“The process of adjusting to a new situation is known as a ‘Transition’” (Kamen, 2011:283) All through a child’s life, and then reaching adulthood, there will inevitably be changes. The transitions we can automatically think off include the process that children go through when they move through the education system, which generally begins when the child starts at nursery school. This incorporates the intellectual aspect of transitions, but still includes the vast array of emotions that can affect a young person. I have a personal experience in this subject as my child found it difficult moving up to secondary school and I feel it to be important that parents are made aware of the ways schools can help their children adapt to their new environment.
Usually, a child will begin nursery school at around the age of three. This can be an upsetting time for some children, because they may have developed a strong attachment to their parents at home, or with a carer or teacher at a nursery where they may have settled from an early age. They will be mixing with children they have previously not met, may experience cultural differences, and sometimes have to learn a new language. The time spent at school may seem very long and they may find it difficult to cope. Another obstacle can be the routine of school and the way different lessons and activities are conducted at certain times, or the requirement of learning, such as learning to sit quietly for short periods of time.
One of the most challenging of the transitional phases can be the change a child will undergo when moving from primary to secondary school. Some children approach this change with no problems and adapt extremely well. There are some big changes that young ones have to contend with. The school will no doubt be considerably larger than the feeder school they previously went to, so feelings can be overwhelming. They may feel more aware of now being the youngest in the school. They will also need to familiarise themselves with moving around the building far more as each lesson will usually be in a different classroom with various teachers instead of just one. It is very beneficial for a secondary school to provide good transitional activities, open evenings and induction sessions so that children can become accustomed with the new learning environment, teachers, new classmates and the building.
My children were fortunate enough to be educated at an excellent primary school that had very productive transitional activities like the ones above, so that when they started school they were both comfortable and happy. It’s a good idea to check what your child’s primary school does in this way.
Many children, especially in the UK, will be educated privately, which may mean that they will board at school for whole terms at a time and be away from their parents. This can be difficult for some children, as this form of schooling can start when the child is 5 years old. There are systems set in place at lots of private schools for the children and their families to meet with the teachers and adults who will be looking after them. Usually, these adults are called ‘House Mistresses’ or ‘House Masters,’ who will take care of their emotional and practical needs, and provide a first point of contact when liaising with the educators. Easy contact with parents is emphasised, to make the transition as smooth as possible.
When a child goes through these changes, emotions can be affected. Shyness can stop the child interacting with others, as they may feel quite nervous. They may also be feeling quite sad, if they have formed a strong attachment to their previous primary school, where they had established an important level of safety and security.
However, there are many positives that can come from the change as well. Some children become more confident, as they will have more opportunities to interact with adults and children as independent people. School can become more exciting and fun, because of the new and varied experiences, the the formation of new friendships, and so on.
“Encourage optimism and work with the excitement and opportunities in the lives of children and young people, as well as the fears and anxieties” (www.youngminds.com)
How can we, as parents, help our children when starting school for the first time, or moving from primary school to secondary? Firstly, children need the assurance that their parents give a listening ear to their concerns and fears. We can give examples of our own experiences changing schools, and try to dwell on the positive aspects and the many things they can look forward to. I found it to be very important to let my sons approach me at any time with her concerns. Some children lack self-esteem, and it is important that the staff at their feeder school pick up on this, so that they can be given encouragement and to be shown how important it is to be as positive as possible about their future experiences.
My kids had a positive transitional experience. I hope this article has given you some insight into what to expect with this aspect of your child’s school experience.
Kamen, T (2011)TA Handbook 3, London, Hodder Education
www.youngminds.com, Encouraging Optimism
www.boardingschools.com, Boarding in the UK