Starting nursery is a big step for your child, and for you. My son, James, began nursery aged three, but many children start much earlier. It can be hard to let them go and daunting to let them face the big, scary world without you. It can also, let’s be honest, be a welcome break. I wasn’t so much weeping at the nursery door, as dancing down the street, eagerly anticipating some time to myself, perhaps even a social life, a career! Call me heartless, but bear in mind I hadn’t finished a cup of tea or gone to the toilet alone for three years. No matter how you feel about nursery, it helps to know what to expect. Here’s what nursery taught me:
Those back-to-school notices in the shop windows can leave you convinced you need to equip your child for the nursery being hit by a meteorite, mudslide or volcanic eruption (I’ve clearly been watching too much children’s television).
I bought James a super-cool dinosaur backpack for nursery. He looked the part on his first day, and then never used it again. It turns out our nursery provides a coat hook and drawstring bag for each child, where they can store their spare clothes, nappies, sun cream, and superhero cape. I’m not sure what I thought James would carry to and from nursery in his rucksack each day… text books?
What he did need for nursery were decent outdoor clothes. The children generally get out every day, even in bad weather, so they’ll appreciate their anorak and wellies, or a warm coat and hat. A sturdy lunchbox is also a good investment. These are so much cooler than the ones we had as kids, and literally so, as you must insert an ice block to keep their food chilled.
If you do find yourself consumed by anxiety on day one, try to separate how you feel from how your child feels. My worries were not shared by James, who was as happy as a clam. I had concerns that he might miss me, but he barely remembered to say goodbye. Of course, this isn’t the case for every child, but nursery staff are experts at helping both shy and gung-ho personalities settle in.
Nursery staff are experts at helping both shy and gung-ho personalities settle in. Before James started nursery, I knew when he had learned every word in his vocabulary. I was aware of everything he did from dawn to dusk, from apples consumed to nappies filled (incidentally, a child can’t eat too many apples … trust me, I’ve googled it). Now James returns from nursery singing songs I don’t know, and telling me stories about children I’ve never met. Not only have I adjusted to this, I love it. It’s a joy to hear your child describing their world.
Frustratingly, you may also hear a certain amount of misinformation. Sometimes James turns teenager on me and when I ask him what he’s been doing all day, he replies “Nothing!”. James tells me that he had apple crumble for lunch when I know for a fact he had a cheese sandwich. He told me, without a grain of truth, that one of his teachers had broken their leg.
After starting nursery James also, somehow, learned about death. When I pick him up at the end of the day I am often greeted with “When will you die, mummy?” and sometimes “Darth Vader is the only person who never dies, isn’t that right?” Um, actually…
I wanted James to make friends for life at nursery, to learn to read, write and count. It ain’t gonna happen. He’s only just turned four! I thought he would return every day clutching endearing, crayoned pictures of his family. But arts and crafts aren’t really his bag. The nursery staff have been great at persuading James to try new things and eventually he started coming home with drawings. However, be careful what you wish for – even the most doting parent would be reluctant to pin James’s assaults on the eye to the fridge. I’ve had to ‘store’ a few of them in the recycling bin.
Check your expectations of yourself - on James’s first day at nursery I tackled the to-do list I’d been writing for three years. By the end of the day I was worn out and wondering if the fabled ‘time off’ from children was all it was cracked up to be. I’ve gradually settled into my own routine. For many mums, nursery simply means a return to paid employment, and trying to juggle your job with your family without feeling like you’re failing at both.
Surely pre-school days must be among the best of our lives. I reckon a day spent watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly is a day well spent. If you can, try to get involved with nursery activities. James’s nursery offers stay-and-play sessions, as well as weekly Rhyme Time singalongs. We had a Christmas craft session, and a spring planting morning.
I’ll always remember James performing at his first school concert, as he gazed goggle-eyed at the audience without uttering a word. Sports day was everything I had hoped it would be, and James’s first report card is staying out of the recycling bin - I’m keeping it safe to enjoy again when I’m old and grey.
Nursery can feel like the end of that precious time when you and your child are joined by an invisible thread. The weeks, months and years seem to go by ever-faster and starting nursery may seem like the end of something special. But take heart. It’s only the end of the beginning.
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