A struggle as George signs up for life

11th July 2003 at 01:00
My four-year-old, George, is starting school in September. As I watch him struggling to put on his coat there's an urge to take over and relieve him of the frustration. But something holds me back. "You'll have to do it yourself when you start big school," comes my nagging refrain. Similar words have recently come into my mind at meal times. "Mummy won't be there to cut your sausages up for you when you start at big school."

George is playing in the garden and I watch him through the kitchen window.

He huddles close to the ground: he has found something. It is most likely a woodlouse, the latest creature to have captured his interest. This is what makes him happy, spending time outside; free to explore his own world of snails, slugs and spiders. He will soon come in for an empty tub and keep the creature for a pet, until a couple of days later when it either dies or escapes.

Yet, frighteningly soon, afternoons idled away in the garden will become a luxury reserved only for weekends and holidays. From September, the child now setting the course of his own days will soon be dictated a timetable of literacy, numeracy and standing in line for assembly. The boy with the stripy T-shirt he wanted to wear to look more like a pirate will soon be wearing the identical navy blue of all the other children. The boy who is mine, who is special to me, will soon be one of 25 in his class, 75 in reception and 400 in the school.

I'm lucky. George will be five in October and so he will be one of the oldest in his class - some children will be almost a full year younger.

George has had two years of pre-school and has gained a social confidence among his peer group that will stand him in good stead. He can concentrate, likes drawing and writing, recognises some letters and numbers and above all else has a strong desire to learn.

I find it is my own hopes and aspirations that concern me more than anything. I want his love of learning to continue; I'm worried it may be squashed under a weight of worksheets. I want his passion for life and all its mysteries to be fed; I'm worried his questions will be seen as a nuisance. I want his physical energy to be channelled; I'm worried he'll be told to sit still. Above all else I want him to be enthused and inspired; I'm worried he'll just be bored.

Perhaps some of these concerns stem from my own experience as a teacher. I find myself scrutinising my behaviour in the classroom. I think back to the lessons that were so dominated by a small group of rowdy miscreants I didn't have time to check on the quiet boy at the back. It occurs to me now that his parents would have had expectations similar to those I have for my child. I hope I didn't let them down.

We attend the new parents' evening and it feels strange to be in a school as a parent and not a member of staff. The three reception-class teachers are paraded on to the stage and I wonder what they are giggling about. Is this a sign that they are too young and inexperienced? The headteacher lectures us on the dangers of arriving late, parking in the school grounds and the necessity of completing homework tasks. It hadn't occurred to me that homework would be set in reception. Surely George will be tired when he comes home from school?

His new teacher shows us to her classroom. When she tells us that there are to be 20 boys and only four girls she breathes through her teeth and fixes the smile on her face. She reassures us that this will not be a problem as the day will be very structured and the school has a firm discipline policy. I'm sure she's right. But my mind wanders off to lessons spent structuring and disciplining my own classes and the knowledge that no one learnt much or really enjoyed themselves.

Ultimately, I'm confident George will be fine. I'm sure we'll have our ups and downs but he'll probably have a great time, learn a little and maybe even improve his sense of humour. It will be me who is left looking out at an empty garden on sunny afternoons and wondering what on earth to do with the two-year-old now big brother is no longer around to provide the entertainment.

Joanna Williams is an English home tuition tutor

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