First-day tears, but now as mums

It’s a wrench when your child starts school, the flip of what you felt as an infant. It’s a beginning and an ending, says Sue Leonard

YOUR child is ready for school. He can hold a crayon, unfasten his lunchbox, and go to the loo by himself. He’s excited, and you know that you should be, too. But you remember your own first day. You remember the strangeness of it, and the noise and the fear. Your stomach is in a knot, and you’re close to tears. How can you, and your child, best survive the day.

“You need to stand back,” says Áine Lynch, CEO of the National Parent’s Council, primary. “Remember, the primary system has changed. It’s a much more happy, colourful, and relaxed place than it used to be.

“Answer all your child’s questions, and make sure they know what the school day will be like. Always be positive. Get them to school on time, but don’t be too early. And make sure you’re on time to collect them, too. That, in the first few days, is especially important.”

CLAIRE McHALE’S son, Sean, 4, is starting at St Mary’s national school in Maynooth

Sean is Claire’s third child of five, and her only son. She has mixed feelings about him starting school. He’s been unwell all year, and was recently diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes.

“He has to have two injections of insulin each day. The school, though, has been fantastic. We explained and they said, ‘don’t be worrying.’ They’re happy to test his blood sugars.

“I’m excited for him. He wants to be around boys and to play football. He’s been to a Montessori. He can dress himself and manage his lunch box. But he’s still my baby. I don’t want to hand him over. Boys fight more than girls, and I hate that lack of control.”

CLAIRE’S FIRST DAYBishop Shanahan School, Templeogue

“I remember mum bringing me into the classroom. I was holding her hand. I thought the teacher was beautiful. I had to sit down on this tiny little chair. Eight of us sat around a table. I didn’t know anybody. I hadn’t been to play-school. We had pictures to colour on. I remember the sandpit, too.

“My mother had baked this delicious bread for my lunch. She’d baked a chocolate-chip cookie, too. I remember it was delicious.”

SHIRLEY BENTON’S daughter, Aoibheann, is starting at Gaelscoil Thulach na nÓg, Dunboyne

Shirley has no worries about Aoibheann. “She’s been in childcare since she was nine months old. And she’s always been fine. She’s done two years of play-school, one in English, the other in Irish. She’s going with four boys from play-school. She’s met her teachers, and done a summer camp in the school. I bought the uniform without her. It doesn’t seem like any big deal. She’s definitely ready.”

An author. Shirley has a one-year-old son, but she’s looking forward to having more flexibility to write. “In theory, I’ll have much more time,” she says.

SHIRLEY’S FIRST DAY Toomevara NS, Co Tipperary

“I was an only child at the time, and I hadn’t been to play-school. But I walked in fine, with no leg-clinging. There were 15 of us and we sat on three sides of a rectangle. I liked my teacher. I was calm. Excited, if anything.

“I remember the books with pictures and lines of text, and I remember tracing letters. I don’t remember maths at all. At play-time, the big children went to the right, and we stayed near the door. When it rained, we played in the sandpit. That was a highlight.”

CAMMY HARLEY’S sixth child, Abigail, could have started school this September. She’s four-and-a-half, and would be fine academically, but Cammy has decided to buy her more time

“She goes to a Gaelscoil play-school two days a week, and, this year, I’ll have to pay for that. Abigail needs time to chill at home. I feel, if she waits a year, and is the oldest, rather than the youngest, she’ll be able to cope with the competitiveness of school. It will give her a good emotional foundation.

“I’m not doing it for me,” she says. “I’m looking forward to getting a part-time job, and getting my life back. But I feel that can wait another year.”

CAMMY’S FIRST DAYKing Edward HS, Matatiele, South Africa

“I went to a huge, co-ed school, which went right up to 18. It had amazing facilities. My first day was happy. I was with four girls who I’d gone to play school with. When we’d graduated there, we’d all been given wooden pencil cases, with a top that slid off and became a ruler. That gave us a connection, and untied us a bit. We’re still friends, though we live in all corners of the globe.

“I remember, too, that we were given words to learn. And every parent had to send in an empty cigarette box to keep our words in.”


Geraldine O’Brien, teacher, and co-author of Ready for School. A Parent’s Guide, says that it’s not how advanced academically children are, it’s their emotional maturity that matters.

“Is your child ready to separate from you? Are they ready to cope with the school day and mix with other children? If their emotional maturity is right, everything else falls into place. And it’s not about age. It’s an individual thing.”

My eldest child is definitely ready

Lilian Hanrahan’s daughter, Eva, is starting at Caheragh National School in Drimoleague, Co Cork.

“Eva is five. She’s my eldest child, and she’s definitely ready,” says Lillian. “She’s been at playschool for two years. She’s excited. When we bought the uniform she was modelling; looking into the mirror and posing.

“There will only be five in her class. They’re all girls, and they were all at playschool with her.”

Lillian is more worried about her second child, Danny, almost four.

“He’s been at playschool since Christmas, and he and Eva were inseparable. He relied on her, and I’m worried how he’ll cope without her there.”

* Lillian’s first day at Walterstown National School near Cobh

“I’m the youngest of four, and I couldn’t wait to start. We lived just a field away, so I walked with my two sisters and my brother. The first day my mother came too. I remember hanging up my coat and being told where to sit. There were just two classrooms and two teachers. I remember some twins who were always fighting. I remember them knocking juice over on a table.”


I lead a very busy life — I’m a mature student in college — and I separated from my partner but the separation was my decision. I hate myself when it beckons as it ultimately makes me fatter, it has the reverse effectDear Louise: I had my bulimia under control. But the demon has returned

This year has been particularly difficult and stressful, and I think that’s an even more important reason to make time for your health.Derval O'Rourke: Resistance is far from futile and necessary

Best-selling author Faith Hogan is keeping the faith during the lockdown, thanks to her Moy Valley haven in Ballina, Co Mayo.Shape I'm in: Keeping the Faith during lockdown

Are you and your family venturing into the room outside? Peter Dowdall has some useful advice.Now that the world’s on gardening leave, are you venturing into the room outside?

More From The Irish Examiner