Starting Secondary School and Year 7 can be a daunting prospect – for both child and parents! A whole series of buildings to find your way round. A new group of classmates, many of whom they won’t know apart from having seen them at an induction day. Needing to work out what lessons they’ve got on a complicated two-week timetable. Maybe your child will be travelling by public transport on their own for the first time. The whole thing is a mass of new experiences – and that can be daunting or exciting, depending how you look at it and what your child is like.
Last year I conducted a small survey about starting secondary school (you can see the results by following this link: http://www.valuingminds.com/year-7-transition-one-month-in/ ). While about half the students felt worried, apprehensive or nervous about transferring to secondary school, the others were excited and looking forward to it. And the good news was, that after a month, the majority felt positive about the transition and their new school. By the way, parents came out as by far the best source of advice for budding year 7s in the pupils’ eyes.
So, what can you, as a parent, do to help your 10/11-year-old be ready for the challenges of starting secondary school? Please forgive me if I’m teaching grandparents to suck eggs here……
- If they already have a copy of their timetable, help them get used to the layout, working out where they should be and when, and so on.
- If you already know which days they will be having lessons requiring special equipment or clothing (PE, Food technology etc), prepare a weekly schedule that can be stuck on the back of the front door or near where they are meant to put their coat (not the floor!), so that they can check each day before leaving the house if they have everything they need. You might want to add to this ‘checklist’ things like homework diary, key fob, lunch ‘credit card’ and so on so they remember everything they need until it becomes a habit.
- Do a couple of ‘dry runs’ on public transport, if they’re going to be travelling on their own, so they know where to get off the bus/train, how much the fare is, how to buy a ticket and so on.
- Try to get them into the habit of doing homework the day it’s set; this really does pay dividends as the homework starts to pile up as they move up the school. But……avoid asking them what homework they’ve got and nagging them to do it. It’s a very fine balancing act between showing interest and getting overinvolved. They need to start to become independent in their working habits and, while friendly interest is great, we need to help them take responsibility for doing their homework themselves – and understanding the consequences of not doing it!
- Take an interest in what they’re covering in their lessons and what happened at school, but take your lead from them. In my experience, greeting your youngster with ‘How was school today?’ or ‘What did you do at school today?’, tends to lead to answers of ‘OK’, ‘Nothing much’, ‘Stuff’ or equivalent. So hang back, let them initiate the conversation and tell you in their own time.
- Suggest that they go over their notes from each day’s lessons in the evening (even if no homework has been set). It’s amazing how often things that made sense in class no longer seem to days or weeks later! It’s best to find out straightaway so they can add to their notes. Not only does this help them remember what they covered, it also means when it comes to exam revision time, that they have a complete set of notes that make sense.
- Don’t be surprised if their ‘stuff’ goes missing, despite your, or their, best efforts at labelling everything. Sometimes it may find its way to lost property. However, your youngster may not find their way there to reclaim it!
- Gently encourage them to join in with extra-curricular activities – not only is it a great way to meet other pupils at the school outside of lessons, it’s also a good way for them to have a go at new sports or hobbies.
- Similarly, try to get them to mix with a range of their peers, not just any they transferred with from primary school. The more pupils they can meet and mix with, the better their chances of finding some like-minded individual with whom they get along well. Having said that, don’t expect them to make lifelong friends on day one. Secondary school years are times of tremendous change as youngsters go through adolescence. Their personalities and interests may change hugely during this time so the people they team up with at first may not be the ones they end up being mates with.
- Bullying is often a concern, both for parents and pupils when starting secondary school. Just watch out for changes in behaviour – a happy, chatty child suddenly becoming withdrawn or lacking in confidence, for example. Make sure your youngster knows they can talk to you if they have concerns or help them find a trusted adviser – a teacher at the school, a school counsellor, their school mentor or buddy, for example – that they can confide in.
Starting secondary school is a big transition – Good luck!
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