It seems like only yesterday, when the daunting thoughts of three long months off school had me in a tizzy; and now, just like that, it's all but over.
Of course, now that it's over it seems like it all floated effortlessly on by, and all thoughts of any teenage/parental angst are nowt but mere illusions.
Now that the teen boy is doing a sailing camp this week, giving him a reminder taste of the early morning risings and the long days ahead, I'm seeing some time ahead for me too. More time for blogging perhaps?
I've also had time to consider the things I've learned, or happened across on my journey, that may help make surviving secondary school possible! I will stress that very few of the following tips have been tried and tested by us, but you may find them helpful. Some were 'taught' to me along the way and others I've included for my benefit. And no, I won't be revealing which is which!
- Buy the school books early on and let your child look through them in advance of going back to school, to help familiarise them and get them back into 'school mode.'
- Try to get your child to do some school work during the holidays, such as some basic maths from going through the above books, some writing and laptop typing. The latter can be turned into a fun project of their choosing. The very best of luck with this one!
- There's nothing like getting 'new stuff' to help your child get used to the idea of going 'back to school' , so bring him/her with you when shopping for uniforms, copybooks, instruments etc.
- If starting secondary school for the first time arrange with the school to have a tour just before school re-opens. Most schools are open the week beforehand and will be happy to organise this for you.
- If your child has sensory issues wash the new uniform a few times, ensuring to include lots of fabric softener and finish off the drying process in the dryer, in the hope of making it more 'wearable' for when school starts!
- Label absolutely everything, including pencil cases and instruments, especially for secondary school as the children move around a lot and often leave things behind, sometimes in the strangest of places!
- You can request level specific lockers in writing with some schools. Note: lower level not as ideal as it may sound! Get one of those stretchy key rings which your child can attach to his/her trousers or skirt. Also get 2 copies of the locker key; leave one in an envelope with your child's name on it with the Deputy Principal and keep the other at home. Combination locks are another idea but can lead to problems of their own... teenagers are very good at figuring out combinations ;-)
- Consider introducing a colour-coding system for text and copy books for each subject. Some people completely cover the books with paper in the chosen subject colour, others just put coloured stickers on the spines. You can also use clear see-through plastic folders for each subject if that further helps with organisation. Involve your child in this activity, let him/her choose the colours or what system, if any, he wants ;-)
- A see through pencil case can be a helpful organisation tool too. Make sure to have plenty of spare pens, pencils, rubbers, copy books etc at home.
- A whiteboard at home is a good idea to clearly display daily timetables and activities which can be colour-coded to match the school books. Again, involve your child in this. Alternatively you could re-type the class timetable on A4 paper, colour code it and have copies in your child's room, in their bag and one for inside their locker. You can of course use their interest in technology and use their iTouch/iPad or laptop (if they have one.)
- Keep the homework area clear of all clutter, removing all distractions such as toys, all gaming screens (including Xboxes!) and even patterned tablecloths. Perhaps have a basket or see-through storage box for books nearby? It's also advisable, they say, to have a second set of books for home. If your child has a diagnosis Folens may arrange for you to get, via your child's school, a copy of texts books already purchased from them, in CD-ROM format. They have ebooks now too so do give them a call. Good luck with this one too!
- Designate a 'go-to' place in the house where your child can drop his/her school bag on return from school each day, and return to later on to organise it for the following day. A rather helpful suggestion I read was a plastic box on the floor for the bag with a shelf above for books, lunchbox etc; and a hook overhead for his/her coat.
- If your child has a diagnosis and is getting resource hours you will need to consider whether or not to inform all teachers. This is a difficult one as you don't want your child to stand out or to be seen to be 'treated differently' - nor do you want to stand out as being the 'molly-coddling mum' ;-) Discuss this with the school's Special Needs Coordinator and consider any advice given by your educational psychologist. A solution may be to simply choose the main issues you think may manifest and let that discreetly circulate. Remember, your child's teachers have lots of pupils so they may miss any signs.... or mis-judge.
- Small group resource hours can be very effective in making a teen realise that they are not the only one getting 'extra help' - and can also gently encourage friendships.
- If you think your child may need a just-in-case 'go-to' person/teacher during the day then liaise with his/her Year Head who may be a helpful resource in this regard. Also, find and locate a nice approachable teacher - try a resource teacher - as a discreet 'go-to' person for yourself too ;-)
- While secondary school teachers put a lot of effort into helping First Year students settle in, they do not molly coddle or lead them by the hand! This is not primary school and is something your child will most likely pick up on pretty quickly! And if your child is out sick the onus is on him/her to catch up.
- There are lots of changes for the First Year Student to adapt to and one of them is studying for end-of-term exams. They really don't know where to begin in this regard, bless them! Luckily most of the text books are very well laid out, with revision questions built in to each chapter. You could offer to be a 'study buddy' for your child - if he/she will allow it - and quiz him/her at the end of each studied chapter. I see that Tesco have Study Cards on offer at the moment which may be helpful?
- Consider some extra-curricular activities, especially some that are school-based, to help with socialising and becoming part of a school team, and the school community in general. It doesn't have to be team-sport based. Perhaps archery, chess, golf or drama would suit? Martial arts, swimming or scouts outside of school can be wonderful activities too.
- A summer camp the last week before school starts can be very helpful in getting the early night and early rising routines back into place - it will help your child too! Do try to make sure you've bought all the necessary back-to-school items - like school shoes for example - before hand though..... Sigh.
- If your child loves his/her technology you can always put that to good use in encouraging time management skills. iPads have alarm clocks you know ;-)
- The nicest piece of advice I've read is to talk through going back to school with your child and to listen to their thoughts and concerns.
Remember, your teenager also wants to be one of the gang and to not stand out. They want to invoke their new found independent skills. They may not want you any where near, let alone in, the school or talking to any of their teachers. Unless of course they suddenly explicitly request you to do so - and then you'd best hop to it!
So, be ready to discard all of the above and any other plans you are considering, and to listen to your child. Be prepared to let.them.go. It seems that our job as parents is to stay a discreet two steps behind our teenagers as they independently lead the way. While simultaneously - and invisibly - being at least one step ahead, to gently nudge them back on track should they stumble along the way.
If you figure out how to achieve this then please, do tell!
The above list is not exhaustive so if you have any other suggestions to add then, please feel free to do so in the comments below.
I know a few children starting secondary school this year, especially one special cool dude, and another certain young man starting Second Year!
You know, they grow up so much during the summer break .... and sometimes they just surprise us.
The very best of luck to you and your child for the coming school year.
Note: If you're just behind us on the 'Road to Secondary' you might find my previous posts on choosing a school here and on the questions you might ask when choosing here helpful. Good luck!