This time of year brings about change: the end of a school year, saying goodbye to teachers or staff that your child has worked closely with for a year or more and looking ahead to what September brings for not only your child but you as a family. This, for many, will mean a new school. That change may be transitioning into Reception and full-time school for the first time, the big move to senior school or a new start at a new school for any number of reasons. Often I have found that this initial stage of preparing for a move is the one that is the most emotional for all involved- the excitement, the concerns, the ‘unknowns’ that children will consider and often parents will worry about more! What can you do to prepare them for this change, for this fundamental shift in their social and educational day-to-day life? Here are a few thoughts from my own experiences and ideas garnered from time spent in preparing for this situation with children, parents and staff.
If they are old enough to do so, ask your child to write down or verbalise any concerns they have. Some of them may be minor and easily placated, others may be answered quickly by asking a friend who knows the school or contacting the school themselves. Often worries and concerns that build up to be major in an individual’s head can be minor when out in the open. However, whilst sharing, don’t forget the positives! What are they excited about? What do they most look forward to? What will be better than the current school? If you are concerned yourself, do the same exercise. And remember, stay positive!
Control the controllables. What do you know about for definite? Try on the new uniform and make it an exciting activity! Stock up the new pencil case with everything they need. Map out the route to school, try driving it or walking it one morning at the time you will be doing so- this will be one less thing for you and your child to think about on day one. Sign up for any holiday clubs or camps the school run- some facilities, peers, staff may all then be familiar on arrival on the first day.
What will your child need to do in their new school? If they are entering Reception, practise putting on their wellies for break, using their knife and fork or packing a bag in the morning. If they are going to senior school, let them timetable a day for the family in the holidays and see how they stick to it or allow them to pack their own bags for holidays or days out and learn from the process. As they get older in prep or primary education and certainly as they move into senior education, whether you like it or not, your children will want to succeed in this change without your help. They will want to make friends, overcome challenges and celebrate successes as individuals so encourage them to be independent from the off; explain and demonstrate that you are there to support them if they ever need it but that you trust them to be responsible and mature enough to make this next step.
With modern communication as it is, there are probably already social media or instant messaging groups in place for children of the appropriate age to meet prospective classmates or parents to interact in advance of the new year. Find out about these and join if possible but also link up with other families in person before starting if you can as it will give everybody a familiar face from day one. These may not end up being the families or friends that are the closest throughout your time in school but it will allow you to find out any nuggets of advice that they have to pass on and it may lead to further introductions. You could also check with the school if they have class reps or year group reps, or even a parents’ association that may help you to get involved in social events prior to starting. If necessary, ask the school; the teachers and leaders there will have a good idea of who is best to pass you onto.
This move will work for your child. They are ready for reception or senior school or their new start. They are not the first to make this move or to feel nervous about doing so. Remind your child and yourself of all of the positives about the school but more importantly, remind them of the positives about themselves. Recall the things that they have achieved, the friends that they have made and equally, the times when it has been difficult and the way in which they have overcome challenges. Make sure that they know that being themselves is good enough and that they shouldn’t feel the need to try to be someone they are not or to conform to stereotypes. Give them the confidence to have their own opinions and encourage them not to be afraid to make mistakes. If you show confidence and belief in the school and in your child then this will impact on them and will have them walking through the door ready to face anything!
Mr Sean Price
(Westonbirt Prep School Headmaster)