Dear School

We need to talk.

You do a marvellous job with my children. You inspire and educate and socialise them and take them off my hands  for up to six hours each day, five days a week, 39 weeks of the year. They are happy, interested and only rarely come home with nits. I owe you more than I can ever repay.


This dressing up lark has to stop.

So far this term I’ve had to rustle up a Spooky Day costume for the four year old. I’m working on the Christmas requirements (a star, a pirate and a sodding Islander, which sounds worryingly like a character from The Wicker Man). In the spring, there’ll be World Book Day, (when I have to persuade my two younger children that their Disney-inspired polyester horrors don’t really count), something Comic Relief related (I’m still finding bits of deely boppers from six months ago) and the psychological trauma of trying to create a witty, yet touching, scene out of hard-boiled eggs and empty loo rolls. 150871_10150092885059155_571262_n

It didn’t look like that on Pinterest.

This week is Children in Need, and I’m regretting the years I muttered about having to find something with spots on. This year (and I know that the idea behind this wasn’t yours) the theme is heroes.

The four year old’s a doddle. He’s borrowed one of those alarmingly padded Spiderman costumes which makes him look like I give him steroids and protein shakes for breakfast. He’s even almost reconciled to the fact that it doesn’t confer the ability to throw webs or climb walls. It’s all good.

The other two are in a pleasing state of vagueness. “I’ll go as Catwoman”, says the seven year old airily, batting away such practicalities as the fact that she doesn’t own a single black item of clothing and has never, to my knowledge, seen Catwoman in her life. The eight year old’s contribution has been to helpfully confirm that he’ll go “as a hero”. Right.

Dear school, it’s not you, it’s me. I really do get it, you’re not alone, and you’re in a no-win situation. There are parents who relish the opportunity to create, whose children look unfailingly amazing, and who would howl to the moon if you cut back on the dressing-up. The rest of us, though, look longingly at the easy-wear, easy-wash, uniform sitting forlornly in the drawer. Then we turn sadly away to rattle around in the back of the wardrobe trying to put together something we know will fail miserably, or slope off resentfully to the shops for an overpriced branded onesie.

Outfits for plays are one thing, but the fundraising days are something else altogether. I know, I know, it’s all about Good Causes. You’re helping the children to think about others, and to raise money while doing so. If I’m being honest, the real cause of my complaint is that it’s a chore I could do without. I am rich in children and poor in imagination. Thinking of and creating costumes manages simultaneously to bore and to stress me, and I’m not altogether sure it does so to any purpose.

There’s more to my disquiet than laziness, though. Today, faced with the choice of making a costume which I know in advance will qualify for one of those #nailedIt memes or of spending money on some random tat destined for the bin and probably made by a child in the first place, I can’t help but wonder if this all sends out mixed messages. Giving to charity shouldn’t depend on having fun while doing so. I’m pretty sure the widow didn’t dress as a ninja before toddling off to deposit her mite. Moreover, I can (just about) afford the time and the money, but I know that a lot of parents really, really can’t. Sometimes, charity  begins at home.

They’re children, I know. They (mostly!) like dressing up. I’m not asking you to stop it altogether, just maybe…keep it for special occasions? Once a decade would be great. Thanks

ps – what the ^%&* does an Islander wear?


22 thoughts on “Dear School

  1. I am so with you. Dredging up from my memory, we’ve had spots, international, pyjamas (six times and counting), royalty, pirates (twice), various ‘colour’ days, and now we have ‘hero’. The Girl has decided to go as a ninja. I’m hacking an old black tshirt to pieces, she can wear her dance class leggings, and wrap my black scarf over her face. I am DONE with school dress up days.

  2. Ha ha ha absolutely love this! I couldn’t agree more. I feel the dread in the pit of my stomach as soon as a letter is released with the total ‘Something, something day’ – we all know what that means. And I don’t have a creative bone in my body, which doesn’t help! I wrote a similar post last World Book Day.

  3. I am with you too. I hated dressing up days. We’d had an easy ride of it in our inner London primary where no one really bothered. Once we moved nearer my parents it was very, very different. These people actually did stuff. All of them. I ended up making an all purpose black cape (did hobbits, peasants, kings with tinsel added) and an all purpose brown tabard which did as for Viking peasants, numerous biblical characters and with the addition of an apron, a poor Victorian child). My children were remarkably sanguine about my lack of skill in the sewing department, and it became a matter of pride to work out how we could incorporate our two pieces of clothing into whatever the school’s latest demand was.

  4. Heroes, that would be easy, buy something from the shop, raid my husbands dvd collection for ideas. No our school has decided nursery rhymes and the child will only dress up as Rapunzel or a rabbit. Nursery rhymes with a rabbit? Hard.

    1. Run rabbit, run rabbit run, run, run, Here comes the farmer with his gun gun gun? (Well, my dad used to sing it to me when I was an infant)

  5. So true. I refuse to buy shop bought but was up till 11pm last night making the elf costume for tuesday’s ‘Elf School’ and have so many mums seem to be posting the ‘why should we spend £20 on a Superhero costume’ post on FB. Tesco and Primark must be rubbing their hands in glee and not a penny of this is going to charity. Whatever happened to ‘wear your own clothes for 50p’ charity days where all of the money does go to charity, rather than 50p to charity and £10+ on a never to be worn again themed costume from a big retailer. Oh and don’t even get me started on mums that specify your child come to their little angel’s themed party in specific themed dress …. and then not even bother to theme the party apart from plates and cups! That’s one Luke Skywalker costume that now sports tomato sauce down it and will moulder in the dressing up box! Aarrgh. (PS whatever happened to bin bags for halloween costume and a tea towel for nativity!?)

  6. The parents who want dressing up days are (in my experience, so others’ takes on this may well be different) the ones who shout the loudest. Those who don’t like them generally don’t make their voices heard (at least to the staff – for that, read ‘Head’) so the Head insists ‘it what the parents want’. Most of the teachers I’ve worked with would rather not have costume days either. Me? Tomorrow for our non-uniform day, I’m dressing up as a unicorn.

  7. I kind of like dressing up days because they do encourage a bit of creativity and I enjoy making things. Having said that, I am predominantly a stay and home mum and I can devote a bit of time to this sort of thing if I want to. It’s a bit trickier if you’re our of the house working all hours. Even I got a tad stressed when our school had one the day after they also had a halloween party. Two lots of costumes in two days for three children was a bit much! I also agree very strongly with your point that maybe we could all just give to charity without making a song and dance about it. You know the next one is ‘christmas jumper day’ That’s another one that’s got the retailers rubbing their hands together.

  8. What do you think it is like for us teachers? We have to dress up too. Tell me a superhero that is female that is not half dressed!

  9. Great blog. I’m just having my first experience of this with my son who started school in September. They have to wear their uniform tomorrow but can wear spotty socks, scarf or face paints. He doesn’t own anything spotty and hates his face being painted. I had what I thought was the genius idea of covering his school jumper with spot stickers. We had great fun this afternoon sticking them on. But now I’m terrified he’s going to get in trouble at school because Mummy didn’t follow the brief :/ It is I feel a lose/lose situation!

  10. Today is ‘Superhero’ day for children in need, but also Bikeability safety training. Picture the batman suit on the bike with the safety helmet on top. And then me, as Chief Academic Steward presiding over graduation, berobed and behatted, accompanying said bikeability bat to school. #extremedressingup

  11. My DD has actually asked just to go in school uniform today! She is definitely my child, as I hated non-uniform days (by which I mean just ordinary mufti-days, and not these ridiculous dressing-up extravaganzas). DH is trying to convince her Roald Dahl’s Matilda is a superhero, so she can just go in with a volume of Dickens!

  12. At least you have a month’s notice for the Christmas costume; the average at my son’s school is 4 days (i’m kidding, it is about 2) and is accompanied by helpful suggestions such as “ASDA and TESCO supply a really good version of this” (so go spend money you don’t have because we mucked up yet again and didn’t give you enough warning to come up with anything, and anyhow you have a large income and a wealthy partner so go buy something you will never use again).

    I find it rude that one is given so little notice, especially when the costume needs are increasingly elaborate.

  13. I agree. Fundraising – great. I question the charitable message. My kids have gone into school with money to buy into the day. Charity is about giving money, not what you’re going to get back. REF: Camila Batmanghelidjh Think Bomb from Blogfest.

    And what, WHAT has Pudsey got to do with heroes?! Luckily youngest wanted to be Harry Potter – I’d already been through that nightmare Book Day 2013 (H&M shirt, grey jumper and my old school tie which is conveniently Gryffindor colours). He loves Harry = Harry is a hero …minus bumpy chest.

    Just to add to the confusion, eldest child had Bow Tie day. Don’t. I spent 2 hours scouring Leamington and Warwick for a spinning bow tie and failed. He had to make do with a giant clown bow tie and an added (guilt purchase to make up for my failure) squirty flower – please God don’t let him ask the Headmaster to “smell my flower”!

    It turns into an ordeal. Mornings are 100 miles an hour – there is no room for costume adjustments.

    You don’t have a poor imagination you have time pressures and a gazillion lists running through your head – all at the same time. We don’t even have space in our heads to swing an imaginary cat let alone a creative thought.

    Your post will resonate with A LOT of people today. Thank you.

  14. I’m with you all the way on this. It’s not just the kids though, I’m a Teaching Assistent, and had to make a costume for myself as well! Do you know how hard it is to source a cheap superhero costume on a weeks notice in a size 20! I’ve become quite hand with wonder web (cant afford a sewing machine). Plus the amount I spend on assembling costumes means that I have LESS MONEY to donate to the actual charity so surely it’s counter productive?

  15. My sons nursery announced a children in need hero day with a weeks notice – after I’d just had a week off!!!!!! I ended up refusing to pay £7 for a superman top (in the sale!) and repurposing a supergirl outfit I’d worn to a hen night a few months ago. One “S” patch and wedge of shiny cape removed, hello tacking stitches and poppers (to prevent strangulation – he’s 1) attached to a blue top voila!!! I refused the red pants over his normal blue trousers and it looked fine. Most of the children in his room also had homemade and looked great, especially as they were super phoebe, super Ben etc with tacked on letters and flouscent polyester capes!

  16. I am also utterly utterly sick of the dressing up thing and I have not yet met a parent who is positive about it. We gave feedback to the governors about how peed off we were (they do an annual questionnaire) and the response was a promise to only do one dress up day per term. Better but not eliminated. While I would not wish my 9 yo daughter’s life away, that is one part of moving on to high school I will definitely celebrate. My 13 yo never has to dress up any more, ever and it is GREAT.

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