No matter which way you look at it, one’s first entrance into school is a huge milestone. It signifies a new beginning, a transferal of responsibility for learning and social interactions and a total shift in independence. I knew the experience would be a monumental one for Eli, but I’m not sure that I was totally prepared for the level of change it would bring for me as well.
Many hours were spent talking about the change and attempting to prepare for it. Quite apart from the practical considerations of shopping for supplies, considering lunch box guidelines and painstakingly labelling every item that would leave the house, there was also the emotional preparation. We regaled Eli with stories about our own school experiences and struggles, fielded questions about what to do when nature calls in the classroom and spoke about how to navigate friend difficulties on the playground.
The first morning of school dawned clear and bright. The alarm clock that had carefully been set the previous night was made redundant by the nervous excitement that bloomed early. Breakfast scoffed down and uniform on, then came the questions of whether it was time to go yet. Dave took the morning off to witness the big transition, Hudson and Ivy seemed equally as excited as their big brother – relishing the numerous opportunities for photos. And then, suddenly, it was over. Eli barely looked up as we said ‘good-bye’, already so engaged in the activities set out on the table. Transition established.
I think it will take a few weeks to properly dawn on me that this is the new normal, not just a fun educational experience devised as a temporary diversion. It still feels a little strange that the moment that we have been counting down to for so long has actually arrived. In the meantime, however, here are a couple of the things I have discovered along the way.
1. Preparation is Important
There were more than a few moments during the holidays when I looked at the clock in mild horror thinking ‘how on earth are we going to make it out the door in time for school drop offs each morning’? Particularly that one morning when I crept into Eli’s room at 9am to make sure he was still alive and breathing. We weren’t known for our early rising, that’s for sure. It turns out that my catastrophising wasn’t really necessary, however. Going to bed earlier, packing lunches the night before, setting out the uniform on the chair, getting dressed before the kids – all of these little things have come together to make the process a little smoother.
2. Practice Makes Perfect
I wasn’t under any illusions that the school holidays versions of ourselves would magically morph into efficient beings. For the week prior to the big day, we began to adjust our schedule – setting alarms, finding new strategies to encourage quick dressing, reiterating the importance of ‘doing what we have to do, THEN what we want to do’. Of course, nothing is foolproof – we all still have moments of struggle and I still get overwhelmed by all the tasks that are looming and the clock that loudly announces the narrowing time, but overall it has somehow worked. Everyone is aware of the expectations, having had the chance to practice doing their part before the pressure was on.
3. Change is Tiring
Maybe it is the fact that I’m almost 30 weeks pregnant, or maybe it is just the reality of changing schedules and figuring out new strategies, but either way I am pretty exhausted! We had developed a really helpful routine of ‘rest time’ which totally clashes with school pick up time now. I’m still in the process of working out a solution that will allow all of us a chance to have some down time during the day so that we don’t end up limping over the finish line.
4. School Traffic Sucks
I guess there is not much to be done when everyone needs to drop off and pick up their kids at the same time, and our school even staggered the initial start times for preps to give them a chance to adjust. The reality of having to find an elusive car park and get kids in and out of the car multiple times per day is tiring and a little stressful. I’m learning strategies for how early to get to school to get a park without taxing the patience of frustrated preschoolers cooped up in a hot car. Let me know if you have any tips!
5. Meltdowns are Inevitable
With such huge changes, emotional upheaval is bound to happen. We have experienced more than a few bedtime battles now, as well as overreactions about things that normally wouldn’t have been a big deal. Knowing this has helped me show a little more grace when I’m definitely not feeling magnanimous (most of the time). Of course, I’m no saint when it comes to weathering the emotional storms of my children and am often just tempted to join in. Thankfully, Dave is a little more skilled when it comes to showing patience in the face of being told for the hundredth time “you don’t love me!” or “I’m not going to bed!” It turns out my best version of ‘good cop’ is doling out punishments in a nice voice. Not that helpful.
This is a whole new world for me and I’m learning a lot already about navigating the different reality. Overall I think that this will be a positive change for all of us, and I’m doing my best to embrace the messiness and unpredictability of this stage. The fact that Eli has taken to the classroom with such confidence has removed a lot of other issues that could be weighing on my mind right now. Even if I do have to deal with a few more meltdowns at home in the process…
Now, over to you! What have you learned about the transition that has been helpful? I would love to hear your best ‘back to school’ tips and tricks and what is working for you!