When my eldest started school four years ago I was very excited, slightly anxious and often confused. Navigating school life was as much of a challenge for me as it was for my five-year-old, if not more so. My youngest completed Prep last year. It was so much easier the second time round ... but there were still a few surprises (mostly positive ones).
For parents embarking on this adventure for the first time, here is some 'insider knowledge' of what to expect in this exciting year ...
Your child will develop Prep amnesia
"What did you do at school today?"
- "I don't remember"
"What did you get that sticker for?"
- "I've forgotten"
"Who did you play with at lunchtime?"
- "Um ..."
Trying to get information out of your Preppie can be like getting blood out of a stone, particularly when they are tired at the end of the day. Very frustrating for the parent desperate for reassurance that their child is happy and settling in!
With my boys, I found that school day information came gushing out voluntarily at bed time, just after I'd read them a book. I'm not sure if this was a sleep avoidance tactic or if their memory had a four hour delay.
You get less hand-holding and feedback from the teachers
At preschool, you receive daily written bulletins on what your child has done and achieved. The kindy's activities for that day will be posted up on a wall to read, often accompanied by photos. Their teacher may stand around and chat with you about your child at the end of the day.
It can be quite a shock when your child starts 'big school'. You are no longer updated on the minutae of your child's day. Correspondence comes via your Preppie's homework book or by email. Pupils are expected to be be more independent. Teachers have more pupils and less time to give parents ad hoc attention. They are preparing lessons and marking work at the beginning and end of the school day. They will be happy to speak to you about any concerns you may have but you may have to schedule an appointment to do so.
Those emergency undies will be used
Yes, your child has been toileting independently for years now but, at some point in the Prep year, your child will be grateful for the extra underwear you packed at the bottom of their school bag. There will be that one day where they don't make it to the bathroom in time or where their friend has tickled them beyond their level of bladder control.
Your child's sleep patterns will change ... dramatically
It is completely normal for Preppies to returrn from their first day of school utterly exhausted and to be fast asleep in bed by 6pm. This may continue well into the first term. Roll with it. Be ready with early dinners, baths and bed time books.
Parents accustomed to larks, who are up and bouncing off walls at 5.30am, will be relieved to discover that their Preppies now sleep in longer in the morning and may even have to be dragged out of bed.
It doesn't matter if your child's plastic-covered schoolbooks are full of wrinkles and bubbles
I agonised over my appalling book-covering skills when my eldest started Prep. I spent a whole evening battling with sticky back plastic ... and lost. With great embarrassment, I returned 15 flawed and gnarled workbooks to my child's teacher. And you know what? I didn't get told off. Nobody cared.
I also discovered that Office Works sells a range of slip-on transparent covers in a variety of sizes that you can re-use each year if you want to save yourself the pain in future.
Your child's appetite and eating habits will change
They return from school ravenous. You find half their packed lunch untouched because they were "too busy playing" to eat. They start eating carrot sticks and hummous for the first time because their new friends do.
Young children learn and develop in fits and bursts and at vastly different rates
Resist the urge to compare your child's work with that of their peers. Don't take sneaky peaks at other Preppies' homework or clock their home reader levels. It's not a competition. Things "click" at different stages with different children. If you have a genuine concern about your child's progress, speak to their teacher.
The kids who can read before they start school are not necessarily the best readers by Year 3.
The others catch up ... and fast.
Bragging about your child's successes and academic achievements on social media will not endear you to other parents
(no matter how many 'likes' you get below the picture of your child displaying his excellent report card.)
Your child may have a completely different personality at school...
At least that's what I discovered when I helped out in class. My stubborn, argumentative youngest was placid, well-mannered and hard-working in a classroom environment while my shyer, reserved firstborn transformed into the chatty class clown. Both unrecognisable to me.
Prep is party season ... but it doesn't last
Expect to buy a lot of birthday presents this year; it will seem like there's a classmate's birthday bash on every weekend. Some parents invite the whole class to their poppet's party so that nobody feels left out. By Year 1, however, the party invitations thin out - not because your child is less popular but because many children don't have birthday parties every year ... or have much smaller ones.
You will lose a lot of belongings
Hats, drink bottles, swimming goggles ... Oh yes, you label everything religiously but your little ones don't learn to take responsibility for their possessions until they've mislaid a few first. My Prep Parents Facebook group was predominantly a notice board for lost and missing school kit. Make sure you know where your school's lost property department is. You may be a frequent visitor!
Your child suddenly becomes an 'expert'/know-it-all
There was a time when my children looked to me as their fount of knowledge and wisdom ... and then they went to school.
"That's not what my teacher says."
"Yeah, I already know that. Miss Hopkins told me."
"You're not supposed to do it like that. This is how we do it at school ..."
"Let me show you the proper way ..."
Parent involvement in school life is a really good thing
Participating in school functions, committees and classrooms is beneficial to you, your child, the school, other parents and other pupils. It gives you community and friendship, cheap entertainment and social events. You learn more about how the school operates and what your child is learning. You get to help and serve others. You demonstrate support for your child and their school. And you have fun!
You will be amazed at the change in your child at the end of their Prep year
The first year of school is one of the most dramatic in terms of your child's progress. By the time they leave Prep, they will be more independent, better conversationalists and have a wealth of new skills.
What do you wish you'd known before your child started Prep? Tell us in your comments below.