Tag Archives: learning to read

The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School Part 2

This is the second instalment in the Mothering Fright’s Beginner’s Guide to Primary School. For those of you who read Part 1, my heartfelt and somewhat surprised thanks that you have returned to imbibe Part 2. For those of you who have come straight to Part 2, fear not, you can start here and work backwards, which is not a bad strategy for many things, apart from doing the Conga. For everyone, a quick reminder: there is nothing of actual use in this Guide. So sue me.


However much uniform you purchase, it will be one item too few. There is much collateral damage involving uniform in that first year of primary school, much of which will leave you staring in disbelief and wondering what sort of supernatural trickery was involved to have inflicted that mark / rip / strange sticky substance in a place on that item of clothing that barely sees daylight. A school jumper, not removed for the entire school day, is taken off at home to reveal a strange orange stain on the shirt underneath that definitely was not there that morning. Velcro straps on shoes are hideously clagged with a mysterious red fibre even though the classroom carpet is blue. And the school jumper… well, this is the front line in the war against pretty much everything a 5 year old can throw at it and it seems any activity or event can prove it’s downfall:

  • A classroom painting activity. Either aprons are for wimps, or my son puts his on back to front. Actually, that is pretty damn likely.
  • Baked bean eating. While do kids insist on loving a foodstuff so bloody small and slippery and covered in juice? Jumpers come home looking like a knitted ice rink for snails, with crusty silvery-orange trails criss-crossing the front.
  • Other kids. Another child’s inability to carry a loaded paintbrush to the sink without tripping over their imaginary friend means a globby smudge of dried-on paint on some part of the jumper on a regular basis.
  • The common cold. Mucus, meet sleeve. Sleeve, meet mucus. Need I say more?
  • My son has the utterly infuriating habit of chewing on the sleeve of his jumpers. A perfectly serviceable jumper suddenly looks like the dog’s been snacking on it, forcing me to darn it. And darning was something I was pretty much hoping to avoid in my life time, given that I do not live in sodding Victorian times.
  • Paint aside, there are still many ways to trash a jumper whilst in the pursuit of artistic expression. Why not glue some glittery shapes onto it? Or stick a few mini poms poms on the elbow? Or simply wipe your PVA-sodden fingers across your chest. All of which have the common denominator of glue, or as I now refer to it, the evil albino mucus that drips from the wizened nostrils of Beelzebub. I know, catchy, right?


And as a tragic caveat to uniform, let us turn our attention to the much abused and neglected PE kit. Lovingly laundered and folded a week before term starts, it is then squeezed and pummelled into a drawstring bag that seems to have been designed to hold something the size and shape of a tennis ball. By the time the trainers and plimsolls are inserted on top by means of a greased shoe horn, you wonder why you ever bloody bothered. It instantly looks like it’s been festering in a small damp bag for seven weeks. Seven weeks later at the end of term, after it has actually been festering in a small damp bag, you have to don a full chemical suit just to extract it and throw it hurriedly into the washing machine using extra-long stainless steel prongs.

But don’t expect your child’s PE kit to come home at the end of term. Good god no. The first time I emptied E’s PE bag, I pulled out a tee shirt and shorts belonging to Daisy, a girl at least 3 sizes smaller than my son. I briefly wondered just how many weeks my son had been attempting to run around in a kit that would have practically cut off his circulation and bent him double, but I decided the best policy was not to ask. (This approach will stand you in very good stead to survive primary school generally, I find).

Your child will rarely grow out of shoes. Long before that, one shoe will have succumbed to a mysterious but fatal incident that sees you rushing into the nearest Clarks at 4pm, desperately scanning the sale racks. A Velcro strap will have ‘fallen off’, a hole will suddenly appear in the side of the shoe the circumference of which looks suspiciously similar to that of your child’s forefinger, or it will simply go missing in action, usually in the 40 minutes between getting changed for PE and returning to the classroom.

Learning to read

You will be given books to ‘read’ with your child that have no words. This will slightly fuck with your mind.

You will then be given books to read with your child that have three, three letter words per page, the utter banality of which will fuck with your mind some more.

You will think your child will never, ever learn to read. When he looks long and hard at the word ‘car’ and confidently reads it as ‘acrobat’ you will sob quietly inside.

Your child will be using the phonics system of learning to read. Mine used Jolly phonics, a name so wildly inaccurate it made me grind my teeth into calcified nubs. First come the ridiculous songs and actions. Then the torturous experience of watching a 5-year-old sound out a word so inaccurately you can’t even begin to find something to say that isn’t the word ‘twat’. And let’s not forget the dawning realisation of both you and your child that almost every other word in the English language seems not to conform to the rules of phonics. Couple that with the interminably slow progress of reading a sentence and the utter vacuum of expression a child reads with at this stage, and you start to think you are sitting next to Stephen Hawking when his batteries are running low.

In short, it’s a mind fuck.


The Reading Journal

It looks innocuous enough. A slim book in which you write comments and observations about reading with your child at home. It is also where the teachers write their comments, so there is added pressure that there is an outside chance that the teacher may read what you have written. You will become expert in writing bollocks comments about the hideous last 20 minutes of your life where you had to threaten your child with no TV for the next three months if he didn’t sit down and read to you. You will also develop a complex code of comments whereby ‘he really tried hard to blend his words today’ really means ‘the little fucker threw the book at my head when I tried to tell him that the word mat wasn’t in fact pronounced poo bum’, and where ‘he seems a little disengaged with his reading today’ means ‘I suggested we read together and he lay down on the floor and made a funny monotonous groaning sound for three minutes’. Oh no, wait. That could have been me, actually.

You had PE today, didn’t you?

Whilst you will never really know what your child gets up to on any given day in school (see What they did that day from Part 1) you will pretty much always be able to deduce when they have had PE. Why?

  • They’re wearing their shoes on the wrong feet.
  • Their shirt buttons are buttoned up incorrectly, and one side of the shirt hangs a good ten inches lower than the other. It’s a look.
  • They’re wearing someone else’s school jumper.
  • They tell you they missed play time as they were still attempting to button up their shirt.

The clean plate sticker

Your child may well be most excited in those early days of school by being a recipient of a sticker from a lunch time helper, awarded for eating all of their dinner. Although as it turns out, you can also get this sticker by the surreptitious scraping of your left overs onto your neighbour’s plate whilst they are momentarily distracted by a carrot slice in their ear.

Parent as pack donkey

You will become a handy coat rack and crap carrier twice a day. As your child barrels out of the classroom, you will be buried under a tsunami of coat, jumper, book bag, three crumpled pieces of A4 paper (that you are told in no uncertain terms are not to be folded), a sticky sweet wrapper as it was someone’s birthday, an injury form, water bottle and a ridiculously over-sized book as your child couldn’t possibly go to the library and choose something that would fit in their bag. As the tips of your fingers start to turn white and your shoulders begin to throb, said child is then incredulous that you haven’t bought a snack with you as they skip alongside you, swinging their empty arms with gay abandon.

Tune in next week for the last thrilling instalment of The Beginner’s Guide to Primary School. It’s where you’ll find out how to deal with Dressing Up Day without stabbing someone and what happens when you wear Crocs to a playdate. Or is it that how to wear Crocs to Dressing up Day and what happened when I stabbed someone at a play date? Oh well, I am sure it will all become clear when I actually write the bloody thing.


The slowly deflating vessel that is the Homework Dinghy


Homework. Does that word not make anyone’s eyes roll and a small groan involuntarily escape from your throat? Well, to be fair, I never had that reaction to homework. I was what is known in the trade as a girly swot when I was at school. I wasn’t the brightest, the fastest, the loudest (I know, hard to believe that one), the tallest, the smallest. I was just… there. But I did work hard, because I loved school, and loved homework. Or rather hated the idea of being crap, ergo I worked hard. Which by default probably made me the nerdiest. But me and my pencil case were quite happy in Nerdom, and we should probably leave them there, with their colour-coded exercise books and sticky-back plastic covered homework diary, as I am starting to sound like a right weirdo…

Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, homework. Not that I think it is called homework anymore. Like most things in education since I was there with my neat little plaits and black patent shoes (I really need to stop mentioning my nerdy past) everything is now called something else. Like parents’ evenings. I don’t know what parents’ evenings ever did wrong, but they have been expelled from the educational lexicon and are now roaming the streets, probably gleefully Snapchatting pictures of themselves holding their ASBOs.  These days, you attend a ‘consultation’, as if you are going to be fitted for a dental brace.

I believe homework is now called ‘parent-supported learning’, although this might just be for reception year children and as a hint to parents that their child’s education is not the sole responsibility of the teachers and would you please stop playing Candy Crush and get involved, and that means now please – don’t make me count to five, no put down that bloody phone and come here. After all, not even the nerdiest girl in Swottingham would spontaneously do her homework aged five. (well, I’m pretty sure I didn’t). And parent-supported learning, it turns out, when translated into Parentese means ‘parent-enforced-with-gritted-teeth learning’.

When E started to bring home books and word sheets to practise, I admit, I felt a frisson of excitement. The inner-nerd was roused from its long slumber and opened one eye, looking for a nice long list of spellings to practise. I was glad I was going to be an active part of my son’s learning. I have a love of reading that I found at an early age and I was keen for him to experience the wonder of being able to step through the cover of a book and be immersed into the landscape of someone else’s imagination. Okay, so Sid’s Nits was probably not the landscape that dreams are made of and where imaginations are ignited, but one digraph at a time. (Oh yeah. Get me with the Jolly Frigging Phonics Lingo. I am Phonics Mum. Hear me roar. That’s r-or-r).

And some days, when I mention that it’s time read his book, he smiles, and we sit down, and he reads the cover, and all is well with the world. Granted, I don’t find it the most relaxing of activities. Firstly, there is all that bloody fidgeting. Bloody hell, I never realised what a sodding fidget my son is. Before the first page has even been turned, he has slid off his seat, or turned his legs to the side, or started to sway back and forth, or sometimes all three. Then he stands up, and as he sounds out a word that he doesn’t know, he rocks back and forth sideways like a bear I once saw at London zoo whose long-term captivity in a place far away from home had sent him utterly doolally. And each time he leans to his left, he bumps me. But, he is reading, and that is the main thing, I think, as I grit my teeth and brace myself for another collision with the human metronome. I think about stapling his trousers to the chair, or sellotaping his cuffs to the table, and then I realise he has clambered onto my lap so that I am now attempting to read over his shoulder whilst my face undergoes the equivalent of a chemical peel courtesy of his brillo-pad-esque hair. But, on good, days, we get all the way through to the end and I am left with the knotty task of writing something intelligent, insightful and informative in his reading record, tiptoeing along that very fine line of not being too complimentary  (because you can imagine the teacher reading it and sniggering at your inability to spot that you child is actually a total dunce at reading) and yet at the same time, not too damning, (because I have to read what I write to E and I don’t want him to know that I think he should really have grasped the difference between and b and a d by now). Somehow it feels inappropriate to do what I really want to do which is to give him a mark out of ten on his fidgeting innovation: ‘E has found he can fidget using only his tongue and eyebrows, which I was really rather impressed with’ so I finally write something both complimentary yet faintly damning to please everyone involved.

And then there’s the bad days, where it is a close run thing as to who hates doing the homework more. From the outset, I can tell it is not going to go well. First, there is the Swap Negotiation. ‘Can I do it later?’ ‘No’. ‘Can you read it to me?’ No. ‘Can I watch Scooby Doo instead?’. ‘Have a guess…’.

This is closely followed by the Begrudging Sit, where no attempt at all is made to look at the book, and then the Extreme Fidgeting kicks in, where I am lucky not to incur a flail injury, culminating in the  ‘I have forgotten absolutely everything I have been taught about reading’ reading. I sit, chewing on the table edge, wondering if I should abandon the Homework Ship altogether. Forcing the issue is just going to give the whole homework thing added stress, but letting him off the hook… well, it’s too nice for my liking. So on we sail, zig zagging our way through the choppy Sea of Sulks, getting splashed in the face by tricky words that he refuses to remember even though they appear twenty eight times in the space of twelve pages and with both of starting to feel queasy.

But in the true spirit of the old adage that ‘grumpy children necessitate mothers’ inventions’, I have enough of the slowly deflating vessel that is the Homework dinghy and make up a word game, involving all the words he is struggling with, written on big bits of paper, laid on the floor in a circle with my son standing in the middle. It is at this juncture that I start to worry I have just created a very real manifestation of a reading nightmare for him, trapped by ten menacing, indecipherable words, but I am slightly high on marker pen fumes so I continue. I say the word, he has to jump onto it. Hey presto. It is the perfect Fidget Arse reading game. We play for ages, and he only slips over three times, bangs his head once and stubs his big toe on the dishwasher a few times. Now, I kind of like homework again. And it opens up a whole new opportunity of reading record comments for me: ‘E did great today, and once we had returned from A&E he still remembered the word ‘said’. Well done and don’t touch that bandage!’

SOUND THE BEGGING KLAXON! I am genuflecting as I type, which is not easy, I can tell you. I can barely see the screen and I think I have a piece of Star Wars Lego under my right kneecap. But I am in this position to ask, to beg, you to place a little vote for Mothering Frights on the MAD Parenting Blog Awards. Hop on over to www.the-mads.com once you have copied this address: www.motheringfrights.wordpress.com and it couldn’t be simpler. Well, not voting could be simpler, but that would mean I have fractured my knee cap for nothing, wouldn’t it?