Our eldest starting Reception, last year, was one thing. Terrifying yes, but somehow safer; inevitable. It was a brand new school – a maximum of 30 children in the entire place, across two classes. We were moving there with friends, and we were in the same boat. Kids all starting school for the first time, together.

This time around, as we prepare to move our daughter into a new school, for Year 1, the fear is notched up a level. Mainly mine, and not least because it’s a gamble – after all, our daughter loved her last school, she had lovely friends, and it’s not that we’re moving area, or had a terrible experience. We’re just moving her to another local school for our own reasons, mainly practical. 

Having three kids we have to do what’s best for our family and we believe this decision is that – but that doesn’t stop the inevitable flurry of woes that flood my sleep: Will she hate it? Will she be out of synch with the other kids? Will she make friends?

Having three young kids and various pulls on our resources, we have to do what’s best for our family and we believe this decision is that – but that doesn’t stop the inevitable flurry of woes that flood my sleep: Will she hate it? Will she be out of synch with the other kids? Will she make friends? Will she make friends which end up pulling her down a dark path and into some terrible cult?

Ultimately, I’m sure it will be fine. It seems like a gorgeous school, we have lots of connections there already, and as she puts it (finishing with a genuine look of concern): “Cause I’ll still have all my friends from my old school and now I’ll make all my new friends as well so oh my goodness I’ll have so many friends, but I don’t think you can have too many?” 

Nevertheless, it’s amazing how, regardless, as a parent, those feelings can creep into your psyche, amplified, irrational: the projection of your own childhood fears and adult paranoias; as well as the fizzing excitement in your gut. So as many of us prepare for the days and weeks ahead we asked a range of parents – and their kids – about how they feel about one of the most seminal moments in their (and our) lives. 

Penny & Minnie

Penny’s daughter, Minnie, aged 5, is starting primary school

Penny… My emotions around Minnie starting school fluctuate between utter excitement and stomach churning nerves. But when Minnie and I talk about it I’m totally reassured by Minnie’s zeal and eager anticipation for her first school experience. As one of the eldest in her class she is definitely emotionally ready and has spent the last six months dreaming of being a ‘big school girl’ so it feels like the right time. 

I loved my school years and I think that talking to Minnie enthusiastically about the joys of learning, discovering and making new and lasting friendships has rubbed off on her. We have enjoyed her trying on and parading around in her new uniform and talking about the other children and how they will be wearing the same outfit. Buying her first pair of school shoes was an event in itself and Minnie took great pleasure in choosing her favourite pair. I actually really can’t wait for those first day at school photos.

Minnie… I am excited about starting school. I’m especially excited about doing maths, colouring, playtime, football and eating my vegetarian food. I’m excited about my school backpack, and sitting in my classroom. I’m looking forward to playing in the learning garden at school and doing activities with Miss Mora. She is the teacher. She rules the classroom. 

The best thing about starting school is having new teachers and making lots of new friends. I can play horseys with my friends in the learning garden and my new friends and I can put horses in the stable. We can leap and do running and we can play all day. I also want to learn new things every day. My favourite thing will be when the bell rings for playtime, then I will play with my new friends. We can do cartwheels and leap and be happy every day. 

Charlotte & Isabella

Charlotte’s daughter, Isabella, aged 18, is leaving home to go to university

Charlotte… I am a mixed bag of emotions as we prepare Isabella for university. I’m incredibly proud of her hard work which resulted in her getting a place at her first choice university, but I’m going to miss her. I know she will be back for holidays and visits but I will miss our routine and the daily life we had together. I will even miss the weekly battle to rush out of work to get home and take her to orchestra.

In my rational mind I’m delighted at the wonderful opportunity she has and I’m excited for this next chapter – new city, new friends, independence. But then there’s my emotional side which I’m trying to control, the complete ‘apron string hanger-on’ that is fighting to get out of me. It is so hard to find the right balance of being enthusiastic and bright about it all when I long for the time when she was a baby and I used to literally want to inhale her feet and she would curl her toes round my nose.

I have no worries about her looking after herself. She is an amazing cook and can rustle up anything. In fact I think she will look after others, and I know she will make lifelong friendships, so I am positive that this is the right thing for her to do. I know it will be emotional saying goodbye but she will be back and we shall adjust to a new routine. The most important thing for me is that she is happy, and she is. The next thing we need to do is the Ikea shop. No doubt there will be other misty eyed mothers pushing heaving trolleys around alongside us.

Isabella… The thought of going to university is really exciting to me making new friends, exploring a brand new city and shaping my identity. I’m quite an independent person so I’m excited about decorating my new room and cooking for myself, even if there are a few pot noodles and takeaways here and there. I’m a bit nervous about starting life somewhere new, but I need remind myself that everyone is in the same position and it’s a journey we’re all going on together.

I am a bit worried about going somewhere on my own and having to put myself out there in order to meet new friends. I’m also not particularly looking forward to the homesickness. I’m definitely a homebody so the thought of not seeing my mum and my home for weeks on end scares me, and I’m not looking forward to not having my family there when I’m feeling ill or upset. But I’m hoping to make some really good friends and I think that will help distract me from the homesickness. 

Aida & Luka

Aida’s son, Luka, aged 11, is starting secondary school

Aida… Our family of four has just returned from a long summer spent away and we all feel a bit nervous about Luka starting at his new school next week. It is a huge change for him, and us, as he is moving from a small state primary school to a bigger private secondary school. One of the things that concerns him, and us, is that most of the other children will be coming from prep schools and will be more familiar with the private school system. To help him with this we have arranged a couple of tutoring sessions for him before he starts to reassure him that he will be fine academically.

My husband and I have talked to him about our first days at secondary school and how we felt apprehensive about it to too, and how he will not be alone in feeling like that, that it will be the same for many of his classmates too. However, it really is a big step for us all. It feels like overnight we have to let go of our baby boy and are now sending him out into the big wide world.

We’re worried about things like him travelling to school on his own, him being able to keep to his new schedule, being able to follow the school rules (that are much stricter than what he is used to). Luka himself is very excited, but I know he is also quite nervous so we are trying not to show that we are nervous too and instead highlight the positives of it all the new challenges, the friendships, the school trips, this is what we are focussing on.

Luka… I feel mostly excited about going to secondary school, but I am quite apprehensive it about it too, especially the tests that we will have to do so they can put us in different learning ability groups. I have done a lot of tests this year and now I will have more.

I am also quite unhappy about leaving my primary school after seven years spent there. I’m a bit nervous because none of my primary school friends are going to the same secondary school as me, but looking on the positive side that means that I can have a fresh start. And I am very much looking forward to making new friends and stepping up to the new challenges that secondary school will bring, while hopefully having some fun along the way. 

Rachel & Miller

Rachel’s son, Miller, aged 3, is starting nursery school

Rachel… I have mixed emotions about Miller starting nursery school. On the one hand I feel relieved that I will have more time to focus on my business, but I also feel sad that our youngest is already old enough to go to a school nursery. He will be going to nursery at the same school that his big sister goes to which is great, and there are a lot of siblings from his sister’s class that will be in his nursery class so I hope that knowing these kids will make the transition easier for him.

Up until now he has been at a private nursery part-time, but I think it’s good he’s moving on as I feel he’s ready for this new adventure. I think he would have outgrown his previous private nursery if he’d stayed there for another year. Also, knowing how tough the curriculum is from day one once they start in Reception, I feel that being in a school setting from nursery age is best in terms of preparing him for that. At the same time though I feel anxious that it will be a lot for him to be there from 9am until 3.30pm, every day.

But I am excited for him. We have talked about his new school all summer – especially the ‘giant snail’ that lives in a tank in his classroom. Also a highlight for him was buying his school shoes. His face lit up when he put them on and he didn’t take them off for the rest of the day, even though it was 30 degrees outside.

Miller… I think I’m nervous but I’m not sure. I am looking forward to seeing the giant snail every day, he lives in the classroom. I am also going to get to play with Charlie a lot, he is my friend. The best thing about going to school is that I will get to play the piano that is in the playground. And I got new shoes.

Jenny & Molly

Jenny’s daughter, Molly, aged 16, is starting Sixth Form at a new school

Jenny… I’m excited about Molly entering this new chapter in her life. I’ve never been the kind of mum that’s cried at the end of a stage in my daughters’ lives because time is passing too quickly (although it very much is and I wish I could slow it down) as I really love watching my children evolve. It’s exciting. Having said that I do feel her nerves. Molly’s going to a new school with only one friend following her there so I appreciate that must be daunting. She’s also going to a single sex grammar school which I’m sure will feel a bit odd having been at a mixed comprehensive: no more boys.

Also, the entrance criteria for the school was high so she knows she’s going to have to work hard and will be pushed academically. We’ve talked about how this is a chance for her to start again. None of the teachers know her so she is starting with a blank sheet giving her the chance to reinvent herself. No body has a preconceived idea about who she is, or what her capabilities are, and I think that’s great.

Molly… I decided to change schools for my Sixth Form years because I didn’t want to spend another two years at the school I’ve spent the last five years at. I guess I kind of feel like I need a bit of a change. So I’m excited about starting at a new school, but I am also a bit apprehensive about it all. It’s exciting to be going somewhere different because it’s a new start and an opportunity for me to meet new people. The apprehension comes from a fear that I’ll fall behind work wise because the expectations in terms of academic achievement at my new school are quite high.

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