This week, the Irish Parenting Bloggers are writing about back-to-school costs, a topic that's causing frustration for some and fear for many more around the country this week.
In our house, we are at the early stages of the school life-cycle; we have just one of our three in school, and she's going into senior infants. So I haven't experienced the kind of stomach-churning costs that lie ahead.
Nevertheless, we do have some expenses, and they will grow yearly in sync with the kids:
Our basic uniform (one jumper, skirt, shirt & tracksuit) costs €110.
This doesn't include any spares, nor shoes, nor PE shirts, runners or jacket. This is just the basic uniform that every child must have. And none of it is generic - the components can't be bought in a department store.
Art supplies & PE:
We pay €60 for art supplies and PE for the year
Around €15 for books this year - not a lot at all, but all workbooks that can't be bought second-hand or sold afterwards
Sponsorship cards during the year:
These drive me a little mad - I can't ask family to donate for every sponsored event during the year, nor would I ask neighbours, so I just fill out the card and pay over the full amount myself.
The fee is €100 per child/ per family
Having said all that, I need to qualify it:
The uniform is great quality - it washes very well, it wipes clean easily for mid-week yogurt mishaps, which is good as I didn't buy spares.
Art supplies & PE - well yes, these have to be paid for, and the kids get a huge amount of enjoyment and benefit from art and PE. I can't begrudge this one.
Books - notwithstanding the workbook debate, 15 EUR is really a small cost - I sense I will look back on this ruefully when I'm paying out hundreds in years to come.
Sponsorship - this one is still just annoying, I have nothing good to say about it (but I do understand that school has to raise money somehow)
The voluntary fee: I went along to a board of management meeting last year where the accounts were explained in very clear detail.
We were told how much the school receives from the state, and how much it costs to run the school - insurance, cleaning, heating, maintenance.
There is a shortfall every year, and this money must be raised in order to keep the school open.
This mammoth task is taken on by the board, who raise the money via fund raising events and the voluntary fee. I came away feeling grateful rather than resentful - grateful that these dedicated people were prepared to face this fund raising task every year. And no longer resentful about paying the voluntary subscription.
And after all, as another mum said to me, the school is in a leafy Dublin suburb where most of the families have double incomes and can't really complain about €100 per year.
And yes we too are a double income family, albeit in a squeezed-middle, just about hanging in there kind of way, but kids are not going to school hungry.
The school knows that many or most of the families are double-income earners. So it's not hard to understand that they look for this fee, and more.
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But hang on. The other big adjustment I found with transitioning from creche to school (as mentioned here) was that parents are asked to be available and flexible in a way that assumes that one parent is at home all the time. Quite the opposite of double-income in fact.
School plays and cake-sales are during school hours (and not necessarily at 9am which would at least facilitate a parent going along and then starting work an hour late)
Cake sales involve, of course, baking, which I found a big challenge last year - pulling out the flour and sugar at 9 o'clock at night after a long day at work (admittedly this also because I am lacking in baking talent and worry about how my effort will look beside the more accomplished donations).
School drop-off time is 8.40am at the very earliest, which is why in our house we needed a childminder instead of relying on school and creche - there's no way for us to drop my daughter to school at 8.40 in the suburbs and be in the city centre to start work at 8.30 (without time travel)
School collection times change on days just before holidays for no discernible reason.
And school collection times are different for junior and senior cycles, with no facility in our school to leave the younger child there for an extra hour.
So if I am trying to plan my work-day around school collection times, this won't be possible when any one of my kids is finishing at a different time to the others. Which will be the case in our house until 2018.
Parent-teacher meetings are just after the school-day ends, so for many parents this means taking a day off work or at least a half day.
But it has been homework that has been the most unexpected challenge for me.
There was a lot more homework in junior infants than I imagined, and because I'm out at work during the day, I do homework with my daughter at 7pm at night.
Which is when she's tired, and irritable and distracted and I'm tired, and irritable and distracted.
I am sure that my daughter's teacher doesn't expect her to do homework late in the evening just before bedtime, but I don't know what alternative we have.
Schools in many European countries remain open for the afternoon, so that children finish at the same time as their parents, and have no homework to do at home. Colleagues of mine in our European office are always surprised by the early finishing times in Ireland.
I'm not convinced that I'd really want my children in school all day given the option - sure, it would be easier for me however I'm not certain that it would be best for the kids.
Regardless, it's a moot point - right now, my daughter is in school until lunchtime, she gets homework, and I have to find a way to do it with her after work.
And I don't blame the school for their expectations - not for the costs and not for the time.
They need the money from us and they need the investment of time too - as do our children.
In fact I don't have any solution (other than a sudden upturn in finances for the government or a lotto win for all of us).
It doesn't stop me feeling squeezed though, feeling pushed and pulled in all directions, feeling caught in the middle with not enough money and not enough time, but all of the guilt and the anxiety. Nothing changed there then.
The other Irish Parenting Bloggers are writing about back to school costs too:
The Clothesline - It all adds up
Wholesome Ireland - School Expenses
The Mama's Hip - Homeschooling haul and chatter
Awfull Chipper - Back to school in America
Learner Mama - Back to school - a costly business
Musings and Chatterings Crests and costs starting big school Part 1
The Serious Wagon Back to school costs
Dreaming Aloud - Changing gear
My Country Girl Ramblings - Back to school hidden costs
Labels: childcare, children, junior infants, school, school costs, school run, teacher, The serious stuff and the rants, uniform