Eas­ing into board­ing school

Central and North Rural Weekly - - RURAL WEEKLY -

THE tran­si­tion from pri­mary to sec­ondary school is a huge change.

It can be an ex­cit­ing time, but it can also dis­rupt a child’s learn­ing and sense of se­cu­rity.

To help chil­dren cope, par­ents should start talk­ing pos­i­tively about sec­ondary school early, not ex­pect chil­dren to be im­me­di­ately happy at sec­ondary school and in­volve them in ev­ery step of the process, from cur­ricu­lum de­ci­sions to uni­form shop­ping, ac­cord­ing to ex­pe­ri­enced ed­u­ca­tor Ju­lia Win­ter Cooke.

Ms Win­ter Cooke is head of mid­dle years at The Hamil­ton and Alexan­dra Col­lege in Vic­to­ria’s Western Dis­trict.

She has spe­cialised in the Year 7–9 age group for the past 20 years.

“Mid­dle years school­ing is an in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant phase for a whole lot of rea­sons,” she said. “One thing I have learnt over many years is that some­times tran­si­tion, re­ally set­ting into sec­ondary school, can take up to 18 months. Par­tic­u­larly for boys.

“Re­search has shown, over a long time, there is a nat­u­ral aca­demic dip through Year 7, both in lit­er­acy and nu­mer­acy. So, it is quite nat­u­ral to have a con­fi­dence dip.

“I’d rather take pres­sure off the grades and re­in­force it is ac­tu­ally about the learn­ing habits, not about grades, par­tic­u­larly in Term 1.”

Her ad­vice to par­ents was to slow down rou­tines at home, have fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tion with school staff – board­ing staff for board­ing fam­i­lies – and check in with chil­dren reg­u­larly.

“It is the lit­tle check­ing in that makes the big­gest dif­fer­ence,” she said.

“Stu­dents need to un­der­stand the chal­lenges that oc­cur and re­alise that tran­si­tion is just a nor­mal process.

“It is OK to feel un­com­fort­able.”

Her main mantra is ‘slow ev­ery­thing down for long-term suc­cess’.

“Just be com­fort­able with the tran­si­tion space,” she said.

“It is about slow­ing down rou­tines if the kids are get­ting over­loaded; slow­ing down home­work; slow­ing down ex­pec­ta­tion to make in­stant friends.

“It is about re­as­sur­ing both chil­dren and par­ents that it is OK to feel a bit wor­ried.”

Ms Win­ter Cooke said con­sis­tent bed­times, clear ex­pec­ta­tions about home­work and leisure time and “not catas­trophis­ing” prob­lems would give chil­dren a stronger sense of se­cu­rity.

“I do no­tice that par­ents can get very anx­ious,” she said. “Par­tic­u­larly if their chil­dren are strug­gling in the morn­ing to get on the buses or they are very much at sea.

“I think if par­ents can just keep quite calm and com­mu­ni­cate daily if they are anx­ious, too.

“If there is that vent at home, then par­ents may be­come quite alarmist be­cause of the dump­ing and yet the child has had a re­ally good day.

“If par­ents un­der­stand it is nat­u­ral for them to come home and dump … they just need to work out if it is se­ri­ous by com­ing back to the school.”

In terms of a school’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to smooth the tran­si­tion and con­cerns, Ms Win­ter Cooke said par­ents should ab­so­lutely ex­pect open and fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tion from staff.

“We have to ring home at the start of ev­ery year to have that ini­tial con­ver­sa­tion,” she said, ex­plain­ing she in­vites all par­ents to con­tact her any time.

“Through those phone calls, par­ents also know that you are se­ri­ous about want­ing to care about their sons and daugh­ters.

“And we fol­low up with both in­di­vid­ual and group emails, so the ex­pec­ta­tions are clear.”

TOP TIPS

From the Aus­tralian Board­ing Schools As­so­ci­a­tion: Speak pos­i­tively about school and all that your child can ex­pect to gain. They will pick up on your anx­i­eties so be pos­i­tive. Talk through any fears or anx­i­eties and come up with so­lu­tions to­gether. Dis­cuss home­sick­ness with them and how they might man­age this, and also try to think about how them go­ing away may af­fect you. Make sure they know how to use a mo­bile phone to make calls. Put the im­por­tant fam­ily num­bers in the phone.

Say good­night in the lounge room, in­stead of the bed­room, in the six months be­fore school starts. In­sist stu­dents do their own chores, in­clud­ing mak­ing their bed and putting their dirty clothes in the laun­dry. Know that stu­dents will phone when they are at their low­est point and “dump” their prob­lems. Ring back and speak to staff to check the sit­u­a­tion. Help them de­velop good per­sonal hy­giene habits. Al­low them to go on sleep­overs and school camps be­fore sec­ondary school. These ex­pe­ri­ences build in­de­pen­dence.

Pic­ture: FILE

PREPAR­ING FOR BOARD­ING: The Aus­tralian Board­ing Schools As­so­ci­a­tion says talk­ing pos­i­tively to your child about what they can gain from board­ing school will help ease the tran­si­tion.

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