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Every now and again, a reader of this blog comes up with a superb idea for something I could write about. I was chatting to a dad recently who did just that. Would I, he said, consider writing a dad’s guide to the school run?

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Based on my own experiences, I outline what a newbie school run dad can expect in the playground.

As we’re in the final third of the summer holidays, this seems like the ideal time to write such an article. In the next few weeks, reception-aged kids will start at school and mums and dads who possibly haven’t set foot in a school for decades will suddenly find themselves back there again.

Personally speaking, I found it a very odd experience when my eldest started school four years ago. It really was like being back at school again myself.

Was I supposed to allow my children to use the climbing frame in the playground at the start of the day? Was everybody staring at me as I played obscure games my kids had invented? Were my kids supposed to run off across the school field?

All these things weighed on my mind. I half-expected the headteacher to come and tell me off if my kids did something they weren’t supposed to.

When I started doing the school run, I felt isolated, a bit uncertain about what I should do or who I should speak to and just generally uncomfortable. These feelings dissipated after a while, but go take a look on Mumsnet (here’s one example, a second example and one more for luck) and you’ll see many mums feel exactly the same way. In fact, I recently heard a mum refer to the playground as a “cesspit,” such was her enjoyment of the school run.

With all that said, what advice would I actually give? Here are a few ideas for any dads – or indeed mums – to consider.

You won’t be the only dad on the school run, far from it

Don’t go into this thinking you will be the only dad at the school gates. You will probably be surprised how many dads do the school run. If you’re a stay at home dad, you’ll be one of a tiny number of dads in the playground twice a day, but rest assured you’ll see lots of fathers, and a surprising number of grandparents, doing pick up and collection.

Help in class

Volunteer to help in the school. This is something I did when Helen was in Reception class. I got to know Helen’s classmates, her teacher and got an invaluable introduction into school life. If you are a stay at home dad, it also establishes to mums, dads and school staff that you are the individual they need to deal with in the first instance and not the child’s mother.

Check those contact details and then double check ’em

Following on from the above, are you, the dad, supposed to be listed as the main point of contact if the school needs you? If so, double check the contact information the school holds for your family is correct. The default position is usually for mum’s mobile to get called first in an emergency. I had to check our details a few years ago and to my great surprise, my wife had mysteriously been listed as the main contact even though it was meant to be me.

Interestingly, this is a complaint I once heard from a divorced mum. Although the kids lived with her most of the time, her ex-husband worked closer to the school. Much to her irritation, she always got the phone call if a child was ill.

The PTA needs you

The classroom isn’t the only place you can volunteer. There is not a Parent Teacher Association on the planet that isn’t crying out for help. I help out the PTA a little and it is just one further way to meet people, get an understanding of how the school works and support the school community (if you’re feeling really brave, you could become a School Governor, but make sure you have the time to dedicate to the role).

Go to every school event you can

Go to every sports day, Nativity, parent’s evening, curriculum evening and school event that you possibly can. I’ll be honest, I sometimes go to these events and feel a little disappointed at the number of fathers in attendance. I understand that work can intervene, especially when these events take place during office hours, but male representation is often on the low side and I find that a bit sad. By going along myself, I’ve learned so much about my kids’ education and also witnessed some priceless moments. If you can attend, do it.

Best of luck!

There are many other things I could say. I’m afraid certain stereotypes hold true: most mums and dads on the school run are appalling at parking their cars. You’ll also see some interesting interactions on your school’s Facebook page. If you have any sense, you’ll know to avoid such discussions!

I want to end on a positive. As a stay at home dad, I’ve had to deal with an outdated healthcare system that often fails to appreciate fathers. I’ve also had to deal with the occasional childcare professional who has held outdated attitudes and the odd snotty mother who thinks my wife should be looking after my kids.

The formal school system, however, has been the easiest and most inclusive system I’ve had to navigate so far. I wish you the best of luck!


8 thoughts on “What dad needs to know about the school run”

  1. The thing about always calling the mum first. I’m the sahd, we live practically opposite the school. My wife is a full time TA and can’t get away easily. The GP and school both have my number as first call. They’ve been reminded multiple times. They still call my wife first, EVERY SINGLE TIME !!

    1. Daft isn’t it? The school no longer do this but I wouldn’t like to say what a GP would do (thankfully not been in that position!). Think maybe you need to put a huge sign up outside your house.

  2. I have never really understood what the PTA actually does… As a child, they were seen as the horrid people who wanted to ruin our fun… As an adult, I don’t even know what I would be doing if I were to volunteer…

    1. Oh wow, clearly you went to a school with an, ahem, interesting PTA. it exists to raise money for items / services the school would like so playground equipment, that kind of thing. Volunteers are always needed to man stalls, organise events etc. Trust me, the PTA isn’t some kind of evil institution wanting to ruin kids’ lives!

    1. Thanks Ben, I’m all for it. I got so much out of helping out. Still do from time to time but not every week as I used to.

  3. It’s all going well in reception at our local school. You’re right, I’m not thme only dad doing the drop-off or pick up. However, and I kind of expected this, even with half a dozen dads in the playground, at pick-up on day 2 my daughter reaches the front of the line and the teacher asks her “Can you see your mummy?”
    I’ve now taught her to say, politely, “No. I can see my parent.”

    1. Fascinating you’d make that comment David. I recall one of the teachers once making a similar comment. I do make a thing of introducing myself to my kids’ teachers and explaining that they’ll be dealing with me 99% of the time instead of their mother. I’ve generally found this clears up any confusion. In all honesty though, when you look at the complex nature of some families that teachers have to deal with, having a dad who is the main carer….slightly out of the ordinary, but very straightforward! They should be able to get it right. Glad it’s going well for you otherwise so far.

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