All over the country mums are busy sewing on name tapes and buying school shoes, slippers and trainers. Dealing with the practicalities of getting ready for boarding in September is easy, but how can parents prepare their child so they feel reassured that they have the skills and independence to thrive, when away from home for the first time?
Make contact with other parents whose children will also be joining the school as new pupils and invite their child over a few times between now and school starting. Even if they are not in the same house or class, it will be a familiar face to bump into during break and sit with at lunchtimes, until new friendships have been formed.
Find out from current parents what is ‘cool’. For example, if it is considered cool to be dressed in uniform from the second hand shop, try not to buy shiny new from the school outfitters. This could save you a bit of cash anyway!
Ensure your child has everything that they will require from the school kit list. It can be very upsetting to get into trouble in your child’s first few weeks if they do not have rugby boots, hockey stick, laptop or a calculator.
Talk through in advance with your child the fact that they may feel homesick and agree a strategy as to how you might deal with this together. Discuss which staff at the school are there for them to talk to if they are feeling low and how to find them.
Talk about their new school over the summer holidays. Look at the school website and joining pack together and help them to decide which extra-curricular activities they will take part in and how they will sign up for these. What sports teams will they aim to get into and what musical instrument, drama lessons etc will they engage in?
Look at the map/plan of the school site and help them to learn where everything is. Getting lost on the school campus when trying to find a science lesson for example can be a trigger for homesickness.
Give your child small experiences of independence. Let them take the bus into the local shops alone or meet up with their friends. Encourage them to understand the importance of being on-time and keeping to time deadlines you have set, such as when to be home.
Senior boarding schools encourage independence and thinking for oneself so ensure that your child has practiced this before they go away to school for the first time. Encourage them to take responsibility for keeping their bedroom tidy, changing into clean socks, learning how to put on a clean duvet cover and to be responsible for keeping track of their valuables and belongings.
Try not to linger at school too long when dropping them off on the first day. Settle them in, help un-pack, say hello to the matron or the Housestaff, ensure that your child is busy chatting with a group of peers and make a discreet exit. The longer you stay, the harder it will be to leave.
Prepare yourself for a few worried weeks ahead. The best way to crack homesickness is not to call home too often so if you don’t hear anything, consider this good news. Frequent calls home in the first few weeks are not a good sign and should be discouraged. Try to remember your child will only call you in the few low times, when most of the time they are happily making the most of boarding school life.