The head of North Bridge House Senior, Brendan Pavey, shares his ten ‘top tips’ to ensure our children enjoy the summer sunshine whilst eagerly anticipating the challenges that lie ahead.
Moving up to senior school can be an extremely daunting prospect for young children, and even more so if they are moving to a school where none of their current friends are going.
It is easy to underestimate the anxiety that this can cause 10-year-old children when their innocent youth is often interpreted as an ability to ‘adapt easily’. For many making the transition to senior school in September, it will indeed be easy to adapt but naturally, for others, their positive exterior will be a way out of awkward conversations, avoiding a summer of potentially even more worry and stress.
The summer holiday prior to the start of senior school should be one of the most joyous in any young child’s life, and we as teachers and parents should look to do everything we can to ensure that this is the case.
- Accept that it can be stressful. The emotions of our children are real, intense and we should respect them as we would for any adult. We should let our children know that it is OK to find the whole process stressful, normalise it and start to teach our children that difficult situations, whilst stressful, can turn out to be quite exciting!
- Talk to your child. We are not going to be able to let them know that finding the situation stressful is OK unless we talk to them – obvious – I know. But all too often as parents it is tempting to avoid the difficult conversations, wanting to see our children enjoy a summer of fun.
- Make sure you attend the induction / familiarisation day. All schools worth their salt will have a good programme of induction. The challenge is that they often occur at a very busy time of the year. Leaving primary school will be marked with celebrations – assemblies, parties, excursions etc. – and unfortunately these sometimes clash with induction days. This is potentially a very tough call but there is only really one opportunity to attend the induction day, whereas there is likely to be more than one leavers event at the primary / prep school.
- Talk to the school. You should get good printed induction materials from the senior school but it is often necessary to clarify a few things about how the school works. Give the school a call, talk the registrar, the receptionist, the Head of Year 7 – whoever can give you the information you require. It may only be a little thing in June but it may build to be something quite stressful over the coming months if not answered until September!
- Go for another visit. When buying a car, you may take two test drives, or when buying a house, you may go back for another viewing. So why not do the same thing with your choice of Senior School! You may even want to go when they are doing something fun like ‘Sports Day’ or the ‘Summer Fayre’. You do not need to be able to take your child along with you each time; remember that emotions can be contagious and your children need to ‘catch’ your confidence – not your anxiety.
- Take care of the practical things. I take time on a Sunday to get everything ready for the Monday morning ahead. The aim is not just to save time but also to settle my mind, allowing me to relax and sleep. Treat the start of the school year in the same way and do everything early: There can be so much paperwork, clothes and equipment to buy, stationery to get ready and hair-cuts to be had. These jobs can seem dull but turning them into more exciting activities with your child can go a long way towards everyone feeling calmer in the lead up to term.
- Keep them reading. I love the summer holidays because it is the time when I get to read uninterrupted (sort of) from cover to cover. Demonstrating the enjoyment of reading is one great way to keep your own children reading. Go to a bookstore, ask for advice, find a couple that they might be interested in and give them a choice. Research shows that huge numbers of marks are lost at GCSE level from errors in reading questions. Don’t tell them that they are preparing for GCSEs as you browse the shelves of your favourite book shop. But if children stop reading for the whole summer then their skills will go backwards, so keep their noses in a book!
- Keep the maths ticking over. There are many opportunities to practise mental maths – in shops and restaurants, working out how long it might be until the next bus, train or plane. However, do also be bold and check that they are keeping up with their times-tables. Again, these can be easily forgotten but underpin all maths progress so don’t let the summer holidays damage the excellent work of their junior school!
- Go for days out. No matter where you live the summer holidays are full of fun days out for all the family. This can be special family time so make the most of it. Remember that happy children learn best and days out can be fuel for the heart and soul, as well as being very educational. And what’s more, they will have some great stories for the ‘what I did in my holiday’ English essay when they return!
- Have fun! This for me is the most important of all. Children are naturally inquisitive and adventurous – some more than others but each will have an appetite for finding out about the world around them, for smiling, laughing and having fun. Fun does not have to be riding on the front carriage of ‘Stealth’ at Thorpe Park (which I have done and do find great fun!) but can be had anywhere at any time. Try to find the time to leave the chores and play a board game, go for a walk, have a chat, or watch a TV programme or a film together. Try not to over-think it. Make it natural, spontaneous, exciting.
Hopefully by reflecting on these ten tips and putting some of them into action (remember we count 8/10 as an A* so you don’t have to do them all), those daunting weeks ahead can be that little bit easier, the transition to senior school smooth and successful, and the anxiety you may be feeling now will be a distant memory those few short days after the start of term. Good luck!
Brendan Pavey is Head Teacher of North Bridge House Senior Hampstead, an independent school for ages 11-16.