What I learnt in my first year as a School Mum and Sole Parent

Ryan’s orientation, which he missed, was scheduled for Oct 2016 with school starting in Feb 2017. His enrolment papers had already been sent off earlier in the year to the school. I was totally focussed on my husband at the time and had missed all the enrolments. Vinesh passed away on 7th Nov 2017. The school contacted me and got everything sorted.  It was such an emotional time. I remember going over the 15-page enrolment form with the school admin, and broke down when we got to the last page. My husband’s signature was there next to mine. I had forgotten that we had both filled it out months ago when all was well and we didn’t know he was sick.

I had taken Ryan out of childcare by then.  If your child is in preschool, they will start the school routine to get them familiar with and prepared for school. For example, children will start bringing their own lunch boxes. Ryan didn’t have any of this so the whole school routine was new to him from day one.

2017 was quite a year and we definitely grew and began our journey of healing and living life on our own. I’ve put together my learnings and tips which I hope you find helpful in your own journey with all things school related. These may not be anything ground-breaking, some of which you may already be doing if your child attends childcare.

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First day of school

 

To send or not to send

I think the decision on when to send your child to school is very individual. Ryan only turned five in Term One and I found he was one of the youngest in his class. A lot of the birthdays celebrated were for those turning six later in the year. I couldn’t afford to keep him in childcare for another year, and I couldn’t get a placement anyway since we had just moved to the area. The teacher and I agreed that Ryan was ready for school and I genuinely felt, that while he had other struggles going on from losing his father, this year only built his resilience and the ability to move onward with things.

I missed Orientation

Its not the end of the world, but try not to miss it. Get to know the teachers, meet the other parents, familiarise yourselves with the new surroundings, organise what is required for school. This will help you stay on top of things and be faced with minimal surprises when school actually starts.

After school care enabled me to go to work and maintain my independence

Put your name down as soon as you can for after school care. I was able to secure three days a week. I am grateful as the school liaised with the provider who gave me those precious spots on compassionate grounds. My work would have been in jeopardy and this arrangement also helped us maintain our independence in day to day life.

Establish routine BEFORE starting school – for you and your child

The school may give you a guide on how a typical day looks like. Start following this at home. Give snacks and lunch around the same time they will have them in school. A school routine will help you work out how you allocate and prioritise your own day as well. I found the childcare routine very different. For starters, I didn’t have to make lunches back then.

Start going to bed earlier and get a bedtime routine going. We both struggle with it. No devices after 6pm (need to get consistent on this). I give him a shower just before bedtime as he finds it more relaxing. A book read and off to bed, unless it’s, “Read it again mummy!” like five times! During daylight saving, we enjoyed some walks after dinner as well.  Sticking with this routine helped him sleep well. Otherwise, the next morning was difficult for both of us. He would be cranky and have tantrums, it would take longer to get ready, and drops offs took longer.

Go easy with the back to school shopping and focus on quality

Stick to the list provided by your school. You will buy some items during the year   especially if they get lost.

Label everything from uniforms, shoes, bags to bottles and lunch boxes. Anything you send to school has to be labelled.

Buy uniforms a size up. Buy a few pairs for back up from the school second hand shop. You will need to be prepared for not having the uniform ready due rainy weather (I don’t have a dryer anymore), from wear and tear, or not being organised (i fell in this category a lot).

Invest in good quality shoes.  They grow out of it very quickly, so try and get them on sale. This is where most of my money goes on when it comes to what we wear.

Buy a good sized quality school bag. I bought the one sold at school by week two and am happy I did. It cost a bit more and still going strong, water resistant and the straps provided good back and shoulder support. We walk to school and he has always carried his own bag, so it was important. It also needed to be able to comfortably fit his A4 size workbook, lunch bag and library book.

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Lunches is a whole new world

This deserves a whole post to itself which I will do soon.  I didn’t get it right on many occasions, but that’s what the school canteen is for.   I didn’t like their menu very much but there were times when Ryan liked their food better than mine. For example, they apparently made better vegemite sandwiches than I did. She used white bread and less vegemite! And he liked pizza on the occasional Friday.

 

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Master your Drop Offs

My first drop off was the hardest. It was also the most emotional but we got through it. For me it was symbolic of new beginnings for both of us. For Ryan, drops off were the hardest for at least the first part of the year. His teacher and a few others on duty had to hold him down while he screamed and cried. He would complain that I didn’t say bye to him so I had to make sure our hugs, kisses and bye was communicated clearly when I left for work.

Get your employer on board 

Work out some flexible hours, such as, starting work later for the first few days, if you need a longer drop off time. I saw some children who were only too eager to say bye to their parents but that wasn’t the case for me. There were many times I was late to work or made it just on time due to the drop offs.  By Term 3 he had settled down and these became less daunting for him. We’re allowed to leave them from 8.40am onwards. I started getting there slightly early so that he got more time to settle down before I rushed off to work.

I found getting involved very rewarding

Take a day off to volunteer in school or participate in some activity – at least once.  And if you are not able to, be kind to yourself and don’t beat yourself up over it. Seriously! I felt guilty at first and really wanted to attend certain events in school. Be prepared that it may not always work out with work or other commitments. I work part time so I was able to volunteer a couple of times and attend some functions and celebrations on my days off.   Ryan was extremely happy that I was able to do this.  It gave me a feel for what they did in class and simply being able to see Ryan in his school environment was rewarding in itself. I feel very grateful that I was able to do so.

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Volunteering for excursion at the beach

 

Make an effort to get to know the parents – or at least one of them.

I did this during drop offs, when I volunteered and when I invited everyone to Ryan’s birthday. I wasn’t able to attend any P&C meetings as it was at night and children aren’t allowed and I have no one to leave Ryan with. I’m so glad I did. For starters I don’t know anyone in this area, so was nice to meet other people, as well as know who Ryan’s friends were. Also on the plus side, it’s been great to have regular coffee catch ups with one of the mums in what is a very lonely experience even at the best of times.

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Mothers Day morning tea

Check in on your child’s progress during the term 

I don’t mean call them every other day and also not just about academic but more for other developmental areas. Don’t wait for end of term catch ups. I wanted to make sure he was settling in. Having parents as teachers, I have a great appreciation for what they do for our children. Ryan’s teacher was extremely supportive in his development. We organised a lovely gift for her at the end of the year as a token of our appreciation. Read more about it here Teacher Gift Guide

Be organised

I say this because lack of it landed me in a lot trouble (with Ryan) and made me look tardy.  Your child doesn’t want to stand out or be different for all the wrong reasons. “Mum I was the only one not wearing a sports uniform today!” Make sure you check and diarise everything. Download the school app to stay current with news. Make note of when certain events are held, when permission notes and or money needs to be handed in by, and so forth. You don’t want to be that parent the teacher seeks out. I have a spot in my study room dedicated to all things school related, with a separate month to page format calendar marked with important dates. Some of you may like electronic reminders, however Ryan and I both preferred our visual board and he liked the idea of his own special calendar. He also took pride in reminding me of what was on next. “Don’t forget mummy!”

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Quality Checking what went in his lunch box

Prepare as much as you can the night before

Pack lunches, put out the uniforms, have a designated area for bag and shoes and so forth. This year, I’m hoping to pack in a lot more ‘me time’ in the mornings while Ryan sleeps, such as, a morning workout in my lounge room (I know I’m not going to work out at night), reading a book or having a quiet coffee. Other than that I’m just hoping to maximise my time especially on the days that I work so that things flow better when I get back home.

Homework is a pain but it has to be done

It’s a criterion they are assessed on at the end of each term. You both will need to get used to it and start allocating some time to this each night. On some nights, it was easier as he had finished his homework during after school care.

Encourage participation

Send them to all the excursions and encourage participation in everything. Learning doesn’t happen in the classroom only. Ryan enjoyed all his excursions and incursions. He wanted to be involved in every activity so be prepared for book week, mufti days, sports carnival, and other celebrations.

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Ryan showing off his face paint on National Sorry Day

Have cash ready at all times. Unless you are paying for something online, everything else is via cash.

After school activities will go up and so will your expenses

Budget time and money for them. This year Ryan continued his swimming classes and started indoor soccer skills training. He also did music for one term. Will reassess what classes he continues next year – He wants to do so many things but also complains of getting tired so I don’t want to put too much on his plate. If he wasn’t going to after school care, we could have done all three. Swimming is definitely staying on the agenda and compulsory in my opinion. The school offers more activities for the older children so I’m hoping he will get enough as the years go by.

Your child’s social calendar will be busier than yours

Well, mine was pretty much non existent as I did not attend any large social functions, birthdays etc.  Ryan loved attending all the birthday parties and enjoyed shopping for the presents.

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Ryan’s Bumble Bee birthday party

“I’m in big school now!” 

There were things he was doing this year which wasn’t the case when he was in childcare. He became his own little man this year. There was nothing more proud for Ryan then to say, “Mummy, I can do it myself now!” We celebrated the littlest of milestones.  He started to be more independent and expressive. Get your child involved in their own development as well. Independence was a development area for him in school so there are things that we did at home to make sure he developed this over time. I also encouraged him to pick his own menu for school lunches, asking him to check what was due on the calendar for the week, making sure he put his own bag and shoes away when we got back home, and so forth. Note not everything is smooth sailing, there are still things we will continue to work on and learn over time.

Be prepared for more falls, bruises, and bandaids.

Take Care of Yourself and Enjoy this Journey

My most favourite part of the day was picking Ryan up from school. We live a five minute walk from home and always walk – rain hail or shine since I don’t drive. It’s the best. He tells me how his day was or expresses something to get off his chest and I do the same.  I love all our chats.

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One of Ryan’s cousins helping with school pick up

Take a break. I was fortunate that I didn’t have to use vacation care as Ryan was able to fly to my in-laws during all his school holidays. I really missed him like crazy but still took the opportunity to do things on my own. I made my first solo trip in the April holidays, spending a week in Hong Kong. I also had a Whitsundays getaway in the July holidays with my mum. I still find birthdays and milestones very difficult without Vinesh. I can’t stress enough that you need to take care of yourself first before you take care of your child. Its only then that you are able to go above and beyond in whatever it is that you are doing. There were times when things took a toll on me and I was very hard on myself. I stopped the self-judgement and feelings of guilt and other negative thoughts and started focussing on self-care.

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Off to Grandparents for the school holidays

There are so many more things to add to the above but I hope you get some understanding of how the first year could look like. From my own experience, I cherish every moment and continue to learn from the frustrating ones and the ones I cannot control. I won’t get this time back. He is growing and someday will live his own life. I made certain choices and was grateful that I was able to work part time hours. This has been a very lonely journey as a parent but I still had help from my parents and in-laws especially during the school holidays.  And Ryan just rocks my world. He is just gorgeous! Overall I made the most of every opportunity that I received in 2017 and feel blessed for it.

How did you go in your first year? What have you learnt as a school parent? I would love to hear from you!

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Happy schooling!

Jayanita

 

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