The most stress­ful time of the year? The first day of school can be anx­i­ety in­duc­ing, but it doesn’t have to be

What to ex­pect as your child starts at a new pri­vate school — and how to pre­pare for it

The Kids Post - - Contents - By David Pater­son

They are three of the most pow­er­ful words in the English lan­guage. Words that, when spo­ken on a warm sum­mer’s evening, still have the power to make your heart race and stom­ach flut­ter even years af­ter you first heard them. Back. To. School. For ner­vous par­ents about to send their chil­dren to a new school, late Au­gust can be a time of par­tic­u­lar anx­i­ety. Es­pe­cially if they are about to en­ter the pri­vate school sys­tem for the first time, which brings some ad­di­tional con­cerns to fret over. Is your daugh­ter’s new uni­form skirt com­pli­ant with knee-length reg­u­la­tions? Is your son’s brand new lap­top go­ing to sur­vive past lunchtime? Will they be­come com­pletely ob­sessed with the house sys­tem like those strange kids in Harry Pot­ter?

These con­cerns are all to be ex­pected, but they’re noth­ing to be­come anx­ious over. Most pri­vate schools in Toronto have wellde­vel­oped pro­grams de­signed to help new stu­dents and par­ents set­tle in.

The main in­take points for in­de­pen­dent schools are the first grade they cater to and Grades 7 and 9, but stu­dents join in smaller num­bers at ev­ery stage. In­duc­tion pro­grams vary by age but can be­gin as early as the spring be­fore en­try and usu­ally take the form of school tours, so­cial events and fa­cil­i­tat­ing con­tacts among kids who will be class­mates.

Jen­nifer Gray, di­rec­tor of ad­mis­sions at St. Cle­ment’s School for girls, near Yonge and Eglin­ton, says new stu­dent in­duc­tion starts there in May with a par­ents’ evening. On that night, par­ents can talk with school of­fi­cials about the school pro­gram and make ap­point­ments for uni­form fit­tings, then there are in­vi­ta­tions to end-of-term class events and a buddy sys­tem to en­cour­age new and ex­ist­ing stu­dents to be­gin so­cial­iz­ing over the sum­mer. Ori­en­ta­tion ses­sions are then held a few days be­fore the start of term, which are so thor­ough they even cover how to sign out li­brary books and log on to the com­puter net­work.

De­spite all that prepa­ra­tion, that fate­ful morn­ing in early Septem­ber can still be a ner­vous one.

San­dra Boyes, head of the lower school at the 100-year-old all-boys Cres­cent School on Bayview Av­enue, says ev­ery­one feels in­creas­ingly ner­vous as the first day ap­proaches, but she ad­vises par­ents to fo­cus on the ex­cit­ing side of start­ing a new school, such as mak­ing new friends or the vast ar­ray of ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties on of­fer at most pri­vate schools.

“I feel it’s im­por­tant for par­ents to main­tain a pos­i­tive and up­beat at­ti­tude,” she says. “Chil­dren are in­cred­i­bly good at pick­ing up feel­ings from their par­ents, so even if the par­ent is feel­ing anx­ious, it’s im­por­tant that they do not al­low that anx­i­ety to trans­late.”

One of the big­gest causes of anx­i­ety for par­ents of new stu­dents is fig­ur­ing out how in­volved they should be in their child’s school­ing. Few kids would thank their mom or dad for be­com­ing known as the school’s pushy par­ent, but be­nign ne­glect is not ex­actly some­thing to aim for ei­ther.

Jonathan Har­ris, head of school at Field­stone, a coed day school near Lawrence and Duf­ferin, says par­ents should try to be ac­tive in the life of the school. One of the ad­van­tages of the in­de­pen­dent sys­tem is its small class sizes, and Har­ris sug­gests that makes it eas­ier for par­ents to be­come part of a tight com­mu­nity. At Field­stone, each class has a par­ent co­or­di­na­tor to an­swer ques­tions from other par­ents and en­cour­age them to get in­volved with the school.

“It is im­por­tant that par­ents aren’t just pas­sive re­cip­i­ents of the three or four re­port cards through the year,” Har­ris says. “Get­ting to know the teach­ers, when the op­por­tu­nity presents it­self, is the best thing par­ents can do. That fa­mil­iar­ity can help in deal­ing with prob­lems.”

Gray at St. Cle­ment’s also sug­gests that ex­tracur­ric­u­lars are a great way for both par­ents and stu­dents to feel part of the school.

“Def­i­nitely, we find stu­dents who tran­si­tion in eas­ily are the ones who are keen to get in­volved,” she says, point­ing out that the school has some 90 ath­letic and spe­cial in­ter­est clubs for girls to choose from. Some pri­vate schools also as­sign stu­dents a “house” (of­ten named af­ter a his­tor­i­cal fig­ure or some­one of im­por­tance to the school), which pro­vides them with an op­por­tu­nity to mix with stu­dents from other grades.

There is no rule on how long it should take a child to find his or her feet as all new stu­dents face their own set of chal­lenges — for some it’s mak­ing friends, for oth­ers it’s the aca­demic in­ten­sity of in­de­pen­dent schools — but Cres­cent School’s Boyes ad­vises par­ents to raise con­cerns sooner rather than later.

“We would rather hear about a prob­lem be­fore it’s a prob­lem. If, for in­stance, you no­tice your son is not hav­ing many play dates, then ask the teacher which boys he is clos­est with, and see if you can set some­thing up.

“If you think there’s some­thing worth men­tion­ing, then it’s worth men­tion­ing.”

Start­ing at a new pri­vate school doesn’t have to be daunt­ing

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