5 surprising things you miss most about childcare when your child starts school

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Big school isn't just a big step for kids. Parents can also find themselves in unchartered territory when their child starts school.

If your child is one of the thousands who started Kindergarten or Prep this week, you may soon find yourself missing some things about childcare.

1. Having your child's meals and snacks provided

Most childcare centres provide a range of nutritious snacks throughout the day as well as a cooked lunch. Even the fussiest eater who refuses just about anything you offer at home will devour whatever is on the lunch menu at childcare. The positive peer pressure that comes with sitting around a table and eating a meal prepared by a caring cook is often all it takes to get a child to try new something new.

But once your child starts school it is a different story. Not only do you now have to devote time to shopping for nutritious food, baking your own snacks, cutting up fruit and vegies, and making a packed lunch, it is often all for nothing.

You see, after you've spent all that time shopping and preparing food, most if not all of it will come home again at the end of the day, and despite your best efforts, there is a limit to what you can pack that is nutritious, doesn't need reheating and won't give them food poisoning by lunchtime.

You will soon find yourself longing for the days when you used to send your child off to childcare in the knowledge that what they did or didn't eat that day was someone else's problem.

2. Not having to worry about school uniforms

School uniforms are expensive, often uncomfortable and need to be laundered every day.

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While most kids will enjoy the novelty of trying on their school uniform for the first time, this rarely lasts. Be prepared for tantrums when shirts are scratchy, or socks are 'annoying' them.

Any attempts to save money by buying only a couple of any item is often more trouble than it is worth, especially the first time you remember just as you get into bed at midnight that both shirts are in the wash.

Boys, generally, will refuse to wear long pants on even the coldest winter's day and no one is going to force little Johnny to put on a jacket to go out and play, while girls' uniforms often lack functionality.

And good luck keeping track of hats and jackets that will too often go astray.

Just when you have the right number of pieces, that are just worn in enough to be comfy, your kid will grow and you will have to go out and buy it all again.

3. Being made to apply sunscreen

While most infant and primary schools now enforce a policy of "no hat, no play", the same cannot be said of sunscreen.

Whereas childcare centres will usually supply sunscreen and supervise its application throughout the day, at big school, kids are generally on their own.

Even if you send sunscreen to school, children will rarely put it on if not prompted, so often return home from sports day, excursions and swimming carnivals sunburnt.

4. Catching up with their teacher at the end of the day

Coming from a childcare environment where every pick-up is like a mini parent/teacher interview to school where there is a no more daily interaction with your child's teacher can come as a big shock to the system.

No more, "Johnny had a great day today. He ate all his lunch, played in the sand, learnt about the letter A and had a one-hour nap".

No, if you're lucky you may spot your child's teacher in the distance at school pick up. She will be the one with a look of dread on her face as she notices a line of parents waiting to talk to her about sight words when she just wants to drive home and sit it a dark room with a glass of wine.

It's hard to know how often is acceptable to talk to your child's teacher after school, and there is a fine line between appearing to have no interest in your child's education and being the mum who is always waiting for the teacher at the end of the day.

5. No mummy shame

The thing about childcare is that parents are in the same boat. Generally speaking, children are at childcare because both parents work, but this isn't the case when your child starts school, and pretty soon the line is drawn in the sand.

When my son started school, he went to after school-care three days a week. Within a few weeks, I noticed a divide in the playground on the afternoons I was there for pick-up. The stay-at-home mums, who had bonded in the playground five days a week, were in one corner, while the mums who only made it to pick-up one or two days a week, stood alone. The fact they had rushed in with moments to spare, harried and out of breath after bolting to the schoolyard as the bell rang meant they didn't even have time to bond with each other.

Add in the countless requests from the school for volunteers for canteen duty and reading group, the missed play date opportunities and the assemblies that are always on the days you work, and working mums end up with a dose of mum guilt that will outsize even the largest childcare bill.

6. No schoolyard politics

The endless standing around waiting for children often gives parents time to chat … and gossip. Everything and everyone will be fair fodder for some mums who will gossip about the school, teachers, other parents, and worst of all, children.

While avoiding the schoolyard because of work commitments may protect you a bit, you will not be completely immune, and you will soon be dreaming of the days when you were blissfully unaware that Natalie's mother's petition to get chicken nuggets removed from the canteen menu resulted in her getting a frosty reception from the canteen committee at a five-year-old's birthday party.