Louise Pentland’s five tips to get you through the school year

This article was first published in October 2019

by Louise Pentland, Author, Blogger, Vlogger

Writing has been a lifelong passion of mine so to be writing an article for the BBC is very exciting - thank you for having me here! I am a 34 year old mum of two, juggling a busy career (writing female-led fiction, vlogging and generally pouring my heart out online). My daughter Darcy is eight years old and is in that very cheeky (but very funny) stage and my daughter Pearl is one and as you can imagine, keeps me on my toes!

By now our little ones are well in to the first term and whether you were crying bittersweet tears for your child starting their first day or having a silent tear of joy for having some semblance of routine again, we’re now in the swing of it and finding our feet with the new set up.

I thought I would share some of my tried and tested techniques for making it through the school year as smoothly and easily as possible. Here we go!

1. Fill the calendar

It’s not rocket science but this first tip will really lower your long-term stress levels - hurrah! Set aside an hour at the start of the school year (it’s not too late to do it now) and diarise everything. Sit down with the annual school calendar (you can usually find this on their website or you could ask the school to provide you one) and put EVERYTHING in your diary.

It might seem overboard noting down Sports Day in Autumn but trust me, it’ll come round and you’ll know it’s there so not only will you make sure you don’t book a trip, a dentist appointment or a work call, but you’ll actually have a bit of notice to sort out the right colour tee-shirt (our school has house colours) and feel smug that you’re so organised!

2. Join the group chat

I avoided this for a long time because I struggle with group chats (I can feel a bit overwhelmed with how many voices are in there and how many pings about lost trainers and bake sales come through) but trust me, it’s worth it .

If you don’t get involved, what will you do about your own child’s lost trainers and what will you bring to the bake sale? It’s better the devil you know for this one! I missed out on a lot of social events by not being easy to contact and now I’m back in the groups, it’s good to know what’s going on, even if I do have to look in the school bag for people’s lost property again, ha!

3. Prep everything the night before

I know, you’ve heard this a million times, - you have every intention of doing it but then you’re tired and you say, ‘I’ll just sort it in the morning’, and that’s a recipe for a morning of pressure and panic, on top of trying to get out and to school in time. I get it, the struggle is real.

To combat this, I prep everything before I am tired. When Darcy comes in, I take ten minutes to go through the school bag and sort. Then I refill the lunchbox and pop in the fridge. If I do all this before dinner/bath/bedtime, I’ve nailed it.

If you work outside the home, you can still ace it! If your child is old enough, teach them how to do a lot of these tasks (like emptying the crumbs from the lunchbox or taking out any letters/forms from the school bag. This will lighten your load when you get in from a long day and still help you keep on top of things. Now go forth and prep!

4. Take a photo or copy of all the logins

A quick win here –

Each year Darcy comes home with her login details for the Maths app they use and other such things. Each year we lose them and I have to email in for another.

Simple solution – make a copy of the details and keep them somewhere obvious or take a snap on your phone and voila - nobody’s crying over fractions homework!

5. Ask short questions

Have you ever picked up your darling child, asked what they did today and been answered with, ‘nothing’? I have and after a few more attempts with, ‘Did you learn anything’, ‘no’; ‘What topics did you do?’, ‘Don’t know'; it can feel pretty soul destroying when your child doesn’t seem to want to share their day with you.

A friend of mine once pointed out that those are Big Questions for little children. They did so much, learnt so much and tackled so many topics during the day that it’s really hard to begin explaining them all.

A better option is to ask Small Questions. These allow them to start rolling with the conversation and then you’ll find they are able to open up about a lot more of the day. Some Small Questions that I tend to ask are –

‘Can you tell me something that made you laugh today?’ ‘What was hard today?’ ‘What did you make today?’

You can tailor these to your child’s age and to the things you know they’ve been up to and in no time at all they’ll be sharing so much more with the Small Questions than they can with the Big.

There you are, my tried and tested top tips! A couple that only just didn’t make the list were having a backup pair of school shoes in the next size up in your cupboard so that if the first are ruined or lost (it’s amazing how often this happens to us - how do they lose so many shoes?!), you’re covered. Also, have a few easily adaptable dress up items in the wardrobe for those last minute costume days (like a cape, a funny hat or a white jacket – all really customisable and work for a lot of things!).

I hope that by the time Pearl goes to school I’ll have this down to a fine art but if having children has taught me anything, it’s that parenthood is a journey and all you can really do is try your best and enjoy the ride!

If you’d like to hear more from me I upload daily on Instagram (@LouisePentland) or weekly on YouTube (Louise Pentland). Let me know how you get on!

Good luck! x

Know someone who has recently started school or will be beginning next September? Check out the rest of Starting Primary School which has lots of ways to help prepare children for different aspects of school life – both practically and emotionally.

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