Advice I would give to my daughter on her first day of school (if she were old enough to understand)

7 September 1982

You’ve got the uniform (which is a bit big admittedly; I have to hunt for you beneath the green cardigan and sunhat), the smart new shoes (comfy but not too snug a fit that we won’t try to make them last the whole year), the water bottle (does everything have to be Smiggle these days?), the PE kit and the book bag (will you really be reading real books soon?).

So what else can I give you?

Well, the answer is probably, ‘not much’. I can’t come with you into the classroom: the chairs are too flimsy for me to sit on and green gingham just isn’t my style. There are a few things I’d like to say to you though, some of them based on my own experiences of early school life many moons ago, which you can read at a later date (when you can actually read):

  • I know you think that school is going to be like a fun playdate which you do on one day and then go to the park the next. I’ve tried to break it to you that school is somewhere you will go most weekdays for a long time. In truth, you started learning the moment you were born and I hope you’ll go on learning for the whole of your life, so if you decide you’re going to enjoy it then that’s half the battle.
  • Don’t be too shy to answer questions. If you think you know the answer to something, just give it a go. Being wrong isn’t a bad thing and it’s good practice to learn how to be wrong.
  • Likewise, if you need to go to the loo, please don’t wait until it’s too late to ask your teacher otherwise you’ll be wearing spare clothes for the rest of the day. Hopefully it won’t be the brown 80’s style dungarees that I had to wear.
  • Appreciate your teachers: they work hard and their day doesn’t finish at 3.10pm. You’re lucky in that I hope most teachers that you encounter will actually like teaching and like children. This wasn’t always the case in the history of the English schooling system.
  • Best not to take all your clothes off when you’re in the classroom and run around shouting ‘I love my bum bum, I love my bum bum’ like you do at home.
  • On that note, never stop loving your bum bum; it’s just that silent appreciation may be the way to go.
  • When you’re older, if we try to palm you off with your aunt’s 30 year old hockey stick which isn’t even regulation size any more, like my parents did to me, don’t stand for it. We may say that we are trying to build your character but actually we are just being a bit tight.
  • Love the friends you make: you never know, they may be your friends when you’re as old as me. I am still friends with a number of my primary school classmates; two or three of them I would count as my closest friends even now.
  • Try to be friends with boys as well as girls; they may not like playing with dolls as much as you do but it’s good practice for later life.
  • That said, not everyone is going to be your friend. You know how your little brothers annoy you, just as my little brother annoyed me? Well, other people in life will probably annoy you too, but don’t try to strangle them or pinch their faces. Just be nice, and I hope you’ll find that most people are nice to you as well.
  • If your drama teacher asks you to be a weasel in the school production of Toad of Toad Hall, just say politely but firmly, that you think you’d be better as a rabbit.
  • Remember last week when we put you on a climbing wall for the first time and you climbed right to the top without looking down? At first, I wanted to grab hold of your ankle so that you wouldn’t go any higher but in the end I let you go and I watched until it hurt my neck to keep looking at you. I think that starting school will be a bit like the climbing wall. So keep going, don’t look back and try to give me a little wave from the top if you remember. And whatever Pink Floyd might say, to me you’ll never be just another brick in the wall.image
  • Finally, don’t worry. The likelihood is that you’re not going to remember this day. Your father and I, however, will never forget it.

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