Surviving the Transition to High School (Part 1)

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By Dr Samantha Hornery, Education Manager.

The transition to high school is a rite of passage in life’s journey. I survived, you survived, other children have survived and so too will your current Year 6 child.

In primary school your child is well supported in a friendly environment where they have gradually become familiar with their surroundings, staff and routines.

Each morning for the last seven years they have lined up in the school playground after the bell rang, moved to one of the small selection of classrooms and spent an entire year with one group of thirty or so children and one teacher.

As the year passed, the class teacher became familiar with your family, knew about the sorts of things you did on the weekend and was sympathetic to the demands of your lifestyle. You might have been involved in reading groups in your child’s class, went on school excursions to the zoo and helped at the canteen. Primary school has been a safe and enjoyable environment for both you and your child.

High School is quite a different ball game – it is much a much bigger community and the personal touches are a bit harder to find. Over time your child will become familiar with the environment, staff and other students. Over time you too will become familiar with the school.

In high school your child will need to be able to follow a map, read a timetable, wear a new uniform, be responsible for a locker and key, work with many teachers (sometimes up to eight in one day), complete assignments and essays independently, travel to school and make new friends. Using and keeping up with technology has never been more important in high school than right now. There is no doubt high school takes some adjustment, and preparation is the key to a successful transition for your child.

High school is a wonderful place for your child to make new friends, learn new skills and eventually make important decisions about their career and future – they will enjoy it once they feel comfortable in their environment. Our goal here is to provide you with some strategies and resources to help your child’s transition run as smoothly as possible.

A story about a young girl called Emily and her transition to high school is featured in this article. Emily’s experience is worse than most and is not meant to scare you.

It was stories like Emily’s that encourage Learning Links to develop and successfully implement a transition to high school program, Moving On & Up. This still runs at our locations in the January school holiday period. Emily is a child who has difficulty learning. Her experiences should never have happened but she now has systems in place to allow her to really enjoy her time at high school.

This article will take you through some ideas to make your child’s transition to high school much easier. It will include tips on organising your child’s study space at home (the summer holiday is an ideal time), preparing your child for traveling to school, role playing the first day of school and troubleshooting some of the difficulties you may face.

Colour-coding for your child

It may seem a little strange that this receives such a prominent place in this article. It is here for a simple reason – one of the most important strategies for a successful transition to high school is colour coding your child’s life! (Well, maybe not their whole life but at least everything related to school.)

Lots of people are well organised and find it easy to make sure everything is in place. For many children, especially those who have difficulty learning, being organised is not something that comes easily.

A good idea is to select one colour for each subject your child is learning about at school. Cover your child’s books for each subject in the same colour paper (for example English books are all yellow, Maths all blue, etc). If you are able purchase or cover cardboard boxes for home in matching colours, your child can keep everything related to that subject in the same colour box at home.

If the school wants some books covered in clear contact, put a coloured piece somewhere on the spine. This can be removed at the end of the year when the book is returned to school but will help your child in the meantime. If necessary, tell the school that you are doing this to help your child become better organised.

Ask your child to write each subject’s name in their diary using the same colour pen that you used for covering each subject’s books.

In cases where your child is using a device rather than textbooks and workbooks, each device will have a way to organise files for easy reference and coloured electronic files can still be created.

This is a simple but effective method of helping your child stay organised and find things quickly.

Stationery supplies for school and home

You will need to help your child organise their stationery supplies for school and home. School supplies should be purchased as early as possible – try to avoid the newsagent the day before or afternoon of the first day of school.

Some high schools have a pre-packaged set of stationery you can purchase that covers your child’s needs at school. We suggest you contact your high school to check this option before buying anything as the package might be cheaper than buying the items separately. If you can’t afford the package, you can go to a discount store and put together your own.

If your high school doesn’t have strict requirements for stationery, your children can have fun selecting pens, pencil cases and other paraphernalia. Your child will need their pencil case stocked and a notebook for the first day of school.

For school, your child will need the following:

• pencil case – big enough to fit ruler and calculator,
• black, blue & red pens,
• liquid paper (not always allowed at School)
• post it notes,
• highlighters,
• calculator,
• other coloured pens,
• lead pencil, eraser & sharpener,
• coloured pencils, textas or zoom-type crayons,
• glue,
• scissors, and
• a set of mathematical instruments (set square, protractor, compass – check with your school).

If you are lucky enough to have been given a booklist for next year you can purchase these in the holidays and cover them before the year starts. If not, make sure you purchase coloured covers and contact before school goes back so you’re not scrambling to find ten different coloured wrapping papers at the last minute. Discount stores are a great source for cheap wrapping paper sheets and often have lots of plain coloured wrapping paper. Start your collection now!

Many schools provide their own diary for children and if not, you are required to have one anyway. It is worth phoning the school before the end of the previous year to find out whether a diary is supplied.

Your child’s home study environment needs to be well equipped. Ideally, you will need:

• all the equipment in your child’s pencil case,
• dictionary, (access either online or paper copy)
• thesaurus, (access either online or paper copy)
• atlas (access either online or paper copy)
• encyclopedia, (access either online or paper copy)
• library card for local library,
• expandable file,
• coloured crates or boxes – 10 colours are recommended,
• notice board for wall (half corkboard and half whiteboard with the corkboard for school notes and the whiteboard for quick notes and reminders),
• calendar to record term dates, excursions and assignment due dates,
• stapler and staples,
• hole punch,
• sticky tape,
• paper clips,
• rubber bands,
• coloured paper,
• plastic sleeves,
• display folders,
• sheets of cardboard, and
• spare printer cartridges.

Ensuring you have these items before the year starts prevents unnecessary stress and wasted time.

Your child’s home study area

There are two crucial aspects to consider when planning your child’s study area at home.

  1. The study area is a place where you will want them to spend a fair amount of time over the next few years, so it must be clearly defined as an area for study and designed in consultation with your child. Your child should have ownership over the area and feel comfortable in the environment.
  2. The study area can be one room solely for computers and study, a clearly separated section in a bedroom or a corner of the general living space – whichever suits your house and living arrangements. Pinterest is a wonderful source of inspiration and organisation ideas (be careful – it’s easy to become addicted!).

If your child needs supervision and prompting to complete work, you may find it more beneficial to create a study corner within ‘eyesight’. If distractions hinder your child’s ability to complete their homework, a separate room may be a better alternative.

Desks do not need to be large or cumbersome, as long as there is room for a computer (if you have one) and working space, this is all that is necessary.

Old wooden desks can be picked up at garage sales and painted up with a modern feel (even by your child) to create ownership of the area and space. You may also be able to purchase a second-hand computer (perhaps from a friend who is updating) that can run some basic programs and a printer – a simple word processing package can make a big difference in the presentation of assignments. Some computer programs are also available at reduced rates for students so don’t be afraid to ask.

Check the lighting in the study area – your child needs to see clearly and not become fatigued when working for a period of time.

In houses where there is only one study area and more than one person vying for this space, a timetable to indicate who gets to use the study space at various times during the afternoon and/or early evening can be useful.

Shops such as Ikea, Office Works, KiKi, Typo & Smiggle that have good organisation materials, with coloured boxes to store subject requirements and drawer systems to store stationary. Don’t overlook the local discount store – they may also stock these items.
Preparing for the first day

In the second half of each year, schools send in forms filled out by parents for students who qualify for a bus or train pass. If you are not sure if your child qualifies, contact the high school in early November to check and if still in doubt fill in a form and submit it to the school.

Most schools start in late January/early February each year so you will need to start special preparations about one week prior to the first day. The most important way of decreasing stress on the first day is to have a trial run trip to school.

To do this you will need to know the time the bell rings in the morning and train or bus timetables or a planned walking route to school.

Decide on the best way to get to and from school

If it is by train or bus (or there is an option to travel this way that might be used on occasion), teaching your child to read a train or bus timetable is a valuable skill.

If the whole timetable (usually a book) is too overwhelming photocopy the relevant pages and put a copy in your child’s diary or bag. It is ideal to arrive 15-20 minutes before the bell to allow for locker time and organisation. A late child will always be disorganised and may suffer discipline action as a result of that lateness.

If your child will have access to a smart phone, there are wonderful apps such as TripView that provide bus and train timetables with real time information regarding delays and track work.

Choose a train or bus that gets them to school with time to spare and that gives the child a couple of later options if they miss their first choice. For instance, if you have decided on an 8.00am train or bus, show your child that there are also trains and buses at later times (say 8.05am and 8.13am) that will still get them to school before the bell. This way they will not panic if they happen to miss the first morning train or bus (or it doesn’t arrive).

Explain to your child that trains and buses are sometimes late or cancelled and just because it comes at a different time than expected doesn’t mean it isn’t the right one. Tell them to ask if they are not sure by saying, “does this bus or train stop at (station or stop name)?”. Don’t forget to tell them whom to ask.

When you go to the train station or bus stop, show them how to buy a ticket in case they lose their pass. (It is a good idea to give them money to keep safe in case this happens.)

If your child is going more than a few stops on the train or bus give them a route map or train line map to keep in their bag. This way if they are chatting to a friend and suddenly panic thinking they have missed their station, they can get it out and have a look. (Most trains have announcers that tell passengers the next station.)

Teach them the names of the two stations before theirs so they know to start getting ready to get off.

If your child is going to a multi-platform train station (such as those at major suburban or city stations) and will need to change trains, it is an excellent idea to have a laminated route plan in their wallets.

The route plan could look like this:

Going to school
• Hurstville station – catch train from Platform 2
• Catch the 8.02 am or 8.12am train that stops at Redfern
• Change at Redfern and go to Platform 26
• Catch the 8.38am or 8.43 train to Strathfield

On your practice run go all the way to the school gate. This way you will know before the first day if you need to change their alarm and train or bus times.

Being too early for school can be a problem and if your child gets to school more than 20 minutes before the bell, it is a good idea to pack them a morning snack so they are not lethargic before their day starts.

If your child has an elder sibling you should still do this practice run.

It is important to physically stand on the place where they meet their sibling. A verbal description of their meeting place may not work because everything is so new. Photos of the trip can be taken and stored on the phone.

The meeting place may be next to the front gate or inside the school on a certain bench. If your child is travelling with a sibling or older friend, you should have an emergency plan that will avoid stress if the sibling or friend does not show up.

Have an emergency plan such as wait 15 minutes and if the sibling or friend doesn’t come, just go home. This also highlights the need for your child to know what to do without anyone else’s help.

From a parent’s point of view, it can be difficult waiting for a child who is meant to be home at 4.00pm and they have not turned up at 4.20pm. Protective instincts can kick in and you start imagining that they have had an accident when it’s just a late bus or train.

Negotiate a time range that you expect your child to be home – I expect you home between 4.00pm and 4.30pm.

This will help your Year 7 child avoid silly decisions such as running to get on a moving train or crossing the road when it says don’t walk, because they do not want to get in trouble for getting home late.

If your child is going to be more than 30 minutes late have a procedure they should follow. It will help them and you to stay calm.

Many parents like their child to have a phone when they go into Year 7. When this is the case, ensure all important numbers are stored in the phone and check your child can text and make calls.

If your child does not have a phone, buy them a $5.00 phone card for emergencies and put a laminated list of important phone numbers (such as mum and dad’s mobiles and a grandmother’s or close friend’s phone number) in their wallets. The list in hardcopy is good for everyone.

Do not assume your child will remember phone numbers when they are stressed or upset. Show them how to use the phone card and teach them about 1800 reverse. 1800 reverse can be used to make a phone call at any public phone without any money.

On your practice run, point out three or four public phones. Many train stations have them on the platform.

Buy your child a watch

It sounds simple but until high school, many children don’t bother wearing a watch or don’t need one. Suggest to a friend or relative that a watch might be a good present sometime in Year 6. High school children need to know what time it is especially before and after school. Although mobile phones have a clock, these need to be turned off during the day.

Other ways to prepare

Most high schools have an orientation day where your child meets their year coordinator or school counsellor.

Make sure your child knows where to find this person in the school – for example Mrs. Smith is found on the second level in the Math’s Department, room 213. This information should also be available by ringing the school before the previous year.

Your child should know that this is the person they need to see when things go wrong or they are feeling overwhelmed.

Finally, the night before the first day make sure your child has a good night’s sleep (or at least gets in to bed early to rest even if they can’t sleep) and spend some special time with them going over the ‘running of tomorrow’.

Sleep routine

During school holidays it is easy to fall into a late sleeping pattern.

You will not be doing your child any favours by sending their body into a state of shock on the first morning of school when you wake them up at 7.00am not 10.30am if they have slept in all holidays.

Start by making sure your child has an alarm and knows how to use it. They should be responsible for getting up and not rely on you to come in and wake them. Start at least one week before school and get them up every morning at the right time for school.

This may be too stressful or expensive for you depending on the relationship between your child and shopping, but taking you child grocery shopping so they can choose what they would like for lunch in the first week of high school is recommended.

This way, when they get to lunchtime in the first week they can eat something familiar and something that was their choice. The rest of their day might feel out of control and some comfort food at this time can work wonders.

Surviving Transition to High School Part 2 –

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