Toby & Roo’s tips to make starting school easy

Harriet Shearsmith blog header

Guest blog by Harriet Shearsmith

How're you feeling about your child's first week at school? Excited, nervous, disorganised?! The extremely lovely and down-to-earth Harriet Shearsmith of Toby & Roo has been there, done that, got the tear-stained t-shirt, three times! She shares her top tips to help you get excited, deal with nerves and make your child's first week a breeze.

Harriet is a parenting expert and founder of parenting website Toby and Roo. You can also find her on Instagram. 

Let’s talk about that first week at school! It’s scary right? Not just for the kids who sometimes feel like they are walking into the dino-pen at Jurassic park, but it’s scary for us parents too who have to take a back seat for the first time ever and just watch.

It’s so daunting when your child first starts school, especially if it’s your first time – not knowing how they might react during that first week is a tough one. Here are a few of my top tips for helping that first week go as smoothly as possible!

1. Have conversations about their first day soon approaching

The week before your little one is due to start school, start dropping little comments into your conversation about all the fun things that they are going to be able to do, or perhaps things that they are excited about. Edith (my daughter) was so excited to wear her new school shoes so I would say “ooh these are nice shoes, but not as nice as those special big girl shoes you get to wear next week!” Just a little bit of subtle pre-framing goes a long way.
Harriet Shearsmith's children
Harriet's sons, Toby & Roo, who were the inspiration for Harriet's award-winning parenting website

2. Get them excited to deal with the nerves!

The day before your child is due to start school, set out all of the things that they will need together, it can be really exciting for them to feel responsible and set out those new things. If they are very nervous or overwhelmed, it might be an idea to just ask them to set out their favourite thing ready for the morning.

3. Talk about their feelings

If they want to talk about their feelings, listen and don’t brush it off. Just remind them that this is normal and even adults get nervous! Reassure them that they will be fine and there are going to be so many wonderful things to enjoy. Play to the things they love the most, for Toby (my son) it was how many dinosaurs and dinosaur books they had at his new school!

Harriet Shearsmith and daughter Edith
Harriet Shearsmith and her daughter Edith

4. Don’t rush your mornings

Make getting ready on the first morning full of smiles and try not to rush anything (I know it’s never that easy!) Aim for a normal breakfast and avoid the instinct to do something fancy and make a big fuss. If you can, aim to get out of the house 15 minutes earlier than you think you will need to – and if you’re anything like me, that will mean you’re likely to set off on time! It also helps if both parents/carers know where the school is. During the first week my eldest was at school, I became poorly with a sickness bug and Adam had only visited the school once months before due to work commitments… he got lost on the way to drop Roo off!

5. It’s ok to be emotional!

That first drop off is always the most nerve wracking for you and your child, it’s jumping into the unknown and with so much going on in the playground it can feel really scary. If they are tearful and clinging to you, don’t worry, it’s not unusual! Let the teacher take them and reassure them that you will be back soon. It’s 100% ok to have a cry in the car when you’ve dropped them off – I know I have every time…

Harriet's son in school uniform
This is Reuben's first preschool picture. He was so proud of himself, but we had tears and pleading when he first moved up to this part of the school.

6. Pack after-school snacks

One thing most parents notice fairly soon is that their child is super moody and hungry after school. It’s a lot of big changes for them and let’s be honest, who doesn’t get Hangry?! I usually take a simple snack to collect them with and expect that grumpy behaviour. We all laugh in our family about how hangry everyone gets – they’ve totally picked it up from me!

Why not get ahead and make these healthy bars using their favourite cereal. 

7. Prep your meals

Meal planning is a big help for that first week/month. Want to know the secret? Invest in a pressure cooker so that you can make quick and easy dinners in a hurry! If you can, prepping vegetables on a weekend will help too and it’s also a great family bonding experience! Edith loves to be involved in this and when Reuben (my son) was tiny he would spend hours helping me meal prep, although not so much now he’s such a grown up tween.

Harriet Shearsmith at home

8. Create a first week back to school treat

We have an end of first week back to school treat in our family – this can look like a pizza and movie night, a trip to McDonald’s or the ice cream parlour or maybe even a little magazine and toy. Something to say well done (and I get a G&T to say well done for making it through too!)

9. It’s time to get organised!

Looking beyond that first week, there are so many things to look forward to and get your head around. For most parents, there will be the odd school admin organisation such as school books from the library that need returning or letters that need signing for school photos and trips. Invest in a board to pin up all those actionable letters. Mine is in my office right behind my computer so it stares at me all day until I do it.

10. Get your children involved in school plays

That first nativity or school play is a huge moment for your kids and you. In my experience the little ones are always given roles to enjoy. Make sure you find out if your school will allow photos of these special moments before you whack your phone out and remember the golden rule: never share on social! I have some lovely pictures from the kid’s first nativities. One of my absolute faves is of Reuben dressed as a Xmas tree – they even had a set of lights on him!

We've got lots more helpful ideas to get you back-to-school ready!