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Making the transition from primary to secondary school

Your child’s move from primary to secondary school is a time of change — not just for the child, who may be more excited than anxious, but also for the parents, who may feel uneasy and concerned about what lies ahead

As a parent, you can play a huge role in how your child manages the transition from primary to secondary school. It is important to keep any feelings of anxiety to yourself; you want to encourage eagerness and excitement. This transition is a milestone for your child. They are growing and learning and are capable of new challenges and experiences. It is important to focus on that and to use positive language when discussing the move. If they consider starting secondary school as an exciting experience, rather than a fearful one, they are likely to find those early weeks far less stressful. One of the biggest changes for you and your child is the lack of familiarity with the new school surroundings, pupils, teachers and procedures. Coming from a classroom of about 30 students they have probably known for years, to an environment with 200 or more students in their year can be disconcerting. Feelings of anonymity can be common as your child goes from being a big fish (Year 6) in a small pond to being a small fish (Year 7) in a big pond.

Added to this, there is the new concept of having several teachers, changing classrooms from lesson to lesson, getting to know the timetable and where they have to be and when. There may also be new transport methods, new pick-up points, new bus timetables and more.
Feelings of nervousness and apprehension are very natural. However, there are many ways you can make all of this easier. First, work with your school. They may already be working with the secondary school and have a transition program in place. The new school may send students or teachers to talk to the primary school students. They will probably also have orientation days arranged where your child will be shown around their new high school.

Students in government secondary schools all participate in an orientation day. All government schools hold this orientation day on the same day — often the second Tuesday of December. The orientation day may include a school tour, meeting fellow students and teachers, and taking part in special lessons and activities.

Don’t hesitate to talk directly to the new school too. They may be happy for you to visit with your child on a second occasion, to walk unguided through the school and work out what is where. They may also have a buddy system in place where they will appoint a more senior student, who is confident and familiar around the school, to help your child during the early days of their enrolment. They will be able to meet face to face or chat by email, and can be a reassuring contact in a new environment.

Planning ahead can also build familiarity and confidence. On orientation day, take photos on your phone of where the child needs to go for certain classes. Sit down and discuss the new timetable and how it works. Laminate a copy for your child and keep one yourself so you can run through it with them each evening and check that they have what they need in their bag for the next day. Find out if any friends of the family, that your child is familiar with, go to the school. Ring them and arrange to reacquaint them with your child before the start of the new school year. This will provide a ready-made support system. If necessary, do a trial run of new transport arrangements so your child knows what bus or train to catch, where and at what time.

Greater academic demands may also be worrying for your child as there is a perceived increase in competitiveness in secondary school. Putting some time aside each evening to help your child establish good study habits during the first few weeks and months will pay off as demands increase in later years. Now is also the time to begin establishing a good working relationship with your child’s teachers. You may want to get involved with the School’s Parents and Citizens Association.

High school is also a period of great social change for your child; it is really important to keep the lines of communication open. Encourage your child to talk about their friends and help them establish or strengthen friendships and to resolve issues. Try organising out-of-school social get-togethers and outings. Invite friends to the house or organise to go to the park or the movies so that you get to know your child’s friends. Above all, remember your child’s journey to secondary school is a vital and natural part of their growing up.

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