How Can Parents Help Their Children Prepare For Secondary School Over The Summer Holidays?

19/07/2017 12:13

As parents glimpse the imminent arrival of the summer holidays with a mixture of relief, exhaustion and gratitude, they could be forgiven for not wanting to dwell immediately on the next school term. But for parents with children due to start secondary school for the first time in September that probably isn't an option.

Finding the right school was an achievement. Helping children cope with the transition from small to big school is another enterprise entirely. Concerns start to stack up well before the holidays end. Will they fit in? How will they handle being with older children? How will they manage to do homework? How can I help them prepare? Or should I leave my worries at home along with the dog and the uncut lawn?

The first thing to acknowledge as a parent is that your anxiety, however understandable, is yours. Do everything possible to make sure it's not transferred to your child. It's absolutely essential that you maintain a positive mind-set. Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to help your child prepare - and it won't involve ruining their holiday or yours.

Most children will be a little apprehensive about starting a new school but they are naturally excited, too. So use that excitement. Celebrate every milestone on the road to September such as buying the uniform or the stationery. Mapping out the route to school and doing a couple of dry runs can be particularly exciting for children. This entails parents having to organise themselves well in advance, of course. But it also has the added benefit of reducing the pressure, because you aren't left to arrange everything in a mad rush a week before schools starts.

A common preoccupation among parents is the fear their child won't fit in and mix as easily in a big school. So if you have details of other parents whose children are starting at the same time as yours, arrange for them to meet and organise play dates.

From a child's perspective, some of the most daunting things are the rituals and complexities of secondary school. Most schools make a huge amount of information available beforehand about how they work. Talk it through with your child. Explain what house points are, how timetables operate, how they will be taught by several teachers rather than one or two, and what uniform rules are if they're not used to wearing one.

If you are concerned about something in particular don't hesitate to call the school during the holidays. It's a myth that we shut up shop entirely for six or eight weeks. Someone will be around to answer your query - and no query is too small. So share the problem. I can guarantee there will be at least five or six parents in the same class who have the same worry, and there will be few concerns that schools haven't heard or dealt with before.

As I said, most children are naturally excited by the prospect of starting at big school. But if they don't talk about it, don't assume everything is OK. If you suspect there is an issue talk to your child and talk to the school. One of the easiest ways to banish any lingering fears is to arrange another school visit during the holidays. Again, most schools will be happy to help.

If you are worried that your child will struggle academically, there are a number of things you can do during the holidays to stimulate their curiosity without turning yourself into a latter-day Gradgrind. Encouraging them to read is an obvious strategy - as is limiting screen time. For those children who are reluctant to curl up with a Jacqueline Wilson or a Michael Morpurgo, audio books can be wonderful. Listening to a Dickens or an Arthur Ransome novel in the car can be great fun for the whole family. It also stimulates group discussion, something that children will experience a lot at secondary school.

A bit of project work isn't a bad idea either. If the family is going away, encourage your child to keep a scrapbook - yes, it's old fashioned but it is a creative and engaging way of helping a child make sense of a new experience. Ask them too what they would like to get out of the holiday, where they would like to visit and what they would like to see. Giving children a voice, helping them develop a sense of agency will foster independence and confidence, which they will increasingly need as their school career progresses.

Finally, don't try to make everything about secondary school. It's perfectly natural if your child is a tiny bit sad about leaving the familiar comfort of their primary school. With change comes gain but also comes loss. So along with your child acknowledge and value what has been. Moving on doesn't mean they should leave their good memories behind.

From September Georgina Masefield will be head teacher of Akeley Wood School, part of the Cognita Group of schools

Georgina's top book picks

Takes from Shakespeare
Charles and Mary Lamb

Watership Down
Richard Adams

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Joan Aiken

The Dark is Rising
Susan Cooper

The Seeing Stone
Kevin Crossley Holland

Boy and Going Solo
Roald Dahl

The Diary of a Young Girl
Anne Frank

War Horse
Michael Morpurgo

His Dark Materials trilogy
Philip Pullman

Framed
Frank Cotrell Boyce

Holes
Louis Sachar

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