By Helen Lami, course director of Academic Summer
Beautiful buildings, the chance to forge lifelong friendships and a varied curriculum – minus the charms and herbology lessons: some of the similarities that British boarding schools have with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Unlike Harry’s journey to Hogwarts, getting ready to go to boarding school for the first time should be a lot less daunting than trying to find platform 9 ¾. Based on my experience of running residential summer camps, here are four top tips on helping your child get off to a flying start:
- Make the new school familiar
Take every opportunity to visit the new school with your child such as taster days / intro weeks to help new students get used to the idea of boarding. This is a great way of introducing your child to other kids starting at the same time. In between visits, look at brochures and the website to help your child feel part of their new school community.
- Find out about support for first time “boarders”
Find out how your chosen school supports children who are boarding for the first time is there a buddy system for example? Also look at how the school handles homesickness and contact with parents including their policy on mobile phones. This can be one of the biggest worries for new boarders, so have a strategy in place.
- Test the waters beforehand
Many boarding schools require children to sleep in dorms which can be a big step for children used to sleeping alone. Give your child plenty of opportunities in the run-up to boarding, to spend time sleeping away from home in a shared space with other kids. These could include simple sleepovers, scout or guide camps or residential summer camps which offer a host of fun leisure and learning activities. Get feedback from sleepover parents/ camp leaders on any issues that arose; such as homesickness or friend difficulties, and how well your child handled them.
- Don’t forget the home comforts
As the first day at boarding school approaches, encourage your child to bring school approved photos, cushions and cuddly toys to help bring that feeling of being ‘at home’ to their new sleeping quarters. Make sure their phone is charged and they have a spare charger kept somewhere safe. And don’t forget the all important tuck box containing their favourite treats. When you drop them off for the first time, try not to stick around too long as it can prolong the goodbye and prevent them from throwing themselves into the experience. Where possible, during the first few weeks make sure you are just a phone call away while your child is settling in.
If your child is likely to struggle with being away from home, some schools offer flexi-boarding for one or two nights a week which could provide a stepping stone to weekly or full-time boarding.
A little preparation, communication and positivity and your child will take to boarding school life in no time!