A new era

They were putting up football posts on the park playing field today – the true sign of autumn. My favourite season coincides with the annual return to school or, this year for us, E’s first term at school.

E has remained fairly sanguine about the whole thing, accepting quietly that she will be off to school and a new nursery (twice a week for pick up) and looks rather bored whenever some well meaning adult asks her if she’s excited. For her last day at nursery she was more interested in handing over the box of chocolates to the staff than any momentous occasion. And she’s been working diligently on her ‘homework’ for the summer (decorating a shoebox).

I think, despite her being one of the babies in the class, she’s ready to attend school and start more formal learning. She can just about write her name, she knows her letters and numbers but wants to know about reading, and will benefit from structured instruction. I also think she will be better at becoming independent once she’s settled at school, doing things like going to the toilet and getting ready for bed by herself, for example. She can do these things, she just chooses to have us with her.

A friend asked this week if it doesn’t seem 5 minutes since I was pregnant. I know I’m supposed to say “oh yes, how time flies,” but the truth is, those days seem a long way away. Partly because I hated pregnancy so much I was happy to forget them, but also the baby days. I have no idea what to do with a baby now, and dealing with nappies and weaning and potty training seems ancient history. This seems like an exciting milestone to pass, for us as well as her and certainly people are treating me like I’m going to weep and fall about the place at the school gates. (I can’t comment until I’ve done it.) But when it comes down to it, we’re all ready for E to move on, to go out and learn, to come home and tell us about her day. Perhaps it’s easier to transition when you’ve had a child in nursery since 10 months.

Of course, we think of school as a place to learn things but when I think back to my memories of primary school, I mainly remember the milk in blue plastic beakers, children laughing when I wore the same shoes as a boy in my class and Carolyn Fairbrother taunting me for not winning any races at Sports Day while she had several medals. (I loathed sports day ever since. I’m also a terrible loser. I attribute both of these to Carolyn Fairbrother so I hope she’s satisfied.) Other than this, there are few memories so I think it must have been quite a benign experience. The big stressful stuff starts later, or so we’re told.

Reports come out all the time about how girls do well at school, but recently there was one that acknowledged this while pointing out that girls’ experience of school is often negative and can affect mental health. We have so many things to look out for – bullying, sexual harrassment, confidence issues – that I feel we’ve had it so easy up to now. School years are formative. I know few people who don’t bear some scars (and I’m not talking sports day memories but other, more serious stuff.) Perhaps so many of us are coloured more by the teenage years but evidence suggests that some of the problems in school start in primary age. If you’ve not checked out the Everyday Sexism campaign to get strong Sex and Relationships Education in schools, I urge you to do so. It’s shocking.

I can only advise E to enjoy her school days, to stay confident, to be aware of consent issues, harsh words and nasty comments. I can only advise her to be kind to others, to study and find comfort in books. I can only hope she will come to me with any problems and, as long as they don’t involve quadratic equations, I will try to solve them with her.

In the meantime, it feels like a new term for all of us, and I don’t just mean because I’ve treated myself to a new notebook. In order to work out her new school life, I’m having to change my working habits and try a bit more flexi work from home (to be honest, I always get so much more achieved away from the office this could work out v well – we tried it this evening with me on the laptop and E playing with Lego.) I’m also aiming to have regular writing days on Fridays, and have got myself into a new exercise routine. More on how this works out for us to come, but for now we’re all quite excited.

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