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Life moments: your child's first day at school

Tuesday 14 June 2016

Kalpana Fitzpatrick, financial journalist and founder of Mummy Money Matters, explains how you can prepare for the life changing moment when your child first starts school.

  • Managing the costs of childcare.
  • What your child will need, and what they won’t need.
  • The importance of a good night’s sleep.
Man taking a photo of a boy

Financial considerations

Starting ‘big’ school is a special time, and although nothing can fully prepare you for the tears at the school gates as you watch your little one wave goodbye and enter the exciting world of school, you can at least be prepared financially.

Uniforms

Most schools will have a uniform, so make sure you know what the rules are on uniform policy. For example, if there is a specific blazer or jumper they must wear, then you may need to buy it from the school uniform shop.

If it is just a colour requirement – such as a grey jumper, purple gingham dress, or white polo-shirt – then you can get these from the supermarket at a fraction of the price.

Label everything at the neck and on the wash tag, making sure they are attached securely – you’ll be surprised at how many items of clothing go missing in the first year of school.

Childcare

If you’re a working parent, and you don’t have any stay-at-home relatives nearby, plans for childcare should be made as soon as possible.

Childcare & babysitting is one of the biggest costs of raising a child, coming second after education, so as your child approaches first day of school it’s a good idea to look at your own financial planning, perhaps considering some financial protection so that your kids can continue their education no matter what happens.

Many schools offer after-school and breakfast clubs. They are relatively good value and the children do not have to leave the school premises in most cases, although some clubs are run in community halls or in other local schools.

According to the Childcare Costs Survey 2016, after-school clubs cost an average £3.26 an hour, but prices vary depending on location.

There is a useful search tool on the government’s website to help you find after-school clubs in your area. If you are interested in these, then book your child’s space as soon as possible as they are popular and demand is high.

Another alternative is a child-minder, who will drop your child off at school, and then pick up and care for them until you finish work. Child-minders charge an average £4.13 an hour, according to the Childcare Costs Survey 2016.

Some younger children prefer a child-minder, as many school clubs are open to all ages and they may not feel comfortable among bigger kids, but other children like to stay within the school environment and enjoy the extended day. It may stretch your parental intuition, but try to work out which would suit your child best.

School meals

Currently, the government provides free school meals for all children age four to seven. So, when your child starts school, s/he will be entitled to a free hot lunch. Of course, they can take a packed lunch, but most parents prefer their children to have a hot meal in the day.

Most schools will provide a menu in advance, so you can discuss meal choices in advance.

If your child goes on a school trip, the school will provide a free packed lunch as part of the free meals policy, but you must tell them in advance if you require it – also ensure that your child’s dietary needs are included.

Stationery

It is unlikely your child will need stationery for school, as most schools are well stocked in this department; all they need is a bag that’s big enough for schoolbooks.

Of course, you may want some stationery for the home. The larger supermarkets usually have back to school deals as you approach the start of the new term.

Working

If you are returning to work after caring for your child full-time, you will have to get super organised with your diary, as there are a lot of long school holidays.

If you don’t have enough annual leave, you can arrange for your child to attend a holiday club, such as Barracudas, where they can be involved in various fun activities. Of course, make sure you prepare for the random teacher training days and parents’ evenings too.

If your employer offers childcare vouchers, then these can be used to help pay for school clubs. The system is changing in September 2017, but you can continue with childcare vouchers if you are already enrolled onto the system – so ask about them while you can. You can read more about childcare voucher at www.gov.uk.

If on the other hand, you are a stay-at-home parent, then you may be wondering what to do with all that extra time. Some parents decide to venture into creating a new business, direct selling, or finding part-time work.

You can also consider voluntary work with your child’s school. Many schools have a parent association, where volunteers organise activities to raise funds for the school. As well as keeping you busy, it will give you more time with your child and help you know the ins and outs of their school life.

You can also assist on school trips, but you will need DBS clearance for this. You can get the appropriate forms for DBS clearance from the school office.

Anxiety

It is natural that both you and your child may feel anxious about big school.

To help prepare, talk to your child as much as possible about it, draw pictures about school and read stories about the first day at school, such as Topsy & Tim Start School, based on the popular CBeebies series or Starting School by Picture Puffins paperback.

Also, take a look at the Pacey website, which is full of resources and tools to help parents prepare themselves and their child for school.

Whatever happens, make sure that you get and your child gets a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast on the day.

For more personal finance ideas and resources, follow Kalpana Fitzpatrick on Twitter @KalpanaFitz or check out her website Mummy Money Matters.

Watch our video where we ask children where they think money comes from.


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