The guide to starting school

7:00 AM

everything you need to know about going back to school in India

With Ishita finishing her first year in a big school, I am finding myself reflecting on it and how the whole school readiness could be puzzling to people not used to the Indian system. We have been doing the school thing for 2.5 years now, but the playschool and nursery one was not the same as Jr Kg in a big school. It was in our neighbourhood, operated from an apartment and certain rules were more lax, there also wasn't a uniform worn daily, just twice a week. What you can expect from big schools in India will of course vary from school to schools, and even accross boards in the same school. So what do you need as a parent to prepare your kids for school and go through the year?

Here is a little list of things you should have or know.

About the uniform: if you come from a country where uniforms at the primary level do not exist like me, you might find yourself wondering what the deal is, how you get these, what to expect...Don't sweat, the schools usually tell you were to get them, or which tailors to go to. Our school arranged to have their supplier come to the school to take orders and collect the money before school started and until the uniform were given to us in our kiddos back pack we had to send them in regular clothes. The school also gave us details about the shoes to be worn during the monsoon, and then sent us a circular with the address of the supplier for the regular shoes to be worn after the monsoon.

About hairstyles: some schools ask for a specific hairstyle for girls, and ask of the boys to have short trimmed hair, or in the case of Sikhs, to have them pulled off the face. I have a girl, and our school doesn't specify a hair style like some more traditional schools do, but the rule is that hairs should be pulled off the face, or in a pony, or a bun, or braids, as long as no stray hair comes in the face they are cool. The hair clips and hair ties should be black, older girls should not have coloured or streaked hair. Once you know which colour your school wants for the hair accessories, STOCK UP, these bands and clips seem to love getting lost. All road side stalls, small clothing shops and school supply shops have them in the three regular colour : black, red, and white. Choose your school colour and buy several packs to never be without one when you are getting your kiddo ready.

About basic supplies: while schools have uniforms and ask for specific hair accessories colour, there is no rules concerning the backpack, tiffin box and bottle (well almost). The moment back to school lurks it's head, all store will start selling these, pick a bag sturdy enough with your kids favourite cartoon on it and you are all set. Most school ask parents of smaller kids to send them with a water bottle that has straps to carry it around the neck. It is indeed far more convenient for teachers to know each kids have their bottle at hand when they go on field trips or move around the school. Sadly these sling bottle almost always are made of cheap plastic that will break quickly, if you plan enough ahead you could find a metallic one, or even manage to make a strap for a non strappy one like I did. With small kids, wait until the school ask you about other supplies like pencils and pencil cases, some will ask you for these, mine did not, they provide the kids with those when they need them.

All you need to know about the school: schools all have specific guidelines, procedures, rules and regulations, your guide to them all is the school diary. It contains everything, from the uniform rules, to the procedure to ask for a leave, the dos and don't, the list of holidays, the summary of the curriculum, a section for teachers to leave you notes, a section for you to leave notes to the teacher, and several pages of infos you need to fill.

What you need to have on hand: at the start of the school year you will be asked by the school to cover all the school books and notebooks your child will need in paper or transparent plastic, once you find out about that, head to your local stationary shop to get the appropriate wrapping material. You will also be asked to label your child's belonging, especially in smaller classes, so if you haven't one at home already buy a permanent marker at the same time, along with some white labels so you can be ready to autograph all your kiddo's belonging appropriately. The school year starts around the monsoon, and schools don't like umbrellas, so invest in a raincoat, preferably one that can cover the backpack. You will need several passport photographs, of your child, yourself and your spouse to paste on all documents, once the child has his school uniform, you will need to have passport photos of them wearing said uniform for more permanent things like the permanent ID card, before the year starts, check that you have all these ready.

Special days: like anywhere, kids have special theme days in Indian school, and they usually mean special outfits. Some schools have more of these than other, and you can be guaranteed you will end up having to go clothes shopping at the last minute for something, or find yourself doing a craft project on short notice. You can however prepare yourself to some extent; as certain holidays will have your child wear something very obvious like ethnic wear or a tricolour outfit, and you will find that some outfits can be worn more than once.

- Ethnic wear. You will need this one for all Hindu festivals celebrated in school and other ethnic cultural days, for girls you might even need a lehenga for some of them such as Dandiya. Buy one or two, and buy them with adjustable waist and a wide enough top, they don't come cheap, and if you can have your child wear them two years in a row you'll end up getting your money worth.

- Something tricolour. On republic day and independence days kids usually go to school dressed up in orange, white and green, shop early to find an outfit that has at least two of the colour and add the third one as a hair accessory if you need to. This year I scored on an orange and green kurta, paired it with white leggings and she was ready to go. The tricolour outfit doesn't necessarily have to be ethnic.

- A party frock. For girls that is. For all non ethnic parties, kids usually show up in western style fancy outfits, have one or two ready for such events, it doesn't have to be super fancy though. Also when a child has their birthday, they are allowed to wear a party dress instead of the uniform, and distribute candies to their classmates.

- Something white, blue, get the picture. One way they use to teach kids about colour is to dress them in that colour. Most schools do the basic colours, so have them at home to avoid running around trying to find a green t-shirt at the last minute (not that easy for girls). If you have all the rainbow colours you'll also be set for the tricolour days

- Craft supplies. There will inevitably be days such as dress up as a nurse, tree, animal...or a fancy dress party, be it for Halloween which is done in more and more schools, or a costume competition. Buy sturdy craft paper you can paint, or better yet in all basic colours, stickers, craft glue, paint and glitter at the start of the year.

Know that if your school is an international ones there will be more of these special days so be prepared. In our case they sent us the circular at the beginning of each term so we could be ready early. If you aren't the crafty type, google and Pinterest will come to your rescue too.

These should get you started on what to do and get to get your kid school ready by June, if you have more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments, I'll try to answer them.


  1. You have no idea how helpful these posts are for all mothers (expat or not)... It helps us get organized for when our kids start school... great series!

  2. You are welcome :-)
    Being completely new to all the school and kids things and being in India I had a double whammy. We don't do tiffin back home, kids pack a fruit or some crackers to eat during recess, so it has to be playground friendly. We have no uniform either, and we never had to dress in a special outfit except on costume day to celebrate a particular festival occurring in Geneva alone. But yes had to cover my books and notebooks, the only difference being they just could be any paper one wanted and stores made a lot of money selling giftware paper with back to school and funcky patterns :-)


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