As school starts to wind down for another year, millions of children and teens across Australia are gearing up to begin primary school, secondary school or life beyond the school gates. It’s an exciting but also uncertain time – and emotions can run high. Luckily, schools excel in supporting students during this significant stage. This week on School Stream, we share anecdotal and evidence-backed strategies schools have found useful in supporting students.
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School can feel like a great unknown for children – and their parents
The transition from preschool or daycare to primary school is huge and while some children are excited about the big change, others feel very uncertain. Children worry about all kinds of things: making friends, whether they will like their teacher, getting lost, looking after their things, the long days and how they will learn all the school rules. These fears are completely understandable. But we can forget that for some parents and families, letting their children go to an unfamiliar environment where they will ostensibly be ‘on their own’ for the first time can be a challenge too. However, as we know only too well, schools need parents onside for the best chance at a successful start to school. Parents have a big role to play when it comes to their children’s education, and this includes preparing children for the move to ‘big school’. Most schools already have excellent orientation programs in place that bring parents along for the ride.
Schools find working with parents can help ease the path forward
Here are some tried and tested strategies that show how parents and schools can work together to support children starting formal education for the first time:
- Schools can explain to children where they are dropped off, where they will keep their school bags, where the bubblers are and how lunchtime and toilet breaks work. Communicating with parents and educating them about how everything works goes a long way towards alleviating worry. We know anecdotally that when parents know what’s going on, they can be clear and confident for their children. Studies confirm this too: when parents know how things work (at school) they have reduced anxiety, therefore reducing anxiety in their children.
- In the same vein, schools find encouraging parents to speak enthusiastically about school and keeping the focus on all the fun, new things they will learn is another winning strategy.
- Some certainty within an uncertain time is helpful too. Schools have found that parents have the capacity to provide some control when it comes to starting school. Even a little thing like letting children choose their own stationery, bag or the colour of their shoes (when uniform requirements allow) can feel like a big thing when you’re five years old.
- We all know the benefits of a good orientation program. Although COVID-safe practices may prevent parents from entering the school grounds in some states, schools are still excellent at keeping parents informed and getting children excited about school. In the words of a local school: “You cannot over-advertise the orientation sessions enough! It makes all the difference”.
- Schools find reminding parents to label all their children’s things to be an important step. Not only do children feel like their things are safe, but when things do inevitably get lost, they tend to make their way back to their owner.
From primary school to secondary school
For some children, starting secondary school (or high school, as it’s also called) with all the associated freedoms and opportunities can be very exciting. For others, it’s so daunting it may as well be The Hunger Games. Year six children are big fish in the small pond of primary school, and as new Year 7s, they’re starting all over again. When you think they are managing all of this change during adolescence, it is, as teenagers themselves would say “a lot”. However, teenagers and pre-teens are well prepared for the job of becoming autonomous and finding their own way, and secondary school is another step on the journey. Budding Year 7s can worry about following a new timetable with a number of teachers and classrooms spread across larger school grounds. Unsurprisingly, the number one worry for adolescents starting school is all about making friends.
Making the transition to secondary school: What have schools found helpful?
In most cases, schools have excellent orientation programs in place that help ease the way for a successful transition to secondary school. The following strategies have been described by schools as being particularly useful:
- Encouraging future students (and their parents) to attend orientation. As with students transitioning to primary school, familiarity with the school environment will go a long way to reducing anxiety – especially when school grounds are significantly bigger than what they are used to in primary school.
- Starting secondary school means there are a lot more exciting opportunities for students to pursue their interests. Schools find steering students towards extracurricular activities are a shortcut to embedding new students into the school community. Whether it’s the STEM group, chess club, team sports or drama group, activities like these provide a structured way for Year 7s to meet like minded peers while fostering a sense of belonging to the school.
- We all know firsthand how intense and socially complicated secondary school can be. Schools tell us that keeping an eye on stress levels and bringing in professionals who can help is a good idea when it comes to monitoring new students.
What’s next – Life beyond school
Transition doesn’t get any bigger than this. Leaving school is a key milestone and after 14 years of school, the question of “what next?” is on everyone’s mind. There are plenty of pathways through higher education for those who need a qualification before starting their intended career.
Higher education options: university or TAFE?
We know that students who hope to go on to university can feel anxious and burn out before Term 4, no matter how many times they are reminded “You are not your grades”. Schools find advising parents they can alleviate some of this pressure by reinforcing that most universities offer a range of entry options to suit all circumstances, including TAFE to University pathways. For students looking for applied, practical learning that leads directly to the workforce, TAFE could well be the answer.
We’d like to wish the very best of luck to all the teachers of children and teenagers off to primary school, secondary school, university, TAFE or the workforce.
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