Most adults can remember their first day at High School. It was an exciting time but also a little scary. As the last two weeks of the holidays fly past, parents and children are turning their thoughts to the new academic year. New blazers, ties, shiny black shoes and the bit I loved best; getting a school bag and pencil case and filling them full of the most colourful and exciting pens, pencils and erasers that I could find.
If I’d been to France or Italy during the holidays, I’d be spoilt for choice. They have such lovely stationery items over there. Even as a teacher, I could never resist buying lots of fun gadgets for my classroom and I even picked up a cool mushroom in Florence this summer for my Kip McGrath Education Centre in Musselburgh. It has a rubber for its head and sharpener for the stem. These things always put the ‘cool’ into school for me. I love languages and the French have a great word for back to school – la rentrée the return.
Problems Children Face with the transition from Primary to Secondary School
However, for children who are moving up from Primary to Secondary there is no return to that safe little haven where they learned to read and write. As young adolescents it is upwards and onwards and for many children, as well as being an exciting time, it can be somewhat frightening to say the least. For parents and grandparents too it is an emotional time. The little ones are growing up fast and change is in the air. We know that change has to be managed carefully so it is important to make the transition as smooth and as stress-free as possible.
As a teacher of 20 years experience, here are some of the most common problems I found children encountered in the first few weeks of High School and a few suggestions as to how to overcome them.
Scared of getting Lost
One of the biggest challenges is the size of the new school. As little 8 year old Sana who attends my centre would put it, whether it’s a ‘Harry Potter’ school or the local Comprehensive, children have very genuine concerns about the size of their new school. “Lots of corridors to negotiate, staircases and perhaps tunnels too”. The school day is structured differently with bells ringing at regular intervals and movement around the building. They worry that if they don’t get to the next class on time, the teacher might be cross and yell at them and even give them detention. As a teacher, the most tears I had to dry up during the first few days were those of poor little lost souls looking for the music department but ending up goodness knows where instead! What a state they could get themselves into!
Angela’s Kip Tip
Most schools have excellent transition programmes and your child should have had a visit to the High School already. If they haven’t or you are still worried, phone the school and ask if you can pop back in again. Chances are that Admin staff or Senior Management will be around in last week of the holidays and it may be possible to take a quick trip round again. If not, drive past it or go into the car park a couple of times so that the building doesn’t look quite so threatening.
Make sure they know their right from their left. It’s amazing how many children have difficulty with this and it doesn’t help when they are trying to follow directions or to read a map of the school. If they get lost, encourage them to ask a teacher or senior pupil to help them. The younger pupils make a great game out of sending new pupils in the wrong direction deliberately! You’ve been warned!
Help them to understand the timetable. Explain that the school day will be structured differently and that it is important to move quickly from one lesson to another and not waste time. Advise them to write the name of the teacher and the classroom number next to the subject. It makes it impossible to help a child if they don’t know who their teacher is or what classroom they should be in.
Try to familiarise them with the day ahead. Talk to them about it. For example discuss that tomorrow they will do a period of English, then Maths, then French then PE etc. Then of course prepare that school bag full of all the things they will need and don’t forget the PE kit!
Try to avoid going to the toilet in between lessons and encourage them to follow the majority of the class to the next period. There is safety in numbers!
If they get badly lost, rather than wander around the school, advise them to report to the school office immediately where a member of staff will make sure they get to class.
Lack of Confidence
Your child becomes anxious and starts to worry a lot.
Angela’s Kip Tip
Acknowledge the fact that your child might feel nervous but reassure them that it is normal to feel slightly anxious and that the chances are that everyone else is feeling a bit worried too. Keep telling them that everything will be fine.
If they can’t get to sleep at night, try to discuss all the good things that have happened at school and praise them for all the things they have managed to do so far.
We all know that a drink of chamomile tea before bedtime can help us to sleep. A recent report I read suggests
that it also alleviates anxiety so why not give it a try?
If after a few days they are still unhappy and you begin to worry and wonder about whether you should contact the school, then you should contact the school. The Guidance teacher or Year Head is the person to discuss any worries with and the sooner you sort it out the better, especially if you suspect bullying.
Feeling lonely or doesn’t know anyone
At first it can be difficult to make the right friends. Chances are that there are plenty of clubs on offer at school either at lunchtime or after school finishes. If your child is a lone child, then encourage them to join some clubs in order to get to know other children and make friends. Guidance staff can also play a useful role here. Eventually they will make lots of friends but it is important in the first few weeks to be there for them. If you can make arrangements to leave work a little earlier during the first week, that could make the world of difference to an anxious child. If you have time, consider getting involved in the PTA so that you also get to know some of the other mums and their children.
Getting into Trouble because they forget things
One of the biggest changes your child will probably face is having to take more responsibility for themselves and become more independent. They may have to look after a bus-pass, lunch money, musical instrument, library books, sports kit, mobile phone, keys etc, etc. It’s usually best not to take things into school that you don’t need or would be sorry to lose. Help your child devise strategies for emergencies so that they know what to do if something goes wrong. Make sure that timetables are checked and school bags packed the night before to avoid the whole family getting stressed in the rush to set off in the morning. Make sure you regularly look in the school bag for notes and newsletters from the school. Do you need to fill in a form or sign some homework? Bag-mail hardly every makes it home.
Finding the work too hard
This is one of the major causes of unhappiness at school. Children attending High School can come from up to 20 different feeder Primary Schools in some areas. The mix of academic ability in one class is likely to be very wide ranging and there may be gaps in your child’s basic numeracy and literacy causing difficulty across the whole curriculum. Perhaps they are studying a foreign language and others have started earlier than them at Primary school. Some schools may broadband classes and some may set based on information sent up from Primary School.
There may also be some sort of assessment within the first few weeks of term. Your child may feel out of their depth and have gaps which need to be plugged. Likewise they might find that they are not being stretched enough due to the level of the class and are beginning to lose interest.
Angela’s Kip Tip
Don’t wait until the first parent’s evening. That could be a whole year away or longer! You will need to act quickly. If your child is in a class where the work is too difficult he/she will struggle and the situation is likely to get worse rather than better. If they have been placed in a good set and you are reluctant for them to be moved down, then you must get extra support and the sooner you act the better.
Ask to speak to the Learning Support Dept. or Year Head if you fear your child may have a specific learning difficulty. If your child has special requirements that teachers should be aware of (eg needs overlays because of dyslexia or should wear glasses in class) check that the information has indeed been passed on to all the teachers. Schools are busy places and teachers are bombarded with information. Things do get overlooked so take steps to check that arrangements are in place.
Make sure your child can see the board and that there is not a problem with eyesight. Book an eye test if necessary. If the class is noisy, suggest that they sit as near the front as possible so that they can hear the teacher.
Still Have Concerns?
If you continue to be worried, phone Kip McGrath for a no-obligation discussion and free assessment. At our Musselburgh Tutoring Centre in Edinburgh we have a team of fully qualified and experienced teachers who use their skills and expertise every day to help children achieve their full potential. We are always happy to help and peace of mind is only a phone call away. Subjects such as maths and foreign languages are linear and it is best to nip problems in the bud as soon as possible. It’s amazing what can be achieved with just a few months on the Kip Programmes.
The October break will soon arrive and your child will have settled in well to their new school. Making the transition to secondary school is a big step for the entire family but one to be embraced and celebrated. A whole new future is opening up. Exciting subjects to learn, foreign trips to go on, lots of new people to meet and talents to be uncovered. Enjoy Secondary school everyone and the very best of luck!