Ten things I've learned as a primary school mum

By the time my youngest finishes primary school I will have put in 18 years at the school gate, I think this qualifies me to dispense advice.

Ten things I've learned as a primary school mum

My eldest son has just started at secondary school, my middle one is in primary five and my youngest is still in nappies, so by the time I end my relationship with our local primary, I will have outlasted most of the staff.

I’m clearly in it for the long haul, so here are my top ten bits of advice for surviving the marathon of primary education.

Never join a committee

It will wear you out and have you doing all sorts of things you don’t want to do. Really, just because some people might think manning a bran tub in a noisy and hot hall all morning is entertaining, it doesn’t mean we all do. By all means, make yourself available to the ladies (for it will be ladies) of the committee, they’ll be grateful. Just be selective about what you’re able to do and don’t be too keen. Don’t feel bad about this. Stand firm, there are many other parents who aren’t on committees either. By all means, write a cheque if it makes you feel better.

Set your end of year present policy early

If you start out all gung-ho and generously give your kid’s primary one teacher something tasteful from Crabtree and Evelyn or a large well-chosen bottle, be prepared to continue in the same vein. You can’t give one teacher a lovely pressie then not bother for the next one, she will bear a grudge and you’re going to be seeing her for a long time.

Learn to wear an imaginary protective force field at the school gate

Maybe it’s just me but I suspect not. School gate misery is a nasty condition caused by having to hang out with women with whom you have nothing in common but a post code and giving birth in the same year. The symptoms are shyness, the inability to say anything interesting and the feeling that they’re all talking about you because you’re rubbish. My solution is to fashion yourself a pretend protective force field or shield of steel that you put on as you saunter up to the school. That way nothing they say or do affects you and you can happily stand there until your child bursts out of the door.  You will observe that dads have been doing this for years, only their force field emanates from the phone that they’re importantly talking into.

The school secretary is your friend

Oh yes she is, no matter what you think of her, make it so. She is the gate-keeper and font of all wisdom. If she knows who you are and likes you, life will be much, much easier.

If the school shop suddenly marks down some of the uniform on sale, ask why

Hopefully you’ll find out that they are going to change the dress code before you buy loads of what you think are bargains. (Just sayin’)

Take something to read at parents’ night

In seven years, I have never had one run to schedule, so it’s worth being prepared.

Birthday party rules

In the early years don’t feel obliged to invite every child who invited your child to their party. Certainly it isn’t necessary to have the whole class come, unless you want to. In fact, you don’t have to have a party at all, if you don’t want to. Children of this age do not work on the same social rules as adults. If you offend a parent by not inviting little Jemima to Brutus’ Rastamouse themed party, who cares?

Help! It’s homework

The teacher really isn’t interested in what you know about the socio economic situation in Europe or how well you can draw a picture of the owl and the pussy cat. You might think you’re helping your child by doing it for them, you’re not really. The biggest help for your child is creating time and space for them to sit down and work in.

Don’t spend very much money on anything

Your child will lose it, break it or make holes in it. Just resign yourself to this.

Hungry years

Don’t fret if your child doesn’t seem to eat much lunch. Many of them don’t, just give them a good breakfast and something to eat the minute they get home. Mine survived remarkably well doing this for a long time.

Embrace checklists

If getting everyone out in the morning with everything they need is turning into a bit of an ordeal, make a checklist and follow it. Give your child a list too so they know what’s expected of them. It might sound a bit bossy, but it means you only have to remember everything once when you write the list.

Don’t believe everything you hear

Especially when it concerns what they are and aren’t allowed to do. Equally if they say “but Simon’s mum says he can”, you can bet your bottom dollar that Simon’s mum is hearing something very similar.  Until proved otherwise (and even then), children don’t think you will ever know what happens at school. I find it worth reminding them on a regular basis that this isn’t the case.


  • Alice castle


    Alice Castle

    09 September, 2011

    This is absolutely priceless, five star advice! Wish I'd had this when mine started in the primary. And wish I'd been at the same school gates as you, Ellen! You are so right about the protective forcefield, the not-spending-much-on-everything, just the whole lot. Thanks :)

  • Ellen


    Ellen Arnison

    09 September, 2011

    Alice, thanks for your lovely comment.

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    Fiona Scott

    09 September, 2011

    I loved this post as I too have three children and one step daughter - so we've got A levels, first year of secondary school, Yr 5 and reception - first day today.
    So far I've spent since 2003 at primary school gates and there's another six years to go - yippee. So do I agree with Ellen
    Point 1 - never join a committee, no I think you should consider it, especially if you are naturally bossy like me. But don't be fooled, you'll get loads to do for which you won't get paid and often not appreciated. But schools need this kind of support (also could be good for your CV if nothing else!).
    Point 2 - end of year present policy - mine is - no presents until end of the school in Yr 6. Cards only. If my kids want to reward their teacher, then get out the pocket money. Teachers don't reward me for supporting my kids at school!
    Points, 3, 4, 5, 6 - agree. Point 7, the birthday party dilemma, I got my children used to only being able to invite a handful of children and explaining why to those who got offended (and they do). It's worked so far, but does mean less invitations for your kids. Even so, there still seems to be one every week.
    Points 8, 9, 10 agree. Point 11 - checklist is such a good idea but I refuse to do it, as my whole life will be ruled by lists. Have noticed that my eldest does her own and puts them beside her bed at night - independent learning you see (I like it!).
    Point 12 - it's true.
    As a working and older parent, I find that the school pick-up can be a trauma - fine if one of my few friends are there, otherwise I'm happy to be on my own. I avoid like wildfire those parents who see it as an opportunity to indulge in unforgiving playground politics - I'm not interested in anyone who cares about my hair, what clothes I'm wearing, how overweight I am.
    Also be prepared to be paying out money all the time (and I'm not talking about fundraising events). It's swimming, music lessons, trips, longer trips, contributions towards speakers/workshops, dress down days. Last year I shelled out £50 in two weeks. This year, to date it's £5 so I'm feeling flush!
    I'm a blogging fan too - www.mumsinmedia.co.uk

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    Kim N

    09 September, 2011

    What a wonderful post Ellen, thanks so much for sharing your advice, it will definitely be taken into consideration. When I say no to everything though - can I say Ellen told me to? x

  • Ellen


    Ellen Arnison

    09 September, 2011

    Fiona, Thanks for your comment. You're right there is some brilliant work done by parents in running things such as the PTA without whom a great many things would cease to happen. I like your daughter and her list-making.

    Kim, Thanks - by all means, say it was me. Just don't tell them where I am.

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    Ready for Ten admin

    12 September, 2011

    What a wonderfully honest and hilarious post Ellen - and I couldn't agree more on all fronts. I can sympathise with Fiona on the costs issue - I took my six and four year old back to swimming on Saturday for the first lesson of the new year, and had to produce a cheque for £180 (and we all know there are only a few weeks left till Christmas don't we wink wink). In the changing rooms after the lesson by four year old said "actually mummy I don't want to do swimming anymore, I want to play tennis instead" :-)

    Ready for Ten Team

  • Kidsbeehappy
    Sandra Patterson

    07 November, 2011

    Hi. Love your post. Lots of good truths in there, I particularly like the invisible shield the playground, and I agree totally about letting children do their own homework. I remember being at a school where there were too many mummies with too much time on their hands. The council annually has an art show of all primary school work, and as this school was small most pupil's work was included. The pictures were all a still life picture of fruit or flower. I don't think one picture exhibited had been drawn by a child.

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