Jo Rowe is getting ready to send her third child to secondary school. And it’s not just about uniform and stationery.
I am surrounded by heaps of yet-to-be-labelled school uniform. Pens and protractors have been bought; the mobile phone has been set up and I have walked the route to school. My son starts secondary school in one week. Finally, after numerous trips to town, we have everything.
The first time I prepared one of my children for secondary school, I went through all this; the fear and nervousness, the endless labels. I am somewhat a pro now, as I get ready to send my third. I have learnt though, that the preparation isn’t just about the “stuff” you need, or even the organisation or the independence. There is so much more.
You see, secondary school is an alien place full of hormones and lost people. It is a place of discovery and pushing boundaries. It can be a fantastic experience and our kids can love their time, but it isn’t easy to transition into all the freedom and independence.
So at the beginning of the summer, I compiled a list of all things my son needed to feel equipped and ready for secondary school. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it was a starting place, a launch board for conversations:
1) How to write an email to a teacher.
I have been surprised by how many emails my kids need to write to their teachers. It wasn’t really a “thing” in my day. But kids are often used to text speak, they have communicated with one word and emojis and I discovered that mine didn’t know how to write a respectful email to a teacher, with the right tone and phrasing. We also had chats about frequency and formality.
2) How to introduce yourself to people on the first day and some conversations to have.
My daughter reported that kids in year 7 had no idea how to make friends. She said that they tended to stand around with kids they knew, leaving some standing on their own. We had chats about conversation starters, questions to ask and a plan to be friendly. For my daughter, who is a little more introverted, we discovered that a tennis ball and a pack of cards were great ice-breaker items!
3) How to manage phone numbers, WhatsApp and contact details.
My daughter made the mistake of giving her number to everyone in the class on the first few days. Within a few weeks she regretted it. She had, unknowingly, been drawn into drama and nastiness that was difficult to extract herself from. We have talked about managing contacts and how to leave groups and ask for help.
4) “What if…” scenarios and some solutions.
Walking to school, homework, timetables and social situations; all new concepts to get their head around! We have spent some time thinking about some “what if…” scenarios so that Tobias feels equipped in any situation. We have talked about forgetting lunch, losing a phone, forgetting homework, bullying, how to talk to teachers etc
5) How to remove yourself from tricky situations.
We have a code; if one of our kids messages to say they have an earache, we pick them up no questions asked! You see, sometimes our kids need to know that help is just a call or text away!
We have also talked about pornography, photos, videos on phones and how to extract yourself from tricky situations with grace!
6) How to ask questions well.
Asking questions in school is so not cool! Putting your hand up, asking for help, none of it is easy. We have talked about the importance of leading. My girls have experienced taking a lead in asking questions. So often, in asking questions you have helped others in the class that were too afraid. We talked about adding your strength and being brave being a godly way to live.
7) New words!
New vocabulary is coming at our kids all the time. Whether it be vernacular phrases, definitions of orientation or just old fashioned swear words, we have talked about the importance of chatting about language and understanding how and why it is used. I don’t want my son learning from google, so we have an open door policy on vocab!
8) Watching out for offence
Teenagers (and adults, come to think of it!) love to be offended! Offence can be used to unite and help people feel like they fit in. Nothing creates comradery like a shared enemy! It can be so easy to pick up offence that isn’t yours at secondary school. This leads to gossip and division. We have had lots of conversations about dealing with offence quickly and watching that we don’t get drawn in. we have also talked about avoiding gossip.
There will be so many other conversations that we will have as the school year progresses and issues come up. I know that there will be conversations I have forgotten to have, and probably something I have forgotten to label(!), but I think the most important thing is to empower our kids to be solution finders. It is so tempting to fight their battles, do their homework, pack their bags, and protect them from everything, but actually that teaches our kids that the world is scary and that they aren’t fit to deal with it. I want to empower my kids to be able to find solutions, or ask for help if they can’t, so that they feel that they can take on secondary school life and thrive there.