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A Guide for the New School Mum

Welcome to the new school mum club, your membership will probably last for 13 plus years (depending on siblings) and the first year will probably be a baptism of fire!

We’ve put together some tips to help you go from newbie to pro in no time, you’ve got this Mama.

Buying Uniforms

If you’re confident in your mid-week washing abilities you might consider purchasing only one or two of each sports and formal uniform, in which case buying new may not be a huge issue. If you’re buying 5 uniforms, you don’t have to spend a fortune, a lot of uniform shops sell them second hand but often don’t volunteer this information readily.  Make sure you ask the uniform shop whether they buy and sell second hands.  Also, ask around to find out if there is some other easy way to buy and sell (we have a Facebook buy, swap and sell group just for school uniforms… it’s like selling your uniforms on the black market really, the demand is high)!

If you’re having trouble with choosing the best school shoes, check out our article

Maintaining Uniforms

Before spending an hour or two each Sunday evening ironing the kids uniforms, try shaking them out after washing, then hanging them up immediately on a clothes hanger.  There’s a good chance that this will get you by.

If it doesn’t work the first time, you could try changing washing powders (I’ve found that when we changed brands, this technique no longer worked, we quickly changed back).

Label Everything

The age old question of new school mums everywhere is “do you have to label everything?”.  The simple answer is no, only the stuff you want to keep.  It’s that simple.

There are some children out there who seem to lose everything, I’ve been to lost property and seen it for myself: a single shoe, a formal dress, 100 jumpers, 200 hats and 300 drink bottles, none of them have labels, the ones with labels make it home.

The First Day

Firstly, pre-plan all of the special photos that you want to get of your precious bundle of joy dressed up in their oversized uniform and school bag that looks like it could hold their twin sibling.  You have one chance Mama, you don’t want to regret this one.

Also, don’t forget to make sure that your child understands that this is EVERYONE’S first day at school, not just theirs.  It will make them more confident about making new friends.

… oh, and don’t forget your sunglasses.

Buying a Lunch Box

best lunch boxes open Yumbox box

If my husband knew I was giving advice on this topic, he’d personally rip the keyboard and mouse from my enthusiastic little fingers.  I’m a very experienced lunchbox buyer, I own pretty much every one on the market yet I’m still searching for the perfect solution.

The main things you want to consider when purchasing a lunchbox is:

  • Does the school have fridges or does the lunchbox need to go inside a cool bag (most schools don’t have fridges that are accessible to the kids)
  • What is the configuration of the lunch breaks?  I have twins who go to the same school but are in different classes, as an example, one child has to bring his “healthy morning snack” into the classroom, but isn’t allowed to take in his whole lunchbox in, the snack needs to be packed separately.  The other child can take everything in all in one i.e. a single lunchbox can work for him.
  • Look at the clips and have a test run to make sure your child can open them unassisted.  Also check that they can be closed (really easily) to ensure your play motivated child doesn’t toss it in his bag allowing the contents to create a smelly, sticky mess.
  • Have a think about when you are going to make your lunches.  Are you a sandwich freezer and plan on making parts of the lunch a week in advance and freezing them?  If so, unless you’re going to buy 5 lunchboxes, you may need to buy a lunch bag and fill it with all of the pre-prepared containers.
  • Think a bout an plan the best lunchbox recipes ahead of time, so you can relax knowing what you can make without stressing about the options each day.

Buying a Drink Bottle

To avoid your school bag contents turning into a soggy mess, you’ll ideally want to buy a drink bottle that is opened by fingers, but not opened by bumping.  There are a lot of drink bottles on the market that open at the press of a button (which can happen by bumping it).

With the Queensland heat, in summer you may like to freeze the drink bottle when it’s filled about 1/3 of the way up, so make sure that it’s freezer proof.

What Your Child May Learn in the Playground

First time school mums quickly learn that all 5 and 6 year olds aren’t equally innocent.  The reason?  Older siblings.

All of a sudden you may find that your child has learnt a word starting with the letter “F”, and has been sent to the principals office for saying it (innocently of course), they may start having nightmares about Five Nights at Freddy’s or Slenderman… you’ll be left crossing your fingers that the topic of Santa doesn’t come up anytime soon.

The more you can get them to talk to you, the more you will find out and the more you can set their mind at ease and educate them on real life, versus real life according to their 5 year old friend who learnt it from their 10 year old sibling, who learnt it from her friend, who learnt it from his 14 year old sibling… and so on.

We’ve made our own ridiculous videos to show that all things you see aren’t real, we’ve talked openly about swear words and starting teaching the kids that there’s a time and a place for different types of language (e.g. bum and fart might be okay around their school mates, but you wouldn’t say it to Grandma).

After school

Prep kids spend all day doing their best at school, trying their best to listen, behave, sit still and play nicely.  Be prepared for a fire storm when they get home.

Firstly, there’s a good chance they’ll need feeding the millisecond they get through the front door, that they’ll likely be tired and / or grumpy and tell you that their day was “good” and they did “nothing”.

Nearly every new school mum we spoke to advised that stopping all after school activities for at least the first term was essential, and under no circumstances should you ask “what did you do at school today” and expect an informed response.  Ask questions like “who did you play with during 2nd break”, “what was the funniest thing that happened at school”, “what was the most fun thing you did in class”, “was there anything that made you feel sad?”.

Separation Issues

One thing I was told by a teacher is “drop and go! The kids that have the most trouble settling in are the ones whose parents hang around”.

Every teacher we’ve had so far has been more than happy for me to “hand them my child” to look after whilst I quickly run away.  Teachers like you to make the goodbye quick, if you are having trouble, rather than running in the opposite direction as your child is sobbing by themselves, talk to the teacher and arrange for them to look after your child until the tears dry up (which is apparently quite soon after you leave).

Some other things you can do, leave picture notes in their lunchbox and as you’re leaving, tell them it’s in there – giving them something to look forward to.  Also, packing their favourite cuddle toy in their school bag, or even sewing a smaller version that might fit in their pocket!  Our cuddle toys “gave birth” a few days before school started, and the babies went to school with them, safely in their pocket all day, out of sight.

Relationships with teachers

Teachers are like parents with 26 children, they are very busy and they need you to work with them in order for this school thing to work, it’s a team effort.  Communicate clearly and if you have an issue, raise it politely… do you really want to unnecessarily upset the person who is responsible for your child 5 days a week?

At times they may ask for volunteers, if you have the time, put your hand up and say YES.  It will help you learn all of your child’s friends names and give you an insight into what your child is like in the classroom.

Things don’t always go to plan and if you happen to discover that your perfect little square peg doesn’t fit into the round school hole, be prepared to be your child’s advocate.  Whilst your child’s teacher is obviously qualified, the teacher to child ratio can be a challenge for kids with special requirements.  Build a good relationship with your child’s teacher, communicate clearly, and respectfully, speak up and ensure your child’s needs are being addressed.


Whilst friendships happen naturally (eventually) for most, play dates are a fantastic way to help things along.  My husband calls it “social engineering”… and it works.

If your child is struggling to make friends, make an effort to meet other mums, a lot of them will be happy to help their children build stronger relationships too.

Spare Time

Now your child is in school, if you’re not working you may need some tips on how to spend your free time *laughing at my joke*. Between drop off and pickup, if you’re spending time volunteering and don’t have a cleaner you’ll probably find that you have left time than you think between drop-off and pickup, so don’t over commit in the first few weeks.


Most schools will send home homework from around week 3, yes, even for prep kids!  You can expect to receive a list of sight words each week.  Your child will need to memorise these and may have a couple more pages of homework to do, along with weekly reading.

On the topic of sight words, some schools do these in levels, where you get your new list once your child is tested and has successfully read all of the words.  Other schools just keep them coming… and coming… and coming, at the rate of 10 or 15 per week (if your school uses this method, try not to fall behind!)

We have a lot of tips on fun ways to teach your child sight words, but that’s for another day!


Types of School Mums

You’ve probably read about the types of mums you’ll find at school, they’ve all been neatly classified, ready for us to start putting labels on each other’s heads.

Instead of thinking about things this way, I’d rather categorise Mums into two categories: those who have challenges and talk to you about them, and those who have challenges and don’t talk to you about them.

Perception is a funny thing, once you get to know the other school mums and you all open up a little you’ll find that they are normal humans with normal human problems just like you… even if they look perfectly put together at school drop off as you’re doing the sprint through the front gate yelling out “come on, the bell’s about to ring… RRRUUUUUNNNNN!”

Whilst no two journeys are the same, I think most new school mums will agree on two things… making school lunches will quickly become the bane of your existence, and regardless of what time your children get out of bed, getting them out the front door, dressed, with all of their belongings requires a team of highly skilled professionals.

You will learn that it is sometimes easier to have your children at home (even whilst bickering) for a full day than to make the school lunches… and you’ll learn that the sloth out of Zootopia was probably based on the behaviour of a school child in the morning.

If you are struggling to strike up conversation with other mums at school… simply state “I hate making school lunches” or “how many times do you have to ask your child to put on their shoes?” … you’ll talk and frown and joke and laugh… then sigh… from this point forward, you’ll know that you’re not alone in this school thing.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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