Am I ready for school?

We’re taking the girls to meet their Reception teachers tomorrow, as we missed the proper welcome tea party and parents evening last week. The one week of the year we go on holiday…

I have filled out the school forms (endless paperwork and I had to do two sets of course) and Dh has double-checked them. The school sent through two welcome packs last week which included the various blank forms, information about the Early Years Foundation Stage, letters from older children to R and G welcoming them to the school (one of them told R not to be scared and I started crying as i read it out to her) and a booklet of self-portraits by all of the girls’ new classmates (as they’re in separate classes we now know the names of every child in the Reception year), which made me fret approximately 98% less than I had been as the girls can actually write their names and some of their classmates can’t. Naturally, there are some that have better handwriting than me, so you can’t have everything.

The girls and I went to the school fete a couple of weeks ago and picked up some second-hand school uniform. The school colours are yellow and blue, so R is going to wear yellow tops, gingham summer dresses and sweatshirts and G is going to wear the corresponding items in blue. In Winter they’ll swap the summer dresses for grey pinafore dresses. The PE kit is non-branded and consists of white tops and dark shorts or jogging bottoms.

The girls are very excited about meeting their teachers tomorrow. As Dh and I are both on leave until next week, we’re both able to attend. I’m really pleased as we’ll be sharing the pick ups and drop offs as we do now. Dh is keen on becoming a parent helper and reading with the children, so he’s going to ask about doing that. I think he’d be great as he’s extremely patient (let’s face it, in this house he has to be) and it’ll be good for the boys to have a man helping them with their reading as often it’s the mums that go in.

After-school club is sorted, for this year at least. I have already filled in forms to get the logoed bits of the school uniform and will be raiding M&S for the other clothing. Dh and I have bashed diaries and are able to juggle the staggered start dates and finish dates for the first two weeks of term between us (lots of people are complaining about this. I have lost count of the number of times someone has said ‘Just chuck ’em in!!’. It’s certainly a pain in the arse for us working parents.)

The girls are ready. Dh is fine about it all. Me? I feel oddly bereft already and they don’t start until September. That’s the thing with this one-shot parenting lark – once the girls are at school that’s it. They don’t have younger siblings to follow in their footsteps.

So, one phase of the girls’ life is ending and another one is about to begin. I think I’m scared because I didn’t have the easiest time at school. Some of it was of my own making, some of it was just…horrible and even now, 20-odd years later I find it hard to revisit. I can’t bear the thought of R or G going through some of the things that I did. They are their own people of course and they are a million times more confident than I was at their age. It’s that twin thing again…it seems to protect them from certain things but may yet cause other issues. They have also been at nursery since they were 5 months old, so they’re used to interacting and socialising with children of their own age. They won’t be daunted by the other children.

We don’t quite know what the next months and years will bring, but from September life is going to get that little bit more different again.

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I hate it when I’m wrong

Reader, I am an enormous arse. I also HATE being wrong.

It is not the end of the world that the girls are going to be in the same class. In fact, it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise:

1. Their Reception class teacher is, apparently, amazing and the parents in the other class would kill for their children to be in her class
2. The other children from nursery are in the other class. If we insisted on a split now, we would upset whichever twin was in the other class, by leaving them on their own.

I’d still like to understand the rationale behind the school’s decision keep the girls together when they had been specifically told that they were to be split up. If they’d contacted us beforehand to say that they appreciated our views but wanted to put the girls in the same class for X, Y and Z reasons, I would have understood. It was a shock to find out that our views had been completely ignored, with no explanation.

As it turns out, I’m one of the few people that thought splitting the girls was an absolute necessity. So many people have commented that it would be a shame to split them, that it wouldn’t feel right, that they work well as a team, that they both rely on each in different ways, that they are individuals with different personalities and approaches to life and won’t get mixed up after the inevitable initial confusion.

I sat the girls down individually on Friday and asked them what they thought. They both said, without prompting from the other, that they would rather be in the same class as each other than be with their friends. I can’t argue with that.

Dh is going to speak to the school tomorrow. I wasn’t exactly rational when I spoke to them on Friday so hopefully he’ll make more sense than I did!

Eye of the Tiger part 2

**Heavily edited 22/6/2012 & 27/6/2012 due to the author being horrid**

Did I ever mention that I HATE not being listened to? I have a few recurring nightmares. One of them is me standing in a room with lots of people, shouting at the top of my voice and no-one even notices me, let alone listens to what I have to say.

Just opened the letters from the girls’ school informing us of the fact that they’re going to be in the same class.

This is NOT what I wanted.

AT ALL.

I have been adamant for….well, as long as I can remember that the girls should be in separate classes. G is incredibly bossy and takes over, whereas R is more sensitive and will let G do things for her. They need to be separate so that G stops mothering R and R learns not to be as reliant on her sister.

I told the school this. I mentioned it on the look-round last September. I specifically told them when they phoned up to arrange to visit the girls at nursery in April.

Have they listened? NO! I mean, why would they? A liaison person that has spent 5 minutes with them clearly knows them infinitely better than I do and I have been overruled.

I have just phoned the school. A receptionist from the ‘Foboff’ school of receptioning (yes, I know it’s not a word) said that someone would call me back. Do I think that will actually happen? No I don’t. Why would it?

Meanwhile, Dh thinks it will all be fine and they’ll be moved into different classes in the end. No they won’t. The school has sent out 60 letters today. They’re hardly going to accommodate our request and start shifting other children about are they? That’s not fair on the other kids.

I’m aware that I’m overreacting about this. I KNOW there are worse things that could be happening. Its just…I have a really strong idea of what is best for the girls and to have it completely ignored is hard to take.

Education begins at home

I was really intrigued by this article that I read at the weekend. If you can’t bothered to read it, it basically says that toddlers and preschoolers from poorer backgrounds that enjoy dressing-up and imaginative play, experience a high level of parental involvement in their young lives and are encouraged to do number and letter games are more likely to do well at school.

My first thought was ‘Well, duh’. It makes total sense that children are more likely to do well at school if they are encouraged to learn and use their imaginations at home. Shouldn’t every parent, regardless of education, wealth and background, be doing all of that anyway? It’s basic common sense isn’t it?

Then I took my Mum hat (fez) off put my work hat (sombrero) on and remembered that far too many children aren’t given even the most basic opportunities to learn and create. The research looks at children from poorer backgrounds but I’m sure there are plenty of uninvolved parents at the other end of the wealth scale.That’s a whole other level of emotional neglect that is incredibly hard to quantify.

I have to confess that I have started getting a little fed-up with the girls wearing a variety of dressing up outfits every single day. For the first time in ages they decided not to be Tinkerbell (sorry – it’s actually a Silvermist costume as G keeps reminding me), Alice, Cinderella or Snow White today and actually wore normal clothes to nursery. Well, they always wear normal clothes but they are usually obscured by a large flouncy costume and fairy wings.Their dressing up clothes are falling apart but their nice tops, skirts and tights are fairly pristine, aside from the cuffs which are wrecked.

The lack of dressing up didn’t inhibit their imaginations one bit though. On our way to nursery this morning R announced that she was Fawn (they haven’t even seen the Tinkerbell movie yet the know all the fairy names) and I can’t recall who G was, possibly one of the girls from Fireman Sam but it was early…

One of the advantages of being a twin is that you’ve always got someone to bounce your ideas off. If G wants to play imaginative games she’s got a natural partner in crime in R. The girls aren’t always reliant on us to be a fairy, a princess or a firefighter. In any case, the dressing up outfits don’t come in my size – at least, not in a ‘suitable for viewing by small children’ way…

One of the things that I need to think about, though (and this article has reinforced it) is that I tend to ‘teach’ the girls things at the same time. For example, I bought some Oxford Reading Tree phonics books and before I read them aloud to the girls I ask them to identify the letters in the words that form the title of the book. One of them is clearly much better at this than the other (it doesn’t feel fair to identify which one is which at this stage) so I need to separate them for this activity in order to boost the confidence of the one that finds it harder and ensure that the other is learning at the correct speed. I need to do the same with the number and letter flashcards and games.

Dh tends to do number-based activities with the girls but he’s also very proud of his ‘Letter of the Week’ initiative, which I picked up from a parent friend who has an early years teaching qualification and suggested to him. Once he’d finished rolling his eyes he started with A and every Wednesday he and the girls sit at the computer and use Google Images to identify items beginning with a particular letter. Then they drag the images into a Powerpoint presentation with R and G getting a slide each for their chosen pictures, with the text underneath. They print the pictures out and stick them up in the dining room and their on bedroom walls. Dh has created a file on the computer so that the pictures can be re-used. He also prints off pictures of the actual letters so that the girls can colour them in. It’s all about familiarity at this stage and the information seems to be lodging in there somewhere.

I always think there’s more that we could do, but the girls seem happy enough with the learning activities we do with themand I’m also keen not to push them too much at this stage. If they say no to a particular activity one day I don’t push it with them. I also like to rotate the things we do with them, so they don’t always expect one of us to do letter-writing and the other one to do arts and crafts. One of the huge benefits of dh being around so much is that we can share the activities out.

You can probably gather from all of this that I (and – I think Dh) am really enjoying this stage with the girls. We’re not at the point of worrying about targets, school reports, SATS or homework yet so we can do things at our own pace. That will come in time. For now, I want the girls to enjoy learning new things and using their imaginations. Hopefully this will set them up for the future.

 

 

Now we are Four

It’s the night before R and G’s 4th Birthday and, once again, I’m in a reflective mood. It’s time for me to catch my breath, review the last year and look forward to year five.

“I think the thing I’m really looking forward to is teaching them more stuff. I actually had a conversation with dh last night about teaching the girls to read. That’s pretty exciting”

Bless. I was so hopeful a year ago. So our little geniuses aren’t reading Shakespeare just yet but I think they’re doing ok. I get milestone e-mails from various parenting websites and I read about 75% of them and think YEE-HA! My children are MARVELLOUS. I then read the other 25% and think BOLLOCKS! They aren’t doing X,Y and Z. I am clearly a terrible parent. I then put down my flagellation branches and remove my hair-shirt and basically get over myself. They can both write their names. They can count to 30. They know their colours and shapes. They can recognise some letters. They use words like ‘ridiculous’ and ‘concentrate’ in everyday conversation (can’t think where they might have heard them). People are kind enough to tell us that the girls are bright and articulate.

“We’ve completed most of the milestone stuff now and the only outstanding thing is night training”.

Moving swiftly on…

 “OHMYJESUSCHRISTGODONASTICK WHEN WILL THESE INFERNAL ‘PHASES’ EVER END? We had a tough time with R a couple of months ago (she still has her moments/breakdowns though) and are currently having a difficult time with G because she lives in Grace-world, which sounds like a lovely place but frequently clashes rather horribly with the real world, where she actually has to DO STUFF.”

The phases don’t really end. R was quite hard work (a little sod) in the Spring and Summer and G took over in the Autumn. They have days where they are absolutely adorable and lovely and parenting them is the easiest job in the world. Just when we think we’ve cracked it, the girls have a few days of being utterly horrid for no apparent reason and we tear our hair out. Their moods are easier to predict now and we’re generally better at dealing with them. Experience brings wisdom, and all that jazz.

Despite that, this is the first time that I’m writing one of these updates and I’m not feeling relieved that we have survived another year in crazy twin-world. I’m actually feeling a little sad that the girls are growing up so quickly and this time next year they’ll be at school. I love their combination of inquisitiveness and innocence. The rite of passage of going to school means that they’ll lose that beautiful innocence very quickly and I’ll mourn it deeply. Although the girls have attended nursery from a very young age and have been exposed to a number of different influences, they have been in a very ‘safe’ environment and aren’t very worldly. Going to school will inevitably change that.

I’m fascinated to see how they deal with school though. They are used to an ‘institution’ with rules and social norms so it won’t be a big leap for them in that sense. It’s very likely that they are going to have to get used to a uniform and also adapt to a different rhythm to their days and weeks. It’s going to be a huge shift for Dh and I as we juggle terms, holidays and after school clubs.

That’s for next September though. I don’t have a ‘plan’ as such for the next nine months. I just want to make the most of R and G while they are still ‘ours’.

The ‘other’ school

we had to take the girls with us. G is generally more accepting of things and masked her slight confusion with a winning smile. R was NOT HAPPY. R isn’t terribly good at hiding how she’s feeling about something (can’t imagine where she gets it from) and she let us and everyone else know how cross she was. She wasn’t openly naughty or rude, but she had, as Dh says ‘A right cob on’ and she refused to crack even the merest hit of a smile when the Head Teacher said hello to her. I thought she might relax a bit when we went into one of the reception classes and spotted one of the old Big Stars from nursery, but she buried her head in Dh’s chest and refused to engage with the process.

The school was…fine. I kind-of wished I hadn’t read the Ofsted report before we looked round but I could see why they had rated it as Satisfactory. It’s now seen as an ‘improving’ school and I suspect that in 3 or 4 years’ time when the new buildings open (it’s currently housed in a series of 1950s prefabs) it will become a good or very good school. Dh commented that the school looked ‘shabby’ and said that he felt shallow for thinking it. On one level it is shallow to judge an institution like that, but it all helps to form an opinion and is therefore valid.

The Head Teacher was probably the nicest of the three we’ve met. She was happy to answer questions on not only her school, but the whole primary schools admissions process as she had recently been through it herself. The school focuses much less on the academic/results side of things than the other two schools we’ve seen (although literacy and numeracy are, of course, central) and is very community-driven. I had heard from another parent that this school is seen as the choice for families that are not so driven by testing and results and is more ‘arty’ and ‘rounded’ – there was lots of chatter about ‘the whole person’, for example.

This September it went from a one to two-form entry school and that’s one of the drivers for the new buildings (at consultation stage, so no planning permission yet). I thought it might have smaller class sizes but apparently there are 60 children (the maximum) in reception so on that basis it’s the same as the other two schools.

I can now see why other families send their children there, but (gut feeling ahoy) it wasn’t the right school for us. When we left, we asked R and G what they thought. R was still in quiet rage mode so didn’t say anything. Dh and G had the following conversation:

Dh: Did you like the sch..?

G: (interrupting) No.

Dh: What about the…?

G: NO.

So there you have it. It’s the third choice school. Now to complete the admissions forms…

Eye of the tiger

Dh and I visited the second primary school on our list this morning. It’s the closest school to us distance-wise and has an all-round Good rating from Ofsted with an Outstanding for the curriculum. It’s our default school really, so I was hoping it would be at least as good as the school we visited two weeks ago.

There were already four or five families waiting in reception when we arrived, all of whom had blatantly ignored the ‘it’s best if you don’t bring the children with you at this stage’ speech that we were given over the phone. The girls were at nursery today anyway, so it wasn’t a problem. We were soon joined by another half-dozen families (grr).

Several of the parents already knew each other, cue lots of ‘Ooh look who it is! Fancy seeing you here!’ conversations. We recognised one of the other mums from nursery who,like us hadn’t brought her pre-school daughter along but was lugging around a nearly one year old (everyone either has babies or bumps round here- it’s most disconcerting). There was lots of chatter about other schools that people had visited.It seems that some families are travelling miles to visit schools that they can’t possibly get into unless they’re sleeping with the head teacher or donating vast sums of cash.

I digress. Dh and I really REALLY liked the school. It was better than the other school in terms of ICT provision (it has its own editing suite and recording studio!) but everything else was pretty much the same. The lady showing us round (the Liaison Officer’) had trouble dealing with such a large and demanding group of pushy parents, but she smiled resiliently throughout.

I got really hacked off towards the end when we were introduced to the school’s pastoral teacher and she explained the way in which the school deals with ‘disruptive’ pupils. In a nutshell, any child with an issue – emotional, behavioural, social – can choose to spend some time in a separate classroom to talk through the problem and find ways to deal with it.This is available to ALL children in the school, regardless of age. Dh and I thought this was a lovely idea – the child with a problem was being dealt with, and their classmates could get on with their work.

Having worked with social workers for the last five years, I know that no child is naughty without a reason. It might be problems at home, emotional difficulties, problems socialising, problems keeping up with schoolwork. There’s always an underlying cause. I was impressed that the school worked so had to tackle such issues head-on and with parental agreement.

Not everyone in the group felt the same as us. One parent referred to it as ‘the naughty room’. Another talked about ‘disruptive children’. Yet another asked if the school had a high proportion of children with ‘behavioural difficulties’. It was blatantly obvious that this was not the case,but some of the parents wouldn’t let it go. They clearly saw it as a sign of a ‘problem’ school.

After several minutes of a few parents interrogating the pastoral teacher, I’d had enough. She was in the middle of dealing with a clearly upset little girl and had very kindly agreed to talk to our group for a few minutes. Reader, I ranted. ‘NO SCHOOL IS FILLED WITH PERFECTLY BEHAVED CHILDREN. NOT ONE IN THE REAL WORLD, ANYWAY. WANT A PERFECT SCHOOL? SOD OFF AND PAY FOR PRIVATE EDUCATION!!!’ I thought I was muttering under my breath but the parent next to me (seemed nice) caught my eye and started laughing. I looked back at Dh and he grinned and rolled his eyes.

I think some of the parents in the group were antsy because the school was clearly very good and they knew that they didn’t live near enough to be guaranteed a place. We live a road over from the school and it’s 3 minutes walk to the door, so I reckon we’ll be ok. Dh and I felt rather smug as we left.

This is going to be our first choice school on the application form. Uber-school is going to be second. We’re off to visit our current third choice in a couple of weeks (we have to take the girls with us for that visit but they said that was fine) and I’m not bothering to look at the fourth choice because the receptionist there was extremely rude when I phoned up to arrange a visit ‘It’s a bit early in term – phone back in a couple of weeks’. Erm, nope. All the other schools have got their act together, why haven’t you?

I felt quite tigerish for the rest of the day. I think our cubs will do well at today’s school. I might need to kick some other parents’ asses, but they may have already decided to send their perfectly behaved children to the perfect school THAT DOESN’T EXIST. NOT EVEN IN THE FEE-PAYING SECTOR.

<Breathe>