Finally. A question I could get on board with: “Mammy will you tell me about school?” You have no idea how glad I was to hear this. Our second son will be starting Big School in a matter of weeks and I am a little apprehensive to say the least. I do not let him sense this although some say he will feel my tension regardless. Every time I see a magazine displaying the tag line “First Day at School – How to Make it Easier,” I swipe it up utterly convinced that this time I am going to read something of worth, that there will be a nugget of information within that I haven’t read before or thought of myself. But it is yet another advice piece that doesn’t deliver. More common sense wrapped up as advice about leaving out the child’s uniform the night before, getting everyone up a little bit early so there is no mad rush out the door at the last minute and giving your child a nice piece of fruit to ease them into their new experience. Come on! I want information on how to deal with the child who makes like an ostrich and sticks his head firmly in the sand and blocks out the New Experience. I want counsel on how to discreetly and politely intercept people before they ask him “are you looking forward to big school?” when I know the thumb being shoved into his mouth is not only his way of self-soothing but it is also a stopper; his method of holding everything in. I can tell by the scowl that knits his eyebrows together and how his eyes search for something to stare at on the ground. Anything other than respond to the question or even face up to this new and scary stage in his life. The unknown. How do you prepare a child for going from just 10 people in his class to 30 and he won’t know any of them? What about the playground? There will be no swings and slides in this one. How do I tell him that and watch him deal with the disappointment of it? I know he’s stressed about Big School. He hasn’t said as much but subconsciously he is fretting about it. God only knows what’s going through his head. I’d love to get in there at times like this. His older brother was helpfully telling him about the adventures on the school bus and the newbie built it up, exaggerated it into something completely different involving someone stealing his schoolbag and refusing to give it back. He broke down in tears earlier on this summer when the penny dropped and he realised he was not going back to Montessori. Despite me telling him this several times before he finished up. I’ve done everything the useless magazine article suggested. He’s been to his open afternoon. He has not one but two school bags to choose from. He also selected his own “easy open” lunch box. He’s aware that his new school books will be arriving any day now and he will get a chance to look at them. Then we will try on his uniform and get him his very much coveted new runners and boring old black shoes. But we would do all of this anyway, without being helpfully advised by an article. I want my money back! I see so much of me in him sometimes. I am very attached to my own comfort zones. I am not a big fan of taking a risk. I like to know what to expect going into a new situation be it social or a working one. Iarla likes his own space as do I. I’ve often done a quick head count when we are in the park or another busy environment and there he is, in the thick of it with the others. But seconds later he could disappear. Gone off by himself to play in the dirt or if we’re at home, come into the house just to curl up on a chair, and suck his thumb. Taking some time out to regroup and escape from the hubbub. It’s almost a form of sensory over load and when it becomes too much for him, he removes himself from the situation. He won’t be able to do that in Big School. He’s a sensitive soul and can take even the most innocent remark to heart. I am dreading the inevitable day he comes home in the horrors because a class mate or even his teacher, commented on his thumb sucking. He will be embarrassed and retire into himself. He does not like it when people draw attention to him. So I was thrilled when he asked me to tell him a story about school. This was the perfect opportunity to describe everything to him. Big brother was present and all set to offer his two pence worth. When I stopped him he insisted he had something of great importance to impart, something I neglected to tell him on his big day. This was, to wait until your teacher tells you it is time to eat and don’t just start eating your lunch yourself. His lower lip began to quiver as he told me Reuben had to tell him to put his banana away; it wasn’t time to eat yet. “Because you never told me that, Mammy.” See how they remember even the tiniest little thing? So magazine editors the country over who are looking for Ways to Ease Them into Big School, tell your readers to Talk to Them about It. Don’t assume they know what to expect even if they have spent the last four and a half years in Montessori. Make sure they know where the bathroom is. What happens if there are three Spiderman bags? Maybe stick a key-ring on his bag. What about their gorgeous new coat and shoes with the lovely laces? It’s not a bad idea that they are able to manage their coat and maybe stick to the Velcro-ed shoes until they master the art of lace tying. Yogurts? I can still remember spilling the contents of mine all over my lovely muck brown trousers in Junior Infants. I was left sitting in it all day and felt awful. What if they are too shy to approach the strange lady they will come to call Teacher if they can’t open their brand new cartoon character emblazoned lunch box? I think one of the most important ones is to tell them that you will be back to collect them. And make sure you are not late. There are lots of different ways to help ease them into their new environment and very hard to remember it all. Like reminding your child they need to wait until teacher tells them it is break time before they tuck into the contents of their new lunch box. Oops! Every child is different. Our oldest boy had nary a problem or worry about his place of education and indeed has gone on to make a very wide and varied circle of friends. Looking back, I had similar concerns when he started. He will be fine, I know he will. I hoped back then, and still do, that if there is any upset, it will be in the early days and not after the first mid-term break. We just, both of us, need to get over the first hurdle together. Like every other event I was apprehensive about, I found the reality of it easier than the perception and with a little dollop of luck, Big School for our second son, won’t be any different.