Mark Tomsett, head of boarding at St Andrew’s Prep, Eastbourne, shares his tips for planning ahead
Boarding at school offers children the chance to grow as individuals, both socially and emotionally. It also offers uninterrupted access to the school’s extracurricular activities, use of the wonderful facilities, a readymade second family and, of course, fabulous academic learning. But it is a big step for a child to move away so it makes sense to prepare them in order to be primed and ready to maximise on the experience. Here are my top tips on how to prepare your child for the big move:
The finer details
In the weeks before you drop your child off for their first night, spend some time looking at the school’s boarding booklet and website together, to help them gather as much information as possible. Look at a map of the school site and locate where the different facilities are; review the evening and extracurricular activities on offer and talk through the school’s sport, music, art and drama options. If your child is to be a full boarder, review the weekend routine in advance and check what activities are going to be laid on for them on Saturdays and Sundays.
Sharing a bedroom means more noise and more kit. Therefore, you might like to organise a few sleepovers (with the lights out!) to help your child become accustomed to sharing room space and to be tolerant of other children in their room. Your child’s current school might also offer flexi-boarding which could provide a stepping stone to weekly or full-time boarding. And, when it comes to décor, encourage your child to collate a few photographs and small items to personalise the area around their bed to make them feel comfortable and more ‘at home’.
From wake up to lights out, your child will follow a routine which will make life comfortable and easy for them, but it will be even easier if they are well prepared. Find the boarders’ routine in the boarding booklet and talk it through with your child. Do they know how to make their bed and can they change the duvet cover? Can they pack their own school bag? Routines help children flourish and provide them with practical skills for their lives ahead.
A familiar face is often all a child needs to relax. We suggest you make contact with the new school to see if there are any children living nearby, or from your child’s current school, who will be going to the new school too. If so, make contact with their parents and invite their child over in the run-up to the start of term so they can keep a look out for each other. Who knows, they might become lifelong friends.
It happens to all of us, young and old – so do explain to your child that there may be times when they miss their family, home, friends and pets, and that this is perfectly normal. When you drop your child off for their first night, we recommend you do not hang around too long and leave with the minimum amount of fuss. In order to help children settle, some schools have a minimum contact policy for the first few weeks. Others are more flexible. The key point is that every child is different. Generally, children like to know when they can next speak to or Skype home, so create a schedule which they can look forward to. You will always be able to contact your child’s housemaster or housemistress for updates on your child’s progress.
Tell your child that you have chosen this school because you believe that they will be safe and happy there, that they will make friends aplenty and that every member of staff is there to help and support them.