The Transition to High School: Survival Skills

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The transition to high school from primary school is a major change for children. High School is quite a different ball game to Primary School – it is generally 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 and 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.

Getting ready for high school with colour-coding

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.

This is a step in getting ready for high school that is really easy to do at home.

Start off by selecting 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. Getting ready for high 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 and book packs 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

Getting ready for high school at home means prepping a comfortable and productive study space. 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 and working space, this is all that is necessary when getting your little one ready for high school at home.

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. Getting ready for high school involves compromise and planning from all members of the household.

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.

Find the best way to travel from home to school

This tip is less about getting ready for high school at home and more about simply getting ready for high school.

The process of getting from home to high school can be a little daunting for new students. If your teenager is getting to high school by train or bus teaching your child to read a train or bus timetable is a valuable skill.

You can go online and print off the journey, instructions, train and bus times as well as other route options all on the state pubic transport websites.

If your child will have access to a smart phone, there are wonderful apps 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.

Get ready for the first day of high school by performing a practice run. This way you will know how they’re feeling, you can talk them through getting on and off trains, tapping their transport card and memorising the steps they’ll need to get to and from high school.

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. Remember that getting ready for high school involves every member of the family.

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.

Sleep routine

This tip for getting ready for high school at home simply can’t be embraced in the school yard, obviously, but it will make a huge impact.

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.
Shopping

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.

Fears about high school

It is common for children to have fears about high school. Fears usually fall into the following categories.

  • Schoolwork and homework such as worrying about not being able to understand what the teacher is saying in class, too much homework (and it’s too hard), not being able to do the work at all and feeling insecure about asking teachers questions or asking for help.
  • Social aspects such as making new friends, being teased or bullied, being bashed or physically hurt by other children, looking stupid or silly in front others and doing or saying something embarrassing.
  • High school structures and routines such as getting lost on school grounds, arriving late for class, asking strangers for directions, not being able to read the timetable, not knowing what books or materials to take to the next class and not knowing which class to go to for the next lesson.
  • Parental/ familial expectations such as not doing well at school, hating school, looking stupid and not doing as well as their sister or brother.
  • Myths and legends (stories about initiation rituals, teachers, neighbouring schools and other children) such as having your head put in the toilet while it is flushed and stories about mean teachers and principals.
  • Teachers and discipline such as getting into trouble during class, getting detention and scary teachers or not liking teachers.
  • Travel to and from school such as missing the bus or train, catching the wrong bus or train, getting lost, asking strangers for directions and being late for school.

Fears and anxieties can present themselves in many different ways. Children may have butterflies in the stomach, headaches and nausea or may sweat excessively. They may also be agitated and get the shakes. We suggest that you to talk to your child about how they cope with anxiety and what happens to their bodies when they worry or feel nervous.

By talking about some of these concerns in advance, you can help your child build confidence and mechanisms to cope before the first day of school.

Practical questions for your child entering high school

Here are some prompts for discussions with your child to talk about real things that happen at school and what actions can be taken.

  • You’re 10 minutes late for class. The teacher has already begun her lesson. You are standing outside about to walk in. What will you do and say?
  • You’ve arrived at maths class and realise that you’ve brought the wrong textbook. What is the best thing to do?
  • You miss your train and arrive 20 minutes late to school Describe what action you could take?
  • You hop off the train and realise that you’ve left your jacket on the train. What could you do?
  • You arrive home and realise you have left your geography textbook at school. You need it to do your homework. What could you do?
  • You are trying to complete your homework but you feel confused about what it is really asking you to write about. What could you do?
  • You feel anxious because you don’t understand what the science teacher is telling you. All the other students seem to understand. Who could you talk to?
  • You arrive at school and realise you’ve left your English essay at home. It is due today. What can you do?
  • You’ve attempted your maths homework but have been unable to get the answers correct for the first five questions. Should you continue? What other plan do you have?

Positive aspects of the transition

The transition to high school is not necessarily stressful all the time. There are many positive aspects associated with this very important time. Your child may feel or experience some or all of the following:

  • excitement,
  • increased motivation,
  • keenness to meet new people and make new friends,
  • more independence,
  • happiness because they know other children or adults at the school,
  • identify themselves or be identified by others as an adolescent and not as a child, and/or
  • a keen desire to become involved in more extra curricula activities such as sport and social outings with friends.They may also like the school they are attending and the new teachers.

How can you help your child?

  • The first way you can help is to be organised yourself. It will help you stay one step ahead in the transition process.
  • Make sure you set routines for your child. It may help to develop and write down before and after school routines with your child so that they know what to expect once they start high school. These routines may include set times for homework, chores and breaks. It may also be helpful to put this routine up on the wall above their study area.
  • Encourage your child to talk about their thoughts and feelings, especially in relation to their fears about high school. Listen to and acknowledge your child’s fears.
  • Do not dismiss how your child feels as it may only make your child feel worse. Talk about your own experiences (if you can remember them).
  • Encourage your child to discuss any potential fears or problems and think of ways to solve any causes of anxiety. Making sure your child practices going to and from school should go a long way towards alleviating anxiety about travel and its potential problems.
  • Go through all the possible problems you can think of and discuss options for what to do it they happen – it all helps in preparing your child.
  • Talk to your child about how they cope with anxiety and feeling lousy and what happens to their bodies when they worry or feel nervous.
  • Encourage your child to take up relaxation techniques or offer other suggestions. Ask them what sorts of things make them feel better.
  • It is important that your child has different and creative ways of dealing with stress. It may be helpful for you to participate in these activities in order to foster appropriate role modeling as well as providing practical support.
  • Relaxation techniques can include meditation, listening to music, aromatherapy, massage, yoga, visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation, walking the dog, dancing or having a bath. The key to relaxation techniques is that they are practiced daily and in a quiet and safe environment.

Communication is the key

  • It is important that your child feels that he/she is able to tell you if they are not coping with high school.
  • You can encourage your child to talk to you by making time available to just be there for them, praising them often so that they feel good when they are with you and talk about your fears to them.
  • Encouraging a positive attitude can be very important. Encourage your child to develop positive thinking and self-talk about themselves, others and high school.
  • Look at your own expectations of your child. Do you have unrealistic expectations or pressures? Ensure that your expectations of your child are clear and reasonable.
  • It’s not always easy in this fast-paced world where many families have two parents working just to repay the mortgage. Parents are people too and need their own down time and their own safe haven.

Above all, prepare both yourself and your child.

A little preparation before the important transition to high school can make the difference between a very hectic and stressful Year 7 and a smoother transition coping with the little hiccups that are a normal part of everyday life.

Supporting your child’s learning in High School work and expectations are different in High School. ‘Study’ and ‘Essay’ are new terms for your child. Children often confuse homework with study and may benefit from being taught how to study (take notes, review work, complete practice questions). The process of structuring paragraphs and essays will be covered in School, however your child with Learning Difficulties will need more time and support to master this. It is recommended you consider enlisting the help of a teacher for extra support early in High School to maximise the chances of success.

Letter of Introduction

If your child has learning difficulties, you have an extra task to do before your child starts high school. It is wise to prepare a teacher information sheet about your child and make 10 copies.

Personally hand this sheet to each teacher and the year coordinator so they all understand your child’s special needs. A one-page summary is all that is needed and give a full report to the school office, mentioning that it is available to all the teachers if they would like to read it.

An example of a summary sheet is included here.

Susan Smith

Date of Birth

Address

Phone

Parent’s Names

Parent’s Mobile

Parent’s Email

 

Background History

Susan is the eldest of three children and has had her hearing and vision checked. She has been attending speech therapy for comprehension difficulties for two years and is also receiving maths’ tutoring once a week.

Assessment Results

Susan had IQ testing at the end of the last year (date) and the results found her to have below average verbal IQ but normal performance IQ – she will find oral instructions in the class difficult at times.

Susan was also assessed by a speech pathologist who identified severe difficulties with auditory memory and listening comprehension – she benefits from seeing instructions written down.

Other

Where possible Susan will benefit from being at the front of the room to improve her capacity for comprehension.

We’re happy to speak with you at any time about Susan, please feel free to ring us at work or send an email.

Susan and John Smith

Tips for Teachers and High Schools

 High school can be a difficult time for many children. One in every five children will have some sort of learning difficulty or disability, whether it is diagnosed or not. School rules can be flexible and considerate, while still ensuring that the school runs well.

  •  Lockers – many times children find that they cannot easily reach their locker and often those with higher lockers have to wait until the children with lower lockers have finished before they can access theirs. Careful allocation of lockers and reasonable access rules can help minimise problems. Small students should not be allocated lockers that are too high for them to reach. Children could be given an opportunity to make sure they can reach their locker and see into it prior to final allocation. Similarly, reasonably long access times, staggered times or perhaps a wide range of access times could be considered. This would take into account that in each set of lockers where there are three or more lockers in a vertical column, only a couple of children can comfortably access their locker at any one time.
  • Timetables – do timetables need to vary each week for children in Year 7? Could variety be kept for the older children? If variation is the only way of organising everyone, can variations be limited to a fortnightly cycle at least for younger children? If weeks are not the same, schools might like to consider making sure that the timetable has dates next to each week for the coming term. Even children without learning difficulties often struggle to remember which week is week two of a two-week cycle, let alone anything more complicated.
  • Coming to class with the wrong books – If a Year 7 child is continually coming to class with the wrong books, it is highly unlikely that they are doing it on purpose. Perhaps some careful questions might get to the bottom of the problem and have it solved in no time. If the child is too embarrassed to answer, perhaps a call to a parent might help. Don’t overlook the fact that even in high school, some children find reading difficult.
  • Instructions – some children find it hard to follow a series of instructions. Instructions given slowly and carefully sequenced might help children understand what they need to do. Children continually getting instructions confused could be approached to discuss possible solutions. Don’t overlook a potential learning difficulty as the cause of the problem.
  • Passwords – it is wonderful how much access children have to technology at school. Although long and complicated passwords may be desirable for security, it is impossible for children with learning difficulties to remember these passwords. They can spend lots of time trying to remember this, being locked out of their device or waiting for teacher assistance – all the while not actually completing the work you’ve asked them to complete. Consider whether an exception can be made to simplify the passwords for these students.

 

Emily’s story

Emily is a student with learning difficulties.

I have been working with Emily for many years, teaching her how to read, write, spell and master simple mathematics skills.When she was in Year 6 we contacted the high school and provided all the necessary paperwork – assessments, reports and details about previous intervention. The school was sympathetic and explained that they would monitor her progress during Term 1 before deciding on an appropriate course of action.

By the end of Term 1 Emily was at crisis point. She failed to turn up to one of her lessons with me so I phoned to find out why. Emily did not come to her lesson because she was on detention.

Emily is one of the most polite, cooperative and eager students I have ever met. I could not possibly imagine her being naughty in any of her classes. But she was not placed on detention for being naughty – she didn’t bring her books to class.

This seemed a bit extreme, so at Emily’s next lesson I began to talk to her about the issue further and nothing could have prepared me for the scope of her daily nightmare at school.  Emily cannot read her timetable effectively.

Her high school has a six-day timetable with Thursday being its own day every week. This means there is no continuity from one week to the next about the requirements of the day.

Monday in Week 1 is Day 1, but is not Day 1 again until Week 4. Because Emily cannot read her timetable she rarely has the correct books or materials for her classes.

After two or three warnings Emily started to get detention notes sent home for forgetting her PE uniform. Emily is a sporty girl and enjoys PE, but because she can’t read her timetable to know when she has PE she forgets her PE uniform and is placed on detention for it.

On a few of those occasions Emily has forgotten to go to detention and was not allowed to go on school excursions in Term 2. Initially I thought the timetable was Emily’s biggest concern. So I spent time helping Emily to read her timetable and recognise which materials were required for each class.

This is where the story became even more complicated.

Emily was also on regular detention from three of her other teachers. I could not understand this – we had taken what I thought to be all the necessary steps to adequately prepare Emily for High School, but there was a whole new story unfolding.

Emily couldn’t reach her locker at school and so can only grab the books she can reach after performing amazing gymnastic feats. This meant that even on those few occasions when Emily has read the timetable properly she might still not be able to take the correct book to class because she may not be able to reach it.

As we were talking about the barrier of physically reaching the books, Emily also mentioned she confused her books at times.

On the first day of school Emily was really organised and eagerly covered all her books and labeled them correctly using her three favorite rolls of contact. This means that some of her books are covered in the same contact.

This compounds the locker situation further as Emily not only has to reach the book, but distinguish which one is correct for the class by pulling them all down and reading the labels.

Emily wasn’t doing this (because she couldn’t) and instead grabbed the first one she could reach and took that one to class.

Her French teacher was not impressed by Emily’s solution to this difficult situation. Emily’s French and English books were covered in the same contact and were the same size. On a regular basis Emily would take her English book to her French lesson.

French was hard enough (that’s another issue entirely!) without having the previous pages to refer back to.

Emily would be reprimanded for not having her French book, had a note written to her mother in her diary because the homework she completed the night before was not handed in (it was sitting in her locker). She constantly struggled to complete tasks in class without the appropriate book.

The English teacher was a little more understanding, asking Emily to complete the work on scrap paper and copy it into her correct book for homework, commenting how beneficial the extra practice would be.

Emily left school each day with a bag filled to the brim with scrap paper of her days work (often unfinished), diary (useless) and a collection of exercise books (rarely the correct ones). She would get home and begin the arduous task of making sense of the mess in her school bag.

The end product was that each day’s work was not written in the correct book (so there was no record of the days activities when it came time to study for exams), homework was not finished completely (there were ramifications for this at school the next day) and the correct items for the next day may or may not have been packed back into Emily’s bag.

This cycle is horrific enough, but it continues.

Emily’s pencil case was not big enough to hold all of the items she needed for school, like her calculator and protractor set, so she had two pencil cases.   I challenge you to draw a circle or measure an angle without a compass or a protractor or try to take notes with a compass. Another problem!Emily is a great dancer and joined the dance troupe at school but was asked to leave after a term because she had only attended five rehearsals.

The reason for the missed rehearsals – Emily didn’t write them in her diary or wrote them on the wrong day so wasn’t sure when the rehearsals were on. The one aspect of high school that Emily would have enjoyed and excelled at was a failure for her as well.

This is a situation I would like to never see repeated again.

Many of these issues could have been avoided by some simple planning and negotiation with the school. This is what we did for Emily:

  • Emily has had her locker moved to an area where she can reach it and see into it easily.
  • Emily’s diary, books and materials have been colour coded. Every time she sees anything written in blue in her diary she knows she will need her blue French book, blue folder for class and will store everything in her blue box at home.
  • Emily’s mum goes through a checklist each evening to check Emily has the correct tools for the next day. It was simple but it worked. Emily can now go to school excursions again and has also been allowed back into the dance group. The dance teacher has written the dance rehearsal dates into Emily’s diary.

Emily doesn’t cry every morning – she is happy to go to school.

She has now begun to take the correct books to school and has not been on detention since.

 

While Emily’s story is just an example, it provides great insight into how some simple forward planning and preparation can make an incredible difference for children and their transition to high school – particularly those who have difficulties.