September will be here before we know it. It’s tempting to put your head in the sand about how quickly the time has gone, after all, it probably only feels like moments ago that your child was starting reception but here they are facing the last day of primary school and looking forward to starting secondary school.
All kids are different: some have properly outgrown primary school and are desperate to get started in Year 7. They’re going to start at a secondary school that they wanted to go to and are moving on with their friends.
On the other hand, some kids will be the only one from their primary school going to a particular secondary school and are worried about whether they will make friends. Some are very anxious, still seem very young and are going to need a bit more help to make the transition.
So, here are my top tips of things that you can start doing now to help get your child ready to start secondary school. These tips are based on my experience of sending my two daughters off to secondary and the experiences of my friends.
1. Organisation. This is really key and absolutely the most important thing you can do to help your child get ready to start secondary school. Year 7 is the first time that your child is going to be expected to get themselves organised. My two daughters certainly found that after a week or so grace at the beginning of term, the teachers really came down hard on missing books or PE kit to try to get the kids used to the discipline of organising themselves.
Now’s the time to start teaching good organisation habits so that it won’t be such a major shock when they actually start secondary school. Encourage your child to start thinking for themselves about the things they need to take with them to school or for a day out and to pack their own bag.
This comes naturally to some kids and takes a lot more practice with others. You might have to give a lot of help to start with but the aim is to gradually reduce the amount of prompting. Sometimes, you have to let them get it wrong in order for them to learn – getting soaking wet because you forgot to bring a coat is a good reminder!
2. Independence. Every child is different. Some Year 6 kids are very independent already. They perhaps have been walking themselves to school for a while or going to the local park to play with friends without you. Some Year 6s haven’t had that opportunity; maybe they don’t live within walking distance of their school (a particular issue in rural areas) or simply haven’t been ready.
When they start secondary school though, many kids are going to need to walk or cycle to school or get themselves to a bus or a train. So now’s the time to start encouraging them to become more independent and gain experience of taking responsibility for themselves.
Perhaps they could walk to a friend’s house and return at an agreed time. Perhaps they could pop to a local shop for a pint of milk and some sweets. Could they practise the walking route to school a few times to increase their confidence?
3. Practice talking to adults that they don’t know. This is an absolutely key life skill that all children are going to need when starting secondary school. It’s going to be a long slog if they aren’t confident enough to speak to the teacher or ask a question at the office.
Again, now’s the time to start practising. Find every opportunity to encourage your child to ask for help in a shop or order a drink in a café. If your child is really anxious about it, practising the scenario beforehand can be really helpful.
4. Road safety. Hopefully, road safety is something that your child has been learning since Day One but starting secondary school might be the first time they are going to be out without adult supervision. It’s worth checking that they can cross the road safely particularly if they are going to have to negotiate busier main roads as part of their route to secondary school. 24% of those killed or seriously injured on our roads are under the age of 16 and the prime time for accidents is 3pm – 6pm, walking home from school time.
Ask them to talk you through a safe place to cross and chat about the dangers of rushing across the road, crossing behind a parked car and stepping out without looking (particularly with the increasing numbers of electric vehicles). Read our tips for staying safe walking to school.
5. Mobile phones. I know this one is controversial! Most parents worry about giving their child a smartphone and it can be very tempting to just buy a ‘brick’ phone for calls and texts only. But a smartphone has many advantages.
Many secondary schools use an app to set and track homework and in my daughters’ school, devices are sometimes used in lessons for quizzes, accessing online textbooks or individual research. WhatsApp class groups can be very useful for your child to check with other children what’s needed and for arranging social activities outside school. Plus, with many smartphones, you can track where your child is and what they are doing.
Certainly at our primary, it was pretty usual for kids to have their own mobile after Year 6 SATs. The general feeling was that the children could have several months of very close supervision from parents to ensure that they knew the rules and appropriate use was being reinforced. I certainly wouldn’t suggest buying them a fancy model until they’ve proven they can take care of it!
6. Practise tying a tie and shoelaces at speed. This is an absolutely vital skill for dressing quickly after PE! Most state primary schools have a ‘polo shirt and sweatshirt’ uniform combination, so starting secondary school is the first time many children have come across a tie. They are not the easiest thing to learn to do so make sure your child has plenty of practice across the summer holiday. Again, if your child is used to shoes with Velcro fastening, shoe laces can present a bit of a challenge especially when you need to tie them quickly.
7. How to use a bank card. This is another core life skill that I’m ashamed to admit that I just assumed my daughters would know how to do. It transpired that it wasn’t as obvious to them as it was to me! It wasn’t just showing them where to tap the card but also a reminder about checking the amount that you’re going to be charged to make sure it’s right. Not all schools use a card system - many have moved over to fingerprint scanners but the principle of checking the total still applies. And when your child suddenly says, ‘Can I go into town with Jo on Saturday?’, at least you know they’ve had a practice. And the same applies to tapping in and out with travel passes – don’t assume they know what to do!
8. Discussion about healthy eating. Starting secondary school suddenly opens up the world of buying what you like from the school canteen. An ongoing discussion about healthy options and a balanced diet might be a good option if you think your child is going to go mad with chips, waffles and donuts!
Top tip from me: don’t load their account up with much money in one go. I set a weekly budget for my girls and told them once it was gone, that was it for the week. It didn’t take them long to work out that spending it all on Monday and Tuesday meant making your own sandwiches for the rest of the week. I know it’s a pain having to keep adding more money but at least they can’t blow a huge amount in one go, buying treats for all their new friends.
Don’t forget that all children are different. Some are very ready to start secondary school and will be ready to go before you’ve properly got your head around it, while others still have a lot of growing up to do over the summer holidays to be ready. Hopefully these tips will be useful - let me know if I've missed any out!
Other articles you might find interesting:
- Choosing a backpack for secondary school
- The invisible child: tips for children walking to school
- 5 reasons why Futliit makes the best LED backpacks in the UK