Back to school: A parent’s reflection

Claire is helping her child prepare to start school.

This week Claire Bolt is helping her daughter prepare to start school. In this blog she talks about her hopes for the year ahead.

Claire is a parent preparing to go back to school
Claire with her family.

My eldest daughter is starting school in September. Honestly, despite the‘time flies’ warnings you get from elderly aunts, I can’t quite believe it. As the start date draws nearer, I’m remembering Kathleen’s baby stage with glee (sleepless nights, what sleepless nights?), watching with pride as she runs around the park, or grins down at me when she makes it to the top of the climbing frame. She’s only little so what am I doing buying pinafores and black shoes and hair bands to match her uniform?

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And then comes the panic. How on earth will we get out of the house on time every morning when just getting dressed or having breakfast can take the best part of an hour? What if she doesn’t like her teacher? Will she make friends? Deep breath. Reception, here we come.

Claire is helping her child prepare to start school.
Exploring Northern Ireland together.

We’ve just spent a wonderful extended holiday at my parent’s farm in Northern Ireland. Our girls, aged four and two, had an amazing time playing with their cousins and exploring Co Down’s beautiful parks, beaches and mountains, despite the less than optimal summer weather. Best of all though was getting to help grandpa on the farm. Whether it was collecting eggs, helping to feed a sickly calf, or moving cattle to a different field, Kathleen enthusiastically joined in, her little mind wild with excitement. Even better was getting to watch a wind turbine being erected on the farm and the squeals of delight watching it turn.

I found a magazine from my own school written in 1990 that had a ‘green’ pull-out feature. Pupils asked readers to think about recycling glass bottles, or to walk to school rather than drive. Taps should be turned off while brushing our teeth and we should stop buying fur coats. Nearly 20 years on, how much progress has actually been made? Recycling already comes naturally Kathleen and she knows that scooting to school is better than driving, but what else do schools teach about caring for and protecting the environment?

St Anthony's take part in the Power to be campaign
Pupils learning about renewable energy in Kenya.

Will Kathleen learn more about alternative energy sources or begin to appreciate the origins of her food, clothes and toys? In another 20 years will the narrative have progressed?

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As adults we often talk about being good citizens or good neighbours, but how do you engage a four-year-old with such concepts? At nursery, Kathleen was friends with children from all backgrounds, cultures, religions and nationalities. Now she’s going to a Catholic school will she have the same exposure? Will she continue to learn about other religions and appreciate the world in all its diversity? Coming from Northern Ireland, I want her to know about her connections, but to always accept everyone with love and kindness and never know the division that still bubbles under the surface here. While visiting my parents we were all so proud to see how Kathleen’s cousin doesn’t let her cerebral palsy stop her from dancing or taking lead role in a play. The children – whatever their skin colour, religion or ability – don’t see any ‘difference’ between themselves and I hope this will continue.

My husband and I often talk about the years we spent living and working in Africa and as I write, we are extremely saddened by the impact of the mud slides in our past home, Freetown. I hope that Kathleen will not only learn how there are people around the world whose lives our very different to ours but that she can do something about it. I want her eyes to be open so she can learn about the world – its beauty and its problems.

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I know deep down that we will manage the practical side of school (and yes, some days will be a little less graceful than we might hope!), but ultimately I trust that together with her school we can and will support her to be a good neighbour. Oh, and I want her to carry on drawing pictures of aliens and dreaming of being an astronaut too!

Best wishes to everyone going back to school this week. Keep in touch with news from our education programme at CAFOD – sign up to our primarysecondary and youth leader emails.


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