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Starting school essentials: for kids and their parents

Starting school essentials: for kids and their parents

Every year for as long as I can remember, the phrase ‘back to school’ has meant the setting up of classrooms, getting everything ready for the children I was going to teach, and the teachers I was helping to guide. This year, it not only means heading back to school for me, it means starting school for my Ella. I truly can’t believe it. It not only means getting her ready for school, but getting myself ready to be a school Mum. Far out! I’ve put together some of my ‘starting school’ essentials, some from my experience as a teacher, and some via the wise words of many school Mums before me. Advice and recommendations from those who’ve learned….

  1. Lunch Box Options

If ever there was a debate that brought out strong opinions from Mum and Dads far and wide, this is truly it. What I’ve discovered from many is the love for Bento Boxes. The Yum Box to be exact. You see, Ella is definitely a sandwich girl, but she is also (like me), somewhat of a bird. She eats lots of small things. The attraction of having less plastic wrapping was also something that I wanted to try, especially given that we teach our children about their roles in being responsible for our planet!

So I turned to Yvette from Little Bento Box – the perfect place to answer all of my Bento Questions. I didn’t quite realise the huge variety of options! According to Yvette, you need only answer two questions:  Are they a sandwich person or are they a nibbler? That way you’ll know how many compartments you need in your lunchbox!

We’ve chosen the Panino Yum Box as it has three compartments with one large enough for a sandwich. I have firstly been taken by the amazing quality, the sturdiness and fantastic features of the Panini. The beautiful illustrations on the inside make it somewhat of an experience in using it. I’ve been told by many friends that they have had their for years, and they really do last the distance. Coming in a range of colours, your little one can certainly make their lunch box, their own! Ella has chosen a bright pink Yum Box, and cannot wait to take it to school! Best of all, it is leak proof. Meaning that what ever I include, it will never leak into her bag!

We’ve also chosen a few other smaller snack boxes so that she can nibble on other things at play lunch. The Bento Two in Flamingo is perfect size for either your child’s first lunch box or for children who don’t have big appetites.  Its compact size makes it easy to pack when you are on the move. The removable divider allows you to add extra variety separating dry foods within the leakproof compartments.

Similarly, the Bento Large Freezable is a fantastic option if you want to send your little one to school with a little more to eat! I love that you can freeze it, in case there are things you want to make before hand!

2. Insulated Lunch Bags

In the 80s we went to school with a standard plastic lunch box. No matter the weather, the heat, we would eat the food, but sometimes it had melted or worst of all…gone off! These days, there are a variety of amazing insulated lunch bags that you can pair with your child’s lunch box to ensure that their food stays cool just at the right temperature. If you use a Yum Box, you also need to ensure that you choose an insulated bag that can hold both it, and other smaller ones and fruit such as bananas. We’ve chosen the Neoprene Animal Bag in the Unicorn design. It keeps your child’s lunch cold, zips up easily, has a nifty carry handle and is large enough to fit a few things!


3. Drink Bottle

Oh the endless options! Given Ella’s love for Disney, we’ve chosen the Disney Flip Top in the Minnie Design.   Made from Stainless Steel and BPA Free Plastic.

4. Sandwich stamps, cutters and picks

Such gorgeous way to bring a smile to your child’s face. Little Bento box have an extensive range of beautiful stamps : animals and words. If you have a plain eater like me, then they may just get them biting a few different options! You can also find a huge variety of animal and letter food picks. Again, to make your child’s lunch something extra special every now and then. There are also divine little letter and animal picks, and super cute soy sauce containers for sushi!

  1. Little Lunch Notes

My friends over at Sprout and Sparrow have created what can only be described as the sweetest addition to any lunch box. Notes sent with love. Notes for birthdays, notes for the first day of school, notes just…because. Notes you can write on yourself, to make your child feel as though you are giving them a warm cuddle when they open their lunch each day. Such a simple, beautiful thought. As a teacher I think this is a wonderful gesture to promote love between parent and child. AS a Mum…well…I just love it. NOTE!!! All Happy Ella After readers get an EXCLUSIVE 10% discount with the code ELLA10! To purchase head to their site here:

6. Little Wuppy

A new school, teacher or classroom can cause anxiety for some children. They may feel overwhelmed, a little apprehensive, and may even suffer separation anxiety. Possibly one of the most beautiful and needed ideas is ‘Little Wuppy’. Designed by Linda a former primary school teacher from Melbourne, she created ‘little wuppy’ – a sausage dog worry puppy designed as an aid to help ease children’s worries.The special feature of the little wuppy® worry puppy is its heart. Children are encouraged to send their worries to the worry puppy by placing its heart against their own. And the heart on the worry catcher key ring ‘catches’ all their worries, so they don’t need to worry any more. As a sufferer of anxiety and panic attacks, she want to help empower children to manage their worries and seek comfort in times of need.

Children can hang one key ring on their pencil case, and one on their bag, so they can ‘catch’ all their worries while in the classroom.
They can also pop one in their pocket, or run their fingers across the wooden etching for tactile comfort.

They currently have a ‘back to school’ pack on offer which includes:

  • ONE little wuppy worry puppy
  • an adoption certificate
  • an information card (including welcome note, diagram and note to adults)
  • TWO little wuppy worry catcher key rings
  • a calico carry bag

7. Magic Words Resources

As a teacher, one of the best resources that you can use at the beginning of school is getting to know the Magic Words.  Magic Words are the most common words in English and are the most important words in learning to read. Magic 100 Words make up half of all the words in reading. Created by Marcella Reiter, she is an experienced Classroom Teacher, Education Consultant and Psychologist.

Magic Words began on the kitchen table when Marcella was playing games to teach her three young children how to read. Marcella researched and found the most important words in learning to read.  Using an old set of QANTAS (Australia’s National Airline) Playing Cards with the words stuck on the face, she began inventing fun and exciting ways to engage her children in playing card games with these 100 most important words. The aim was to play for short periods of time, often, so that the children would be able to remember the words automatically. They began calling these words the “Magic Words” because they were in every book, magazine and newspaper and just “magically” appeared in everything they read!

Starting with the Golden Words, there are dozens of activities you can to to improve your child’s recognition of these commonly used words. This product is NOT phonics based (ie. teaching specific sounds for various letters), however you can apply phonics awareness to help your child recognise these words in their reading.  You can purchase their products here:

I’ll be LIVE on my Instagram Stories TODAY at 10am AEDST talking about these awesome products, and answering any STARTING SCHOOL questions you may have. You may be a new Mum, or even a Mum whose had children at school for ages…and can help me! Hoping the above helps guide you in the right direction. One week to go!!!


Prepped for Prep: Schools these days

Prepped for Prep: Schools these days

Schools are not the same places they used to be. For many, school has not been a place that they have visited since they left school. That may well be thirty years ago.  Since those times, the world has changed dramatically. Advances in technology, communication, transportation, medicine. Education is no different. Education has, in most schools, changed in a number of ways over the last couple of decades. It can come as a shock to parents who, when sending their first child to school, expect to see and experience a classroom similar to what they remember, but are actually faced with a system that resembles nothing that they recall. In my conversations with parents who have children starting school, their first impressions are of surprise and wonder. They can’t believe how different Primary Schools are. In small ways and in big ones. This post today is dedicated to revealing the top tens ways in which (most) Primary schools these days, are different to years gone by.

Education is personalised: not one size fits all.

In the past, children received a one size fits all curriculum. We would all move to a new grade, all be given the same worksheet, same page number, same text book, same test. Everyone was taught (but didn’t necessarily learn) the same thing. The teachers essentially taught ‘the class’  and focussed solely on the curriculum for that year level. The problem is, kids..are not the same. If you yourself have more than one child, then you would know that brothers and sisters are often polars apart. Mine are basically unrelated. So it would make sense then to understand that children learn in different ways, at different rates. Children are not robots who can be programmed to behave and learn in the same way.  Some children learn by doing. Others learn by reading. Others by watching, listening, drawing, modelling, dancing and so on. Much like a road map, there are different ways to get to the same destination. Some routes take longer. Some are shorter. Some involve pit stops. However if we all take our own road, we will get there in the end. A teacher’s role in schools these days is to facilitate learning in a way that helps children learn best. Teachers personalise learning based on a child’s need. Often children are grouped together in like abilities, and other times they are in mixed abilities. Teachers create learning opportunities that fit a variety of needs in their class. You’ll see different children dong different things and different times.

Often there is up to eight years of range in a classroom, so teachers need to understand the curriculum not only at their level, but around it. Every class of children can be plotted on a bell curve, and education ‘needs’ to reflect that.

Classrooms are no longer four walls

Classrooms are now often called learning spaces. Spaces that can move beyond the traditional four walled classroom. Because, well learning does indeed happen outside school, and our learning spaces need to reflect that. Spaces can be open and closed depending on the school, and depending on the environment. You may hear the term ‘open plan’. These spaces are flexible and provide children with a variety of nooks and break out spaces where they can work in smaller groups or on their own.

Children may have more than one teacher

In many schools, teachers have shared responsibility of the children in that year level. Your child may or may not have more than one teacher, but they will certainly encounter more than one teacher throughout their learning. The saying that ‘may hands make light work’ can also be applied to teaching. They still may have a ‘home’ teacher, but together, with combined knowledge and skill, teams of teachers can work to help your children grow and thrive by planning for the specific needs of a variety of children.

Children no longer sit in rows of desks facing the front

In years gone by, children sat at desks facing the front. At the front stood the teacher. The teacher was the all ending source of knowledge. Except teachers actually DONT know everything. No one does. In this day and age children are invited in to the learning process beside the teachers. Teachers can be experts, but so can children. Teachers facilitate and help children to learn and find the answers together. It is important that teachers model making mistakes, and the process of finding solutions to problems, even if they too don’t know what they are! Classrooms are often now organised in groups of tables to help children learn how to work together. Children often now choose where they want to sit, and when, depending on the task. The days of sitting in the same spot for a term are long gone!

Image courtesy of

Children set their own goals

Your children are the ones learning, and they too are often the ones setting learning goals for themselves! Sure the teachers are involved, but it’s important that our children know and understand where they have been, where they are and where they are going. For themselves and their own learning!

Parents are an essential part of the learning process

I often hear parents making comments like – ‘when my kids are at school things will be easier’. In some ways yes, but on other ways no. The fact is that parents need to be part of the learning process. Whether helping their children at home to read each night, or helping in the classroom (if they can), or being experts in a field of work to help kids learn about how the world works. Be prepare to be a part of your child’s learning. Even if you just read with them at home, each and every night. YOU are their first teacher, and nothing will change!

Access to learning is anywhere, any time

Schools are becoming more and more like google. You can access learning in any space, place and at any time. Often children are using online learning management systems like Google Apps that allow them to access their learning on any device. This means that if they are away from school for various reasons, they can still participate in the learning.

Homework is often a waste of time

Yep. The verdict is in. Research states that homework in it’s current form is a waste of time in Primary School. Aside from reading each night, homework has little benefit. Schools are refining their homework policies to reflect the needs of their individual communities. The fact is that schools cannot control what happens at home. Many children do not have parental support to help them do their homework, and thus are being set up for failure. Children need time to play, rest and be with their families. Yes, there are important aspects of revision including reading and number work, but often the pressures of homework do more harm than good in Primary school. Just be open minded to the fact that children do in fact learn from activities they access at home, and simple things like household chores and being outdoors can be the best classroom of all.

You don’t just get two reports a year

Learning is also shared with parents in a variety of ways. Your child’s school may use an app like SeeSaw or Story Park to share samples of learning and track growth. Parents should also be in constant contact with their child’s teacher, whether in person or via email. Reporting will be ongoing and in time.

Education is much more than the three R’s

The most important skill we all need in the work place is the ability to work with others. The ability to work interdependently. The Victorian Curriculum in this state, reflects this importance. Education these days values the foundations of literacy and numeracy, but also other important skills relating to dispositions and skills needed in real life. Heaven knows that our children need to learn to manage themselves, their tantrums and their tears!  It is also important that schools value all aspects of learning including the arts, physical education, science, media etc etc. The world needs a variety of people with a variety of skills. Schools are a place that help children find what they are passionate about. We should help our children flourish and feel good about themselves. Sure, it is important that they can read, write and count, but it is vital that they know how to problem solve, be resilient, talk to others, bounce back when they make mistakes and think flexibly. Code is also fast becoming King. Many of the jobs that our children will have in the future have not been ‘invented’ yet. Vocations including ‘social media manager’ were not around twenty years ago. Schools need to equip our children with the skills they will need for their future. A future that is open to vast opportunities, many of which, we can’t even predict!


So….are you ready for school? They, in all of their forms are glorious places. Just keep an open mind knowing that every school and system is different, but they all house teachers who are passionate about helping our children grow and learn!

Next week I will share a blog post that explores the basic skills your children will need before they start school! Got a question you need answering? Feel free to email me at! In the mean time, if you want to watch something that will help you make sense of why schools need to ensure that they innovate and strive to cater for our children’s needs then watch this video by Sir Ken Robinson. A TED talk focussing on ‘The Learning Revolution’. Happy Watching!

Prepped for Prep – Preparing parents for school, again.

Prepped for Prep – Preparing parents for school, again.

Parenting. It is the hardest job in the world. Whilst it can bring us endless amounts of joy and happiness, it can also bring out the crazy side. Sometimes we can lose ourselves in the exhaustion. In the confusion, the frustration and the worry. The endless worry that sometimes brings out the inner alter ego who we ALL try to keep hidden. That side that we know can rear its head at any time, but desperately hope it doesn’t. We never want to be THAT parent. That parent who loses it at the supermarket whilst their child has an epic tantrum on the floor. The parent who loses it on the phone because they have been on hold for 30 minutes whilst trying to occupy small children from spilling Coco Pops, all over the floor. The parent who cries when they get to work because they haven’t slept all night.

Nothing brings out THAT side of parenting than the adventure that next year, we are about to tackle for the first time. School. Next year our daughter Ella, starts prep. It’s exciting, its nerve wracking, it’s scary, and it’s amazing. However, school is not new for me. I’ve been a Primary Teacher for 14 years. For the last eight, I’ve actually managed our Prep Transition and worked  our new parents to help them navigate the ups and downs of preparing for school. Preparing for school, for their children and for themselves.

However this time they are experiencing school from a different angle. Many parents have not stepped foot inside a school for decades. Many, since they too left school. Primary School education has changed a lot in recent decades. It is actually very different from when we went to school in the 80s. It’s amazing. It’s innovative. It’s inspiring. It’s a place of endless knowledge and potential, where our children can find and discover parts of themselves that both they, and we never knew existed. School is not the four walled classroom with one teacher that we all knew. It know often consists of open planned classrooms, often with more than one teacher. It’s not the ‘one size fits all’ delivery of curriculum that we experiences. Often there is NOT rows of desks, but rather occasional furniture where children can choose where and when to sit, or stand, together in groups or on their own – depending on what they need for their learning, and when. Schools now personalise curriculum for their students. It’s incredibly detailed and dynamic.

Whether it’s the focus on how curriculum caters for your child, or the uniform they need to wear, or the expecations on ‘what they need to know before they start’, school transition can be very daunting for parents. From my own experience, it’s not only children who need help transitioning to school. Parents too need to be prepped for Prep too.

Ella’s first day of Kinder at Daycare last year.

My first day of Prep in 1985

My last day of school in 1997. My Dad always shook our hands.
Starting school can be a time of mixed emotions. It can be exciting and extruciatinly stressful at the same time. Everyone has varying expectations and experiences, and no one person is the same. Nor should we expect them to be. To some degree, everyone feels that they ‘know about school’ because they have an experience with it. Being a parent however, is very different from being a student. Being a student is very different from being a teacher. As parents, we bring our own memories of school to the table. If you loved school, then you want your child to have the same experience. If you hated school then you want to do everything you can to protect them and help them to have the complete opposite. Sometimes though, we have to stop, take a deep breath and remember that they are in good hands.  I know that with the right support, everyone can be fine.

Whilst I’m confident and sure of my ability as a teacher to help parents through the experience of starting school, the problem is, that next year I will be one of those parents, and I’m petrified. I’m petrified of myself.  Of the Mother and parent, that may rear its crazy head. Perhaps not publicly, but certainly privately. I don’t want to be that parent who:

  • stresses too much.
  • worries too much.
  • thinks too much.

The problem is, when it is your child, all sanity, rationality and common sense can go out the window. Sometimes you just lose it, and often unintentionally can make things worse. It may not be openly towards other people, but it may be inside your own head as your anxiety escalates. Next year Ella is starting school at what we already know is a caring and nurturing place. She won’t know anyone however, and being very sensitive (like her Mum), I know she will struggle a little. So in my efforts to try to not be THAT parent, and listen to my own professional advice (ie. struggling can actually be a good thing to build resilience), I’m going to write a new series of blog posts. Advice to myself, and parents like me. Those who worry too much about what people think. Those who know that everything will be ok, but they just can’t seem to stop stressing. Those parents who have gone a little crazy going back to school again.

So I need a little favour from you. As a teacher, I know what parents need to know from a school perspective. However on the flip side, what things do YOU want to know. As someone on both sides of the fence, I would really love to know what aspects about transition and schooling that stress you the most. It also may be something that you wish you had have known years ago, before your child starts school.

Either leave a comment below on this post, leave a comment on FB , email me at or leave a DM on my Instagram account.

I want this series of blog posts to make a difference to us all. To help us all be prepped for Prep.

So what advice to you need as a parent to be Prepped for Prep?

Enrolling in school? Surely not yet!

Enrolling in school? Surely not yet!

questioning_iStock_00001574_620x350Those of you who know me know that I am a Primary School Teacher. In my role as Deputy Principal, I’ve just helped to complete our Prep Interviews where we meet and greet our new prospective families for 2014. The children come along for the interview and  share their likes, dislikes and thoughts about going to school. Mostly three, it’s an exciting time for both the children and their parents. Their parents have taken the time to think about the school that they would like their child to attend. They’ve checked out our website, they’ve attended open days and many have spoken to members of our community. It’s a daunting time for many, but once they walk in the door and meet us, they feel comfortable and happy about the journey ahead.

I’ve always thought about how I would tackle the challenge of choosing a school and going through the process of enrolment for my own children. Being an individual who works in schools and helps parents through the process of transition, I have experience and insight from one side of the equation. Being on the other side, however, I now know is a whole new ball game, and I can certainly sympathise with parents who feel a mixed bag of emotions when  their children come to the point of being ready to go to school.

This week, I was somehow thrown into the ball game as I was told by a friend about her experience of simply putting their child down on the enrolment list for some schools in her area. At the age of three, she was told that she may have left her run too late. Too late to simply put him down on the list for year seven! This got me thinking about Ella and where she may possibly go to school. The fact is, that we are lucky to have a great deal of choice in the area we live. State, Catholic and Independent – each having their own strengths and weaknesses. As an ex student and current employee of the Catholic System, my preference and inclination towards ‘what I know and have experienced’ has influenced my ‘ideal’ choices, just like any other parent. My husband and I are in agreeance about our preference for Primary School, but we had thought that we would  leave our decision for Secondary School for a couple of years to come. Upon calling a few schools that she ‘may possibly’ go to, it became apparent that I needed to act quickly. One lady told me that if I left her enrolment for Secondary School until after she was 18 months old, she would have no chance of getting in!

libros-ninosLet me get this straight. Being a February baby, it will be my preference to give her another year of kinder to avoid being the youngest in the class. This means that she will probably start Secondary School in 2025. 2025!!!!!!I can’t even think about what she is going to have for dinner tonight, let alone make a decision about what school she will attend in 13 years time. I have heard of parents enrolling their children in school in utero, but until I called schools myself, it did not really hit me of the competitive nature of getting children into some schools. It may have been a little naive, given the fact that I work in the system. However, completing and sending off enrolment forms to a few potential schools seemed bizarre to say the least! The problem is, that if you don’t, then you will have no chance of getting in by the time you have decided its time to decide!

So my husband and I sent them off, and parted with the (rather large) ‘non refundable’ enrolment fees, all with the hope of making a decision one day. That decision will be based on a number of things – affordability, proximity and most importantly, a place where Ella will be happy to grow, learn and be herself. It just feels slightly ‘wrong’ that we are forced to almost make a decision about these things, before she can even say her own name! Then again, working in Education…nothing should surprise me! It kind of feels like buying your dream house when you are 15. You are not quite sure what you want, what you will need and whether or not you can trust that it is going to cater for your needs?!

For those of you who work in Education, you probably would be familiar with the amazing Sir Ken Robinson. For those of you who do not, he is an innovative and transformative thinker, an expert in helping society re-think  the purpose of education. Do yourself a favour and spend a few minutes sitting down and watching this video. He is inspiring for any educator or parent. As someone who is both, I hope that all schools, including the one that Ella finally goes to, consider and act upon the messages he shares with this community….