Making the move to 'big school'

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What you need to know from the school before September.

The big transition in education is the move from primary school, be it junior or middle, to secondary (or high) school. For many children and their parents, this feels like the first big, independent step. As a parent you might be dreading this point more than your daughter or son!

When they were small you could call in to the school at any time. They probably had the same teacher for most subjects right through the year. The new school might be two, three or even four times larger. Your child will be taught by a dozen different people.

A great parent mentor doesn’t need to know all of the answers. A great mentor needs to know great questions and who to call on for expert advice when it is needed. A great mentor aims to move a child from being a dependent learner to being an independent learner; so starting a new school is a step along that way.

One professional in the new school will have overall responsibility for your child. They might be called a head of year, head of house, pastoral leader, counsellor, the title doesn’t really matter. It is that person that you should get to know before September. Make an appointment to see them and arrange a transition meeting.

Always take a pen and paper to a meeting. At the transition meeting make sure that you take along examples of your child’s work in school. Let them know which subjects your son or daughter is strongest in and which they need help in. Make sure that you leave with their contact details, so that you can get in touch quickly if a problem occurs. Ask them what you can do to help over the summer and during the first year. Find out if they recommend any texts or resources for the first year.

How you prepare your child for rapid success in a new school.

Most secondary schools have some kind of transition programme, usually involving open days or evenings and taster lessons, as well as opportunities to meet the staff. A few run these sessions in the summer holiday but most do not, which means that there is a long gap between the transition programme and the first day of a new term. If the new school does run sessions get along to them. It will be a great opportunity for your child to feel really comfortable about the transition and any information that you pick up will help you to be a better mentor to your child in those important first months.

Find out what will be taught in the first term and get a jump start on some of the topics. Nothing boosts a child's confidence in class more than the feeling that they already know something about what is being taught. Focus on the areas that they already feel confident about because the aim is to boost that confidence sky high. So, visit that castle, read that book together, practice those multiplication tables.

Getting the friendships right over the summer.

As an effective mentor you will want to talk with your kid about strategies for quick integration. Remember that, to a young person, the most important social group is their peers. In teenage years friends will count for more than family, so a good social mix is an important part of doing well in education.

Your child probably wants to fit in, and quickly. So, discuss strategies for achieving this. They might include: sitting with different people in every lesson for the first week; joining several clubs, to discover what they are like before settling on the best; introducing yourself; jotting down the names of new people, and using those names frequently; the importance of smiling and eye contact. All of these are useful skills and you might want to link them to your experiences at work, to show that these are skills that all adults need too.

Try to broaden the friendship circle. The long summer vacation between schools is a natural time for old friendships from primary school days to fade and new friendships to be formed. The summer vacation can be a great opportunity to get a wider network of friendships developing. For some children the prospect of a new school is very daunting. Starting a new local club before or during the summer holiday will help because it will almost certainly result in friendships beginning that are new and may not even be dependent on a particular school. This means that school doesn’t become the be all and end all of friendships.

It may be that your child made new friends on a taster day at the new school. If the taster day did result in your son or daughter making a new friend don't leave is to wilt over the summer, arrange a social event that mixes the new friend or friends with existing ones. Sleepovers, a visit to the movies or a day at a theme park all give the chance for new friendships to become more certain before September comes.

The best techniques for the last week of the holiday.

Share the experience of moving to the ‘big’ school. As an effective mentor to your kid it is great if you can show them that the worries they have a universal: we all had them. This is an important time in a child's development. Lots of myths, some of them very frightening, can build up. Have a family meal and share your experiences. Perhaps have uncles and aunties or family friends around who will do the same. There will probably be a few tall stories but there will be a lot learned too. There is also a lot of good teen fiction that deals with issues that might arise. A book about discovering that the new school includes vampires may be just the thing to get rid of fears about fitting in.

In the last week of the holiday integrate with the school day. In the final week or two of the long summer break move the day at home to be closer to the timings of the school day: waking up and having breakfast at the time that would be usual for a school day; having lunch at about the time of the school break; and encouraging some quiet reading or studying in the evenings. It helps to have a familiar pattern in place before the beginning of a new school year.

Finally, the most rapid development comes from conscious reflection on experiences, really learning from them, so at the end of the first couple of weeks try to have a celebration of their success in starting at the new school, when you can really discuss the experiences of your child with them - especially if you can do it in a neutral, mature setting, like a nice coffee shop.

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