Opinion with Matthew Munson: Changing school days and making memories

Matthew and Bryan

I don’t consider myself old by any stretch of the imagination, but a realisation hit me like a steam train the other day; I left primary school 29 years ago. Twenty-nine! I’ve had so many years of life since then, and I still consider 2001 to be just last week; something is wrong with my internal calendar.

School is so very different now. There are breakfast clubs, after-school clubs and activities, teaching assistants – all terms that I had to learn afresh when I became a dad, as I hadn’t encountered any of them when I was at school.

This term is a busy one for Bryan; he has a carol concert coming up (I’ll be in the front row, of course), a school trip to the Museum of Kent Life, and all of his normal lessons as well. It’s brilliant to see how he is so engaged with school; that’s down to his hard work and the school’s ability to keep him interested, of course; I’ve seen a shift in Bryan this year (his final one in primary school); the school put some extra value on resilience and taking responsibility, and he tells me all about these sorts of things on the way home from school – or, occasionally, he’ll remember something really interesting that happened three days later.

I was quite a shy, introverted child, so my experiences at school would have been different to Bryan’s even if the opportunities had been the same. He embraces all the opportunities he can; once a week, he goes to breakfast club so that I can go into the office. Quite a few of his class friends go in on the same day, so they’ve formed a mini club all of their own; they sit on the same table and play together afterwards, and that’s great to see – he’s made some really good friends at school, and that reassures me too. Being the only child at home, he deserves really good-quality friends.

I wonder what he will remember of school when he’s grown up and (perhaps) with a family of his own. His education – like everyone’s – was disrupted by lockdown; this year will be the only one (unless anything dramatically changes) where he’s had a full year in his current school as normal. He has adapted brilliantly to all the changes, but he will be forever associated with the generation who had these lockdowns during their childhood; I would have experienced them differently thirty years ago, given my introversion and the lack of Zoom and broadband internet.

My memories of primary school aren’t very strong, I have to admit; there are four teachers I remember very strongly because of their positive influences on me (Mr Curran, Mrs Cooper, and Mrs Lawrence), and one who I don’t remember so favourably – it seemed that she didn’t really like children, from my perspective now as an adult, which was slightly worrying given her profession.

But Bryan loves school, and it’s lovely to see him being engaged in a place that keeps him safe. Even over Christmas, there are opportunities for him to be engaged; there’s a club on four days of the holidays where he goes in and mingles with other children (from different schools), tries different activities (such as football and martial arts), and helps prepare lunch – all very interesting things, and he leapt at the chance to get involved. I’m really happy he chose to take part; I can get a bit of work done on those days without feeling guilty, and the time we do spend together will be better as a result.

Being a single father and needing to work even (occasionally) over a holiday period is a hard balancing act; I’d like to think that I get it right every time, but I don’t. No parent ever does, of course, and it’s opportunities like this that helps us find a good balance as a family – I’m very appreciative of them, and if it gives Bryan and I the chance to spend quality time together, then that’s all matters.