What I learnt when I went to school in my child's place

Parent swap day where mums and dads or carers get to be a student for the day
Parent swap day where mums and dads or carers get to be a student for the day Photo: Getty Images

You think you know what happens in you child's school day, right? We all went to school, so of course we remember; we were young once. I thought I knew too.

I was very excited to receive an invitation to participate in a parent swap day at my son's school and anticipated it with relish. I loved school, particularly the last few years, which is when I came into my own both socially and academically. I look back fondly at those hours spent immersed in a book study, hanging out with friends at lunch time and trying to do my best.

So I thought I had this in the bag, well and truly. Thing is, I most unexpectedly woke up that morning with a feeling of dread. Was I going to keep up? Was I going to fit in? Could I do the work? My day at school gave me a whole new appreciation for what my son does every day and the people involved with his education. Here's what I learned.

So this is why he's so tired!
The night of parent swap day, I got into bed that night at 9:30pm and fell straight to sleep. Admittedly I had just shepherded three kids through the last 6.5 hours on top of that school day, but even then, that's unusually early for me.

Even the most organised school is noisy and chaotic. The noise I experienced around class movements and recess and lunch, well it was deafening. Kids bumping into each other, shouting down the hall to their friends, lugging around heavy books, many lockers crowded into tight spaces and little time to get organised - if you're not accustomed to lots of noise or have sensory issues, these things alone are exhausting.

On top of that are the lessons. A series of fantastic teachers punching out interesting and rigorous lessons which required me to be on my A-game for quite long stretches. I tried to do my best bookwork whilst trying to take in science experiments and conversations in French. I'm proud to say I made a housing joint from wood which required some sawing and chiseling skills and caused a few beads of sweat. I even learned a few lines of a Coldplay song on keyboard.I realised that even though I remember going to school, it didn't equate to really knowing how much energy it requires from my son. Just one day at school requires his full physical and mental attention, so when he walks in and slumps on the lounge I now give him ten minutes of peace and leave all talk of homework until after he's had a drink, a rest and a snack.

As adults we tend to stick with what we're good at
It's a hard truth; as an adult, I huddle closely to what I know and love to do. Being in a mathematics lesson again struck the most terrible fear into my heart and it hit home how I rarely have to do anything I fear anymore. I'm going to change that. That maths lesson turned out to be fun and informative and I'd like to put myself out there more to learn some new things, rather than sticking to what I know.

Kids have to do this every day and I have renewed respect for how much they adapt. Some do it gladly and others struggle. I see so much more clearly how much my kids valiantly keep up with what's required of them in a school day.

Great teachers are one of life's richest gifts
Teachers, I do bow down. The standard of teaching I witnessed during my day at school inspired me beyond measure. To sit in a student chair as a fully fledged adult and watch passionate, incredibly prepared teachers do their thing, was a revelation.


I could feel the years of experience behind them. I could envisage the hours and hours of preparation that goes on each night, on weekends and every school holidays. Each approached the children with respect, every interaction designed to further learning and challenge them. There was humour, patience, humanity and understanding happening in those rooms and it didn't feel contrived for my benefit.

There was never any doubt in my mind just how precious teachers are, but to see engaged kids responding to outstanding teaching was something really special.

My child still needs me just as much as he ever did
I was also delighted to learn that my son was proud and happy to have me there. He guided me when I was lost and gladly sat with me at lunch time. And the best bit of all was at bedtime, when he thanked me for coming. He might be growing up, but he still needs his parent to take an interest in understanding him... and I'll be taking that golden kernel of information right through the coming adolescent years.

Going back to school for a day gave me valuable insight into just how much my (still) small person does. It has made me more empathetic towards him, and more patient. It has also given me an acute understanding of timing; that he needs recovery time and rest, even if he does want to engage in everything school has to offer.