The big move to secondary school
Starting secondary school is one of life’s major milestones. Whilst schools do their best to prepare and settle new pupils into the new routine, there’s no doubt that it’s a stressful time for parents and children.
A good friend of mine recently admitted that she’s feeling nervous about her son leaving his cosy, local primary school and starting a new school in September, located several miles away. I felt the same two years ago, when my son reached the end of year 6, but there are a few things parents can do to help their child prepare for and settle in to secondary school.
It helps to be able to visualise a new situation so if your child hasn’t visited the new school recently, try to organise a visit before the end of this term. Also, practise the route to and from school several times, particularly if the journey involves public transport and busy roads. Doing it first thing in the morning at the exact time they will be leaving will ensure they know how much time to allow for the journey, especially at rush hour. Now is a good time to discuss road and personal safety issues – while they are more likely to listen to your advice.
The summer holidays provide an opportunity to encourage your child to become more independent and responsible. Suggest he or she organises social activities too, even if it’s just meeting up with current friends.
Also, make sure you have all the required uniform and PE items plus stationery, rucksack and books well in advance – all labelled of course! It’s a good idea to involve your child in this process, as a way of preparing for the organisational skills that will be needed at secondary school.
Try to be sympathetic to any worries. It’s easy to dismiss concerns with a ‘don’t be silly’ comment, but children cope better if they feel they are being taken seriously. If your child is anxious about making friends, come up with ideas together on how to start a conversation and how to get to know new people. The CBBC website has some useful advice for children who are worried about starting secondary school.
Parental support during the first few weeks can make a huge difference. If possible, ensure your child has a nutritious breakfast before school. Of course, no-one likes being told off, especially in a new environment, so make sure your child arrives on time and wearing the uniform correctly.
One of the biggest challenges for most new secondary school children is organising their work. For the first few weeks, help your child sort out the right books and kit for the next day, until the timetable and routines become more familiar. Establish somewhere quiet to do homework and be prepared to help with scheduling, particularly if your child isn’t used to doing much homework.
There’s no doubt that the first few weeks of secondary school can be daunting. Make allowances for irritability and tearfulness, and keep after school and weekend activities to a minimum for a while. I remember being exhausted when my son started secondary school and it took at least half a term to work out a routine of homework, TV and supper that suited all the family. But new routines soon become regular routines and, before you know it, that nervous little 11 year-old will be towering over you and choosing GCSE subjects!
Sarah Kingsley is a freelance writer and a member of the BBC Parent Panel.