Got a not-so-little one starting high school next year? Can you believe it? Do you remember their little hands clinging to you at school gate on their first day of Kindy, tears running down their eyes – and probably yours too? Starting high school can be an exciting time for your child – there are new friends to make, activities to try and possibly even exciting things to learn (shhhh don’t tell them that). But for some kids, after years of getting the hang of their primary school, transitioning to Year 7 – if even in the same school – can be nerve-wracking. If you’ve got a child who’s taking the leap into ‘big school’ next year, we’re sharing a list of tips and advice from teachers and experts to help you support your child transition to high school with ease.
The move to big school can be daunting for some kids and to help make the transition to high school as pain-free as possible, most secondary schools will host orientation and transition programs for new students to help them meet their future classmates and teachers. In addition to attending these orientation events, here are some extra tips to help your child feel more comfortable with their new learning environment.
💡 If available, get a map of the school and look over it with your child locating landmarks they’ll need to know such as the school office, assembly hall, classrooms, toilets and eating area
💡 Let them know that it’s okay if they get lost and practise conversations they can use at school to seek help if they need it
💡 If your child’s school offers a ‘buddy system’ with senior students, encourage your child to connect with their buddy so they can get an ‘insider’ view on how to navigate their school (see Tip 4 below for more ideas).
If there’s a new school route and public transport to figure out, parenting resource raisingchildren.net.au suggest doing a trial run together to help build your child’s confidence and make the transition to high school that little bit less daunting.
💡 Find copies of their bus and train timetables so they can carry a hard copy in their bag, or download these onto their device – talk them through how their route works, how long they should allocate to get to the bus stop or train station and any nuances along the route – for example differences in the number of stops provided by the express bus vs the regular one and what this will mean for their journey time
💡 If the school provides a private bus service, do a walk-through of the route to the bus stop and, as above, discuss the timetable and how much time to allocate to arrive at their bus stop on time
💡 Practise travelling to and from school together so they can become familiar with the route and landmarks along the way – you could plan this as a holiday excursion and get lunch at a nearby cafe
💡 If you plan to drive them to and from school, show them where the pick-up and drop-off zones are
💡 Prepare them for unexpected events such as missing their bus or train – walk through a plan of what they should do if this happens, if they have a smart phone you can encourage them to call you if they’re particularly concerned
Cast your mind back to when your child started Kindergarten and you may recall receiving a list of items that the school suggested you prepare in advance – your child’s high school will provide the same. The list will typically include what books, stationery and equipment they’ll need so you can purchase these items prior to their first day.
💡Organise your child’s school bag and school uniform and encourage them to wear their new school shoes around the house so they can ‘wear them in’ before school starts
💡Unless you want that new school blazer or hat to go missing on their first week, label all their belongings! For more tips on labelling school clothes and back to school lunches, check out our Back to School Ideas article.
💡Make the new school item purchase a fun event – get your child involved in selecting their pencil case, stationery items, water bottle and other supplies and this will be something they look forward to every year
One of the biggest changes for primary school kids starting high school is navigating their new lesson timetable. Whilst your child may have attended specific classes like drama or sports in a different part of their school, chances are most lessons were taught in their ‘homeroom’ or main classroom. High school will mean attending lessons in different rooms with different teachers at different times – every single day! To help your child through this process, sit down and look through their timetable with them. If helpful, make copies of their timetable to keep at home and school. Also find out what time school starts and finishes and when scheduled breaks occur so your child knows what to expect.
Maxine Ostrzycki, a NSW Department of Education high school teacher, says most public schools have a peer support program to help Year 7 students settle into their new school. The program connects a Year 7 student with an older peer, usually a student from Year 10 or 11.
“Senior students love the opportunity to be a big brother or sister to their junior peers. Many remember what their first day of ‘big school’ was like and recall how important it was to have someone they could lean on,” says Maxine. “
“The seniors usually help new students by showing them their classrooms, explaining the ‘bell’ system, even identifying teachers. As for new high schoolers, they love the idea of having an older buddy. Even if most will work things out for themselves, having that older peer as a ‘safety net’ person who they know they can call on informally, gives them the reassurance they’re not alone.”
By the time your primary school graduate starts high school they’ll no doubt be familiar with regular home work and assignments so you may already have a study space set up for them. If not, now’s the time to find somewhere quiet and comfortable in your home, ideally away from distractions like the TV and play area, where they can focus on their study. With their homework likely to increase in high school, they’ll need to manage a heavier and more complicated study load, so having a quiet space will help them adjust to their new study and homework responsibilities – not to mention getting those assignments completed on time!
If your child will be using a laptop or internet connected device frequently, online safety experts recommend kids use these devices in an area where they can be discretely monitored. So whilst they’ll need a quiet place to study, consider situating laptops and devices in a more central area where you can keep an eye on the content. If you’re wondering how to set up a tech appropriate space in your home or how to manage device use amongst your tweens and teens, you might want to consider speaking with a cyber education expert such as Jocelyn Brewer from Digital Nutrition in Burwood. An experienced psychologist, Jocelyn can also provide coaching on how to talk to teens about ‘tricky topics’ – and don’t well love those convos!
Most parents will be familiar with parent-teacher platforms such as ClassDojo and Google Classroom and your child’s secondary school will offer a range of communication channels for parents to stay in contact, including social media, emails and parent portals. Consider following your school and the Department of Education on social media so you can keep up to date on any new developments in this space. You might also find some informal parent forums, run by other parents in the school, that will help you connect with other mums and dads. If you weren’t active on these platforms during your child’s primary school years and felt a bit overwhelmed by the constant stream of updates, don’t despair – just being part of the group and keeping an eye on key events might mean the difference between sending your child to school in uniform or in mufti!
High school will create a whole new world of scenarios and events for your child to navigate so get the ball rolling by talking to them about how they can manage different situations so they can remain safe. Discuss what they should do if they miss their bus or train, get lost on their way to school and who will pick them up if you’re not able to collect them from school. Also cover crossing major roads and how to respond if a stranger approaches them.
Do you get the sense your high schooler-to-be isn’t excited about starting school? This isn’t uncommon – many pre-teens face anxiety about leaving the familiarity of their primary school and often worry about fitting in and making new friends. In fact, according to NSW Department for Education high school teacher Maxine Ostrzycki making new friends ranks top amongst the concerns of new high school students, especially amongst girls.
If your child has friends from primary school attending their high school, teachers like Maxine still suggest encouraging them to expand their friendship circle, including older students who can mentor them. Not only will this help them to grow, but diverse friendships can give them a better understanding of different people’s lives and help them to better manage the ebb and flow of their friendship bonds.
So what to do if you have a worried child? Online Parenting resource experts raisingchildren.net.au suggest talking with your child about what they’re most looking forward to and what they’re worried about.
💡 Actively listen when your child shares their feelings and worries about secondary school
💡 Reassure your child that it’s natural to worry about going to secondary school.
💡 Encourage your child to look at the positive side of the move to secondary school. For example, you could highlight the new extracurricular activities your child could try.
💡 Talk with your child about keeping in touch with old friends and making new friends.
💡 Share your own high school experiences or the experiences of friends and family.
If your child is still feeling anxious, consider connecting with experts like clinical pyschologist, Anna Cohen from Anna Cohen & Co, Balmain, who specialises in family counselling and helping kids and adolescents manage their anxiety and better regulate their emotions.
This article has been produced with content sourced from the Raising Children Network, the QLD Government’s Spark Their Future site and the NSW Department of Education.
Do you have a child already in high school and have some tips to share on how to help new students make the transition to high school a bit easier? Leave a comment below – we love sharing insider tips from amongst the mums in our community.