Moving up – six tips for starting senior school
Starting senior school can be daunting for children as they move on from the safe haven of their primary school to a new school with a different structure and most likely many new faces. It marks the passage into adolescence, and brings about plenty of change as well as greater responsibility.
As well as helping our children master the obvious things like coping with different transport routes, school timetables and more homework, there are other things to consider too – like how to navigate new friendships and manage time. We asked Alex Hutchinson, head mistress at Woldingham School for some advice on surviving the transition into senior school.
As another busy summer term at Woldingham is in full swing, we have an eye on autumn as we make plans and preparations for the girls who will join our community in September. Next month, I will meet with many of them at our reception for new families and I know parents and girls will have lots of questions to help with their own preparations: do I need a laptop? When can I join the choir? How many pairs of socks should we pack?
However, no matter which senior school your child is joining this September, or in years to come, there are some less obvious preparations that I recommend you make. These are the many ways in which you can help and encourage your child to make the most of their secondary school experience and, even though they may not initially realise it, learn key life and career skills that will shape the years ahead.
Remind your child that everyone in the school was new once and will know what it felt like, so they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help. If they think they may feel a little overwhelmed, ‘smile’ and ‘breathe’ will see them through most situations.
Secondary school pupils really do make friends for life. Encourage your child not to gravitate to children that they may already know and not to make snap decisions about who they will and won’t like. This is an opportunity to meet many and varied new people. If they mix with different children they will see the benefits of a rich breadth of friendships throughout their school lives; furthermore they will develop social skills that will equip them for the world beyond school.
It is important that children learn to balance both school work and extra-curricular activities – and that their routines allow space just to relax. No one is ever too busy for hockey practice, and the long term benefits of being busy outside the classroom are priceless.
Everyone wants their child to do well – not only in the classroom but, much more importantly actually, to be happy and fulfilled in all aspects of their school life. At school, the community that they become part of – pupils, staff, parents and governors – will be key to their well-being and to their development as adults. Ask them to think about how they will be part of that community and consider how their actions add value to the experience of everyone within the community. Remind them to look out for others, to be kind and to care about the feelings of the other children they will be with. I have challenged our girls at Woldingham to stamp out the myth that niceness is akin to weakness.
Starting senior school is an opportunity to try out new experiences; the benefits of a holistic education are numerous and I urge all our new pupils to make the most of all the opportunities available. It is through the routine in and out of the classroom that our pupils learn what can be achieved from sheer hard work, and where they understand what commitment really means. It is through switching out of ‘work mode’ that we understand the impact that being passionate about another activity brings, be that the adrenalin of a sports fixture, the thrill of a music performance or the peace found through mindfulness. Commitment is key; and commitment is a skill that needs to be learnt and practised because without it, children will never know what they are really capable of.
The most valuable skill that your child can bring is curiosity: to be excited about learning, to see new concepts as a stimulating challenge and to be part of the intellectual discussion. I certainly enjoyed my conversation with a submarine designer at a recent Careers Fair!
Woldingham School is a selective Catholic boarding and day school for girls aged 11-18 set on a 700-acre estate in the beautiful Surrey Downs. It’s one of the oldest girls schools in the country.
The next open morning is Sat 11 May from 9.30am-12.15pm.