The first year of school is over, and I’m one proud father

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school, reception class
I can’t quite believe this little mite has just finished her first year at school.

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.

I have added this post to Honest Mum’s fantastic Brilliant Blog Posts linky. Do pay it a visit and read some marvellous posts from other bloggers.

10 thoughts on “The first year of school is over, and I’m one proud father”

  1. mummy m memories

    Well done Helen. My J starts In September, and we are in the same situation as you, with her not knowing anyone. I hope she settles in well like Helen.

    1. I’m sure J will be fine. I’m staggered at how different school is compared to when “we” / “I” was there. I think it had to change when schools started admitting four year olds. Teachers and assistants make a much greater effort to settle the kids and work much much more closely with parents. Any problems and you’re sure to know about it quickly.

  2. Angus Hewlett (@angus_fx)

    +1 on the digraph thing, but once they get to learn split digraphs (“cake”, “rule” etc.) it’s a brilliant system. I was pretty sceptical about phonics (mostly on a we-managed-fine-without-them-in-my-day basis), but that on its own has won me round. Makes kids able to understand silent “e”s and get them somewhat reliably right (both reading and writing) from much younger than if they’d had to learn those words by rote.

    1. I think there’s a lot to be said for modern teaching methods. I also like the way parents seem to be considered much more a part of the system than my own school days. Quite rightly, we have to “buy in” to the system. I feel like we have a real partnership with Helen’s school.

  3. Great post John.. I had a similar sense of wonder about how far my eldest had come and how much she’d grown up in her first school year. She had a couple of friends from nursery to settle in with, but as you say it’s the social side of them you see change a lot. From total reliance on parents & family to running off, all independent, playing with their friends. Sounds like your daughter was/is a brave little one and is doing really well.
    ps. No idea what a digraph was!

    1. Oh she’s a completely different child now. It’s a wonder to watch but it happens so very quickly it’s scary!

  4. You learn something new everyday. Today its digram =P

    My son will start school this September and I cant wait for him to experience the same things as your daughter did. Meeting new friends and learning is something that’s hopefully going to be fun for my son as well. But for now I am going to enjoy my time with him as he is really growing up fast that if I blink I will miss so much. Thanks for writing this post. Its nice to see things on a Dad’s perspective =) #BrilliantBlogPosts

  5. A really touching post John, my eldest starts school in September and it’s a real rights of passage for us all (him and me and my husband)-incredible how much your daughter has evolved in a year- 4 still feels so young to be starting school doesn’t it! Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts!

    1. Thanks for saying so Vicki. Good luck in September. I won’t deny it; family life has changed massively since Helen started school. Ultimately for the best but it has taken some adjustment.

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