Change can be exciting or daunting or a mixture of both. One of the biggest changes that a child goes through is the change from primary school to secondary.
Over the course of eight years, they have worked their way up the ladder to become the senior students in their primary school. They are very familiar with their teachers, are typically given extra responsibilities and younger students look up to them. Then, over the course of two months, they find themselves being the youngest fish in the big pond of secondary school.
Some students will relish the new challenges and others will require support to varying degrees.
In the following paragraphs, we try to put together tips and tricks to cover the common areas to support the transition from primary school to second level education.
For some students, secondary school is the first time they’ll be regularly getting a bus/tram by themselves. If it is a private school bus, collecting your child from a designated spot from home, have the bus time somewhere visible like the fridge door. An alarm set five minutes before the due time can help to reduce the risk of your son/daughter running across the road in a last minute panic.
If they are getting a public bus, have multiple up-to-date time-tables! One on the fridge, one in the school journal and if the child has a phone, make sure they take a clear photo of it too. This could be kept in a particular folder in the phone’s gallery.
It would be worth doing a “trial run” before they go back to school so they are familiar with the route and which side of the road they need to be at. If the bus doesn’t stop directly outside the school, it might be an idea to go one stop further and work out the best way to get back, if they one day miss their stop.
If possible, get your child as familiar as possible with the physical school layout. Older siblings or neighbours might be able to help here by drawing out a map, if the school doesn’t provide one. Location of classrooms, toilets and lockers would be particularly useful.
Because each school day doesn’t necessarily begin in the same room, the time it takes to get to their first class will need to be worked into the schedule and may vary day to day.
Lockers at the edge and either middle row or top are generally the easiest to manage. Lockers will generally have been allocated before the new term begins so this is something to ask the school about when your child is still in 6th. If it’s too late for that, it might still be worth approaching the school early in the year to see if there’s something they can do.
Connecting with school staff
Get to know the secretary! They’re the ones who really run the school!
In primary school, your child will probably be used to dealing with a single or at most a small circle of adults per year. They’re now going into an environment where multiple teachers and SNAs deal with multiple year groups. Many secondary schools will meet with the 6th Class teacher the year before the child starts to get an insight into the children coming to their school.
Whether or not this occurs, a one page “bio” with a (very) brief description of their strengths, challenges and technology used could help future teachers to get an insight into your child.
Do not assume that just because a report was passed on that every teacher your child will have will be familiar with their individual needs.
One of the top tips we hear from parents is to familiarise yourself with the school staff. Respond to any school communication promptly. If the parent’s association are looking for volunteers, try to help out, even once. It will be remembered and appreciated. Establishing a good working relationship between school and home will make it much easier to iron out any issues that may crop up down the line.
Planning and organisation before school returns is vital here.
Do not expect to get everything done in one day. There can be a lot to organise and it’s important to take the time to do it correctly.
Colour coding subjects will help many students. Plastic mesh folders with a coloured zip can help to keep books and copies together. Alternatively, many shops with stationery sections such as Mr. Price or Dealz have multi-packs of tape in different colours/patterns. Sit down with each book and copy and put matching tape along the spines so they can easily be spotted in the locker.
A timetable posted in a prominent place in their bedroom can help them to organise themselves in the morning. It may be useful to adapt the timetable so that there’s a section for equipment needed, for example, Monday -PE gear, Tuesday- Science materials etc
A great tip from mother, Jackie Breen, is to tell your child to write something from each subject in their journal.
A common error students of all ages make is to assume they don’t have homework if they haven’t been given a written assignment. Often a teacher will expect the student to read a chapter of a book or review something done in class. Getting into the habit of writing a short note in the journal for every class can work well as a memory aid. An anxious child can take comfort in knowing that they’ve prepared as best they can for class.
Accessing Digital books & E-books
Accessing the course books on a digital format is a fantastic resource but there are a few hoops to jump through to get there. Each publisher has a slightly different path to access their material so my colleague, Ruchi, has put together this very detailed piece on what exactly is required for each of the Irish publishing companies. You can access that blog here.
Downloading and registering for each book will take time but taking the time to work through it over the summer will take a lot of the pressure out of those hectic first few weeks.
Have your child post a list inside their locker of what e-books they have at home to avoid the unnecessary carting around of heavy heavy textbooks.
After the hustle and bustle of a busy school morning, your child may need to have some quiet time. If they wish to be on their own at break time, or for part of break time, that is OK. Some students need that break to clear their head and orientate themselves for the next few classes.
That being said, a quiet word with a trusted older student such as a sibling, cousin or neighbour to “check-in” with them, could help allay any worries they have. The fine line between independence and having a functioning support system can be hard to tread but many schools have a student mentoring system where older students will “buddy up” with first years to point them to the right classroom where needed.
If you’re worried about your son or daughter making friends, encourage them to find out what lunchtime or after-school groups or clubs are available. If there isn’t one that they’re interested in, maybe they could set one up!
Mum, Áine Gahon suggests providing “big lunches and plenty of water”. The importance of a substantial, healthy lunch for helping concentration cannot be underestimated.
Problems will happen. Pencil cases will be forgotten, books will mysteriously disappear and PE equipment will be left abandoned at the front door. It is impossible to plan for all eventualities but it’s important that students know what support systems are available to them.
What trusted adult can they go to for advice or if they’re anxious about something? Maybe it’s an SNA or resource teacher. If so, does the child know where to find them?
If/when your child does forget a piece of homework or class materials, discuss their options with them. Owning up to the error at the beginning of class will generally go down better than a teacher having to find out for themselves. The student may still be given a consequence but clearing the air at the beginning of class will hopefully help the student to concentrate better without the additional worry hanging over them.
The transition from the protected world of primary school to the increasing independence in secondary school may seem daunting. Perhaps, even more daunting for you, as a parent, than for your child. However, it can also be an exciting time where teenagers begin to learn who they are as individuals and possibly figure out on what career path they might like to explore.
There will be highs and lows. There will be days where they feel invincible and days when it feels like nothing has gone right. First year in secondary school is an important time for parents to check in with their children on how things are going. You don’t necessarily have to be on hand with all the answers. A reassuring hug and listening ears can be the most valuable technologies the child will ever access!