I can’t quite believe it, but it seems that the first day of school is nearly upon us. As it’s raining like the end of the world, I thought I would put together some quick last-minute advice for other mums and dads who are getting things ready before school starts. If you’re looking for advice on how to fit school runs, homework and so on into your life, this article is more about the practicalities of getting your school uniform, school shoes, name tags and everything ready… but feel free to leave a comment with other questions and we will reply!
What you need before the first day of school
The school will have sent you a list of somewhere between a 10 and 50 items of clothing the children need for the first day of school – everything from blazers carrying the school crest to white socks for PE. My advice is to read the list carefully and separate it into three lists:
1) Clothes with school crests or specific school colours. The school should provide you with the name and address of a local school uniform shop which sells their uniform. Usually there are only one or two to choose from, and sadly they know they have the market cornered so think it is okay to charge £75 for a blazer your child will wear once and then forget on the coach. Buy enough to get you through the first week or two, but leave it at that – the school will almost definitely have a “nearly new uniform sale” or a “gently used uniform sale” soon after school starts, where you can buy the hard-wearing items like school blazers, kilts, sweatshirts and so on for a fraction of the price.
2) Basics such as socks, tights, grey or black trousers, cardigans, and so forth. Unless your school is very picky about the exact shade, chances are John Lewis is your new best friend for school trousers, pinafores and cardies in standard colours, plus of course you can pick up white socks as knee-highs (for kilts), ankle socks, and tights in pretty much any shade. There are plenty of other places to buy basics, but I always go for John Lewis because a) it means I can guess at the size and returning or exchanging is never an issue, and b) I can order everything I need online (and earn points – yay!) and then make hubby collect it from Waitrose on his lunch break so I never had to stand in any queues.
I’m shopping for a school uniform. How many of everything do I need?
Basically, your kids are going to go through clothes like nothing you’ve seen before, and with play-dates, homework, reading, snuggling, tea time, etc you are going to have pretty much zero time to actually wash clothes during the week. When you do get around to washing them, there will be mystery stains that will possibly never come off, even with Grandma’s advice. Plus, if you have a child like my little Danger Boy, you might find that being near scissors all day he is unable to make it through the week without experimentally snipping a couple of things, including the middle of his polo shirts.
My advice would be to get enough of each part of your school uniform to last them the week, plus at least one spare for good luck.
For the layer closest to their skin, go for the comfiest stuff you can find, make sure the fit is just right, and get enough spares that you can just reach your hand into a drawer with your eyes shut and pull out something clean rather than hunting around the house while you’re late for school.
- White singlets/vests – even if it is not cold, your child will almost definitely complain about how shirt buttons feel against their skin.
- Get 1 million comfy cotton pants – well, get at least 6, but bear in mind they will mysteriously go missing and the last thing you need in the morning before school run is a child without pants. Make sure you get some extra pairs to pop into their school bag so they can get changed at school if there are accidents – lots of kids in their first term of school get a little distracted or are worried they might miss out on some excitement so tend to wait a little too long before asking to use the toilet.
- Get 10 pairs of super comfy white socks – you really only need 5, but they will mysteriously turn black (probably from doing gymnastics in their socks, or from the bark in the playground) and your child will go through socks like crazy, so you might as well get lots now rather than going out shopping again in a month.
- For girls knee-high socks and tights, go for cotton-rich in exactly the right size – your little girl is going to be wearing these for about 10 hours every day, and you KNOW how horrible it is wearing tights that don’t fit quite right.
For the next layer, you are going to need at least one per day as they will DEFINITELY get it dirtier than you had ever imagined possible. I like to have 6 or 7 polo shirts in rotation as it means we always have something clean plus enough back-up to get us through while trying to get mystery stains out.
Oh my goodness, the school shoes. These are probably going to set you back about £30 – £40 per pair – that’s £60 – £70 per child if you need to get school shoes plus “non-marking” gym trainers. There are cheaper options, but bear in mind that your child will be wearing school shoes ALL DAY without taking them off.
My children walk or scoot 1.5 miles each way to school in their school shoes, rain or shine, then spend 7 or 8 hours at school wearing them for everything from sitting without fidgeting (ha) at their desks, cross-legged on the floor, outside on the climbing frame, playing tag, at art club… you name it. You owe it to your kids to buy them some high quality, comfortable shoes in precisely the right size and with good built-in insoles and which are wide enough for some toe-wiggling.
School shoes are usually pretty easy to track down either in a large shopping mall or in your neighbourhood – but please make sure you get your child measured first. If you are going to Clarks, they have some nifty iPad foot measuring characters the kids really love, so it makes the process a little less painful.
Name tags for your school uniforms
Before the first day of school, you may have imagined lovingly hand-stitching name tags to your child’s school uniform. I am about to crush your dream. The first two labels are lovely and make you feel all wonderful inside. After that, it is about as pleasant as being poked in the eye, and in fact you will be seriously thinking of doing exactly that so that you have an excuse to pawn off the job on someone else.
You can order name tags from Easy2name, WovenLabels and quite a few other places, and they usually have a next-day delivery service if you’ve left it too late. My advice would be to get a pack with woven sew-on labels (the no-sew labels are a pain) and dishwasher-safe sticky labels (to go on water bottles, lunch bags, pencil case, etc).
Important advice for name tags
Start with the outerwear, such as that eye-wateringly expensive school blazer, the cardigans, all-weather coat, etc, and make sure the name is stitched really well onto the inside of the collar.
Your child will basically walk into the school and take it off almost immediately. It will end up on someone else’s peg, or on the floor, or at the Science Museum, or on the coach, or in a strange drawer in the art room. This I guarantee. If you have stitched a name tag onto the collar, it will eventually make it back to you. If you have not, or if you stitched it to the inside pocket or lining so that it looks all classy and discreet, you will never see the item again.
Next, make sure you put shoe labels in the shoes. I am willing to bet that at least 5 kids in the class will have the exact same shoes as your child. Don’t just put a sticker on the bottom or inside the shoe. It might seem like a great idea at the time, but you will regret it the next day. It’s best to stick one of those name stickers with a special shoe-sticker cover to the inside of the shoe along the side – in other words so it’s easy to see but where it won’t bunch up or peel off.
Next, everything else. This is where you will start losing the will to live. The only way to survive is to pawn off as much of the stitching to other people. You might be able to convince Grandma that this is a great way of helping out, and praising the quality of her stitching and asking if she might one day teach you (but not now) is a great way to get some out of the way.
Easy hairstyles for school and why you need a million hair accessories
Most schools have a rule about keeping long hair tied back. It does feel a bit odd at first, but if you’ve ever watched kids who are trying to sit still for any length of time you’ll notice that they spend inordinate amounts of time chewing on, winding up, blowing away or otherwise fiddling with their hair, and with their neighbour’s hair.
The first week of school the ‘keep long hair tied back’ rule will be really fun, and you will find yourself experimenting with all the cutest plaits, fishtails, athletic ponytail-braids, messy buns and sweet, perfectly positioned hair slides.
By the second week of school, good luck getting your child to succumb to hair plaiting.
My advice is to make your little girl watch BlueEyedJackson on YouTube. She has a great step-by-step tutorial showing other children how to braid their own hair.
In the meantime, learn how to do a really neat french braid (the kind that sticks to the head from top to bottom). Chances are, it might even last two days. If not, plaiting it the second day will be SUPER easy as the hair will sort of know where to go.
You will also need some hair elastics, hairbands, hairclips and so on in the school colours – in my experience you will find these pretty easily wherever you can find school pinafores, but even Boots and my local chemist have stacks of plain hair accessories in standard colours. Buy about one million of them and keep the spares hidden somewhere in the house, as otherwise you will find that they mysteriously vanish one at a time leaving you with nothing by half term.
When and where to shop
You can buy almost everything online so chances are you will never have to set foot inside an actual shop, barring the shoes. When you do need to buy clothes or shoes in the actual shop, go as early as possible in the morning. Aim for mid-week, as most people who work part-time have Monday or Friday off, so if you shop on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning it will be relatively quiet.
My advice is to shop for school uniform and school shoes in a non-suburban neighbourhood, in other words FAR away from where you or any families with school age kids live. Really. Aim instead for a shopping centre in a touristy area or a trendy spot near a university.
If you’re in London, John Lewis at Oxford Circus is perfect – people usually go to the shops near their house, so places like Brent Cross will have parents queuing up outside waiting for their turn… but at Oxford Circus they have the same shoes, school uniforms, school socks and vests in bulk, plus all the other nonsense like pencil-cases and lunch bags… but everyone else in the shop is downstairs buying fashion, make-up or home furnishings. The shoe shop and the children’s clothing sections are usually very quiet, with hugely efficient and very lovely staff all too happy to take care of everything you need right away. I am usually in and out within about 10 minutes with literally everything I need for two kids, compared to 2 hours somewhere more suburban like Brent Cross.
Plus, it’s just a few steps away from the Match Bar, a seriously decent (and surprisingly family friendly) place. If you ask for Richie (tell him I sent you!) he’ll mix up just the right late-afternoon cocktail so you can thank yourself for a job well done 🙂
What other advice would you offer parents getting ready for the first day of school?