Well that was it; the summer holidays have begun and my first born child has completed her first year at school. She’s ending the academic year a very different individual to the one that trotted into that classroom one sunny day last September. I feel a certain sense of sadness because I can see her growing up so terrifyingly fast but at the same time, I’m immensely proud of her.
There’s no need to worry, I’m not going to list her academic achievements. If there’s one thing I cannot tolerate, it’s mums and dads boasting about their child’s successes. All I’ll say is that I’m very happy with her progress.
My mother informs me that I didn’t pick up a pencil until I was five. On this basis my daughter has completely shamed me because, having started school aged four, she’s much more advanced than I was. I still can’t get my head around the time she correctly identified a “digraph”. When did they start teaching that in reception class?
If you don’t know what a digraph is, here’s a definition. Please don’t feel any shame, I had to look it up also.
For me, Helen’s real achievements have been social. My wife and I, you see, unwittingly made her start at school difficult.
When youngsters start school these days, they’ll often be in a class with several kids from the nursery or pre-school they used to attend. There will be familiar faces and friends for them to play with. It seems most kids have a very different experience to when I started school. I was parachuted into a room of people I’d never met. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to Helen.
At her old nursery, there was a huge whiteboard in the reception area. In the spring of 2013, as each child’s school place was confirmed, their name and school was added to the whiteboard so all the mums and dads could see who was going where.
As the days and weeks went by, I began to get quite concerned. Loads of kids were going to this school, loads of kids were going to that school but Helen’s name languished in glorious isolation. For whatever reason, the class of 2013/14 was an anomaly. We knew of several older kids that had progressed from Helen’s nursery and on to her school but last year, she was on her own.
There would be no familiar faces and the little mite would need to start making friends all over again. I know kids are resilient, but I felt for her, especially on that first day. It was then I saw for the first time just how many parents already had older kids at the school and how well they all knew each other.
This wouldn’t just affect Helen, but my wife and I also. There would be no ready-made support network of friends for us at the school gate. Running five minutes late? Need someone to grab Helen for us? Tough, we would be on our own.
Just to make things more difficult, I’m the one that does the school run so it would be down to me, dad, to mingle with and make friends with the mums. This wasn’t going to be easy for any of us.
At Helen’s last parents’ evening, the teacher made a comment that still leaves me feeling like I’ve been punched in the stomach. She said Helen was “no longer playing on her own.” I think until Christmas it was quite a lonely experience for Helen. Teacher had held back from telling us so that we didn’t worry. That said, she’s never resisted or complained about going to school and came out at the end of the day happy.
Not that we have any concerns now. Following the Christmas break it was obvious she was becoming more sociable and there’s no doubt that she’s settled in very well. She has made a group of close friends and established a wider group of less close amigos, as you would expect for a child of her age.
A school teacher friend of mine says that our approach, although unplanned, was probably the best thing we could have done for her. He says that he regularly witnesses “contrived friendships” in the playground; relationships that have been engineered between children by mums and dads who are friendly with each other.
Little Helen had no such luxury and made her own way in the school playground at the age of four. That, I think, is where her real achievement lies. Sensitive old fool that I am, it makes my eyes well-up thinking about it.
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