Luckily, the first day of school fell the day Noah started recovering from the toddler plague and the day before I got sick with strep. As an added bonus, Megan and Charlie didn't appear to get either.
Charlie and Megan are attending a primary school affiliated with the Church of Ireland. This mostly seems to mean that they have chapel time occasionally (once or twice a month) and a small amount of religious instruction- mostly covering the basic principals of telling the truth, kindness and the like. It's a somewhat bigger deal when they are a little older and we would have investigated things a little more if they were older but there is only so much that can be done with 4 and 5 year olds regarding religious instruction if you are also trying to get in Irish language, reading, math and everything else. The other big impact of the schools having religious affiliation is that they will be writing letters to Santa and can acknowledge Christmas and Easter.
The day is somewhat shorter than the US school day, at least for children in infants (4 and 5 year olds). Megan is in junior infants and Charlie is in senior infants. The instructional day goes from 8:50-1:10 with 30 minutes for lunch and there is also some outdoor play time in there. The day is an hour longer for the older children. The class sizes are large, running around 30 children per class. But, it sounds like extra teachers do come in during reading instruction and that sort of thing. The emphasis seems to also be more firmly on play. There is significantly less communication between the school and parents than you get in the US. Fliers, notes, emails and texts are infrequent- you might find something in their backpack once a week. Open houses are next week- 3 weeks into the school year. But, the children's teachers are readily available before and after school. We live less than 1/2 a mile from the school and have an enjoyable 10 minute walk to and from each day, complete with crossing guard. The children stay together all the time and mostly stay in the classroom for all activities with the same teacher, including eating at their desks for lunch. A different teacher occasionally cycles in- Charlie has a dancing teacher on Thursdays and Megan has a sports teacher once a week and they do go to a whole school assembly in the morning and have library time on Mondays.
So far, things seem to be going fairly well. Megan adores her teacher, requesting a ponytail so she can look just like Mrs. McConnell. She chatters non-stop about school on our way home, skips to school in the morning, and barely glances at me as she sails into her classroom. On the first day, I walked Charlie into his room and came back to Megan's to check on her. Megan said a very firm "Good bye, Mommy" and gave me a look clearly stating that she had Things To Do and what was I still doing hanging around.
Charlie has had a bit more of a wobbly start. He does regularly tell me that every day is getting a little bit better and that he is ok with giving it another try the next day. He has stopped crying before we leave and at drop off and even had a smile for the principal on Friday. The first few days he could only tell me something about the day that wasn't too bad. Now, he can tell me something that was good or fun about the day. It has really worked to his advantage to be a senior infant. When he attempted kindergarten last fall, his teacher was managing 20 children who had all never been in a formal school setting. While not all of the children in senior infants are quite up to expert level, everyone except for Charlie has had some experience attending school. This means that Charlie's teacher has been able to really focus on him during the higher stress transition times- like when he first comes into the room. This and the way that they generally stay together in the same room with the same teacher (his US school had them marching all over the school for art, PE, lunch, etc) has really aided the transition. They both also have really enjoyed the opportunity to experience new things. The only thing I have really not been crazy about is that Charlie has homework Monday-Thursday. I don't mind reading with him or even practicing his flashcards but the math worksheets have been a bit pointless so far. I'm hoping that they will improve with time. I'm also planning on trying some new strategies. I think Charlie would really enjoy using a timer. It really is about 15 minutes worth of work but when you are 6, that can seem like a mountain. I think if I set a timer for 10-15 minutes, the break on the horizon might do the trick.
Noah was very, very cross that he didn't get to start school with the big kids. He spent a solid 15 minutes trying to climb back into his stroller demanding to go to school. Luckily for him (and me), he started up his Mother's Morning Out the next Monday. He attends a Montessori-ish program on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings from 9-12:30 and is in heaven over it. He is full of stories about his adventures and often rehashes them for me as he's falling asleep- "Miss Lisa read story. Noah paint. Noah drive cars. Noah eat cheese for lunch. Maybe do a puzzle tomorrow." He spends a good 15 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday trying to convince me he should go to school on Tuesday and Thursday as well. The timing works well for drop off with the walk from St Matt's to Tir Na Nog but we are often left at a loose end between 12:30 and 1:10- for some reason especially on the days that it is raining. I'm still working on a solution for that one.