

Find your parent tribe 

These are the ones who have your back and will look out for your child when you aren't there.

The people you can call to stay with your child when you are racing from the office and stuck in traffic. The ones you will cry and laugh with and support at different times throughout the school journey.

Try and make sure one is the parent unicorn, who is there at every drop off and pick up, helps in the classroom, always knows what is going on at school and loves a wine and a laugh. He or she might make you feel inadequate at times, but they will be your lifeline.

If this is you, congratulations! No pressure or anything, but you are the holy grail of school parents and we need you.

Most importantly, enjoy it!

Take lots of photos on their first day! This is a very exciting parenting milestone and kindergarten is wonderful.

Your child will learn how to read and write and will make some amazing friends along the way. The days will feel short, and the weeks even shorter, but you'll likely never forget the first one.

You will also have a new appreciation for coffee and wine and probably make some lifelong friends at the school gate.

This story Keep your cool: Tips and tricks for navigating the first week of school first appeared on The Canberra Times.