The Peppa Pig schoolbag and lunchbox had been purchased earlier in the summer, along with a spare set of wellies and an all-in-one puddle suit.

What was not so easy to prepare for, however, was the heart wrench of sending our two and a half year old daughter off to playschool this week.

She, on the other hand, could not wait to get out the door.

“My new friends will come to my birthday party,” she declared with complete confidence, thankfully oblivious to her mother’s trembling lip at the prospect of her going out into the big, bad world.

Ok… so I’m probably getting carried away here. It’s just playschool: more specifically, the ECCE (early childhood care and education) scheme that provides three hours of free education, five days a week, 38 weeks a year, to pre-school aged children and their families. We have been fortunate to secure a place in a small, newly opened Montessori, which is within walking distance of our home. It could not be any better.

They might be 17 or 18; but they will always be your babies.

But as a COVID baby born at the tail end of 2020, my daughter never had a chance to take part in any of the usual mother and baby groups while I was on maternity leave, and since I went back to work, she has been cared for by our extended families. As she is a rainbow baby- born after the loss of her brother, Danann- I’ve probably been more protective of her than I might have otherwise been. So, this really is her first step into the community, on her own two feet.

I know that it’s important for her. With no living sibling or cousins, she needs to meet playmates her own age and I’ve no doubt that she will thrive in her new environment. She’s full of fun - and sharp as a tack - and I can’t wait to see how much she learns and the friendships that she forms. But in as much as it’s the start of a new chapter, it’s the closing of another. It’s also the beginning of her journey within the education system; and I can hardly believe it.

I’m sure some parents reading this might be experiencing similar emotions on the opposite end of the scale, as they prepare to send their children off to college, further training, work or on whatever paths they plan to pursue. They might be 17 or 18; but they will always be your babies. In this issue, Sarah McIntosh has compiled our annual “going to college guide”, which is packed full of information including advice on the financial supports for farm families, alternative routes such as Teagasc apprenticeships and how to deal with disappointment and the appeals process if things have not gone entirely as expected. I hope you find it useful as you prepare to negotiate this journey together as a family.

Just remember that this is a new beginning for you as parents, too. So, what’s the next chapter in your story?