Taking The Leap
Moving from primary to high school means moving from a familiar environment, filled with faces you have come to know over seven years, to a new school building and a different routine.
Navigating the new
“The unfamiliarity of a new school and routine can cause unease and anxiety, especially when social connections are broken as children go to different schools or get placed in different classes,” says Rudrich Claassen, head of Grade 8 at Rondebosch Boys High School.
Another big change is that high school teaching is by subject specialists rather than subject generalists, which has significant implications for a child used to staying in one classroom with a main teacher who knows them well. “They now move from class to class to teachers who may take longer to get to know them,” says Claassen.
“At the end of each lesson, they need to adjust to the next teacher’s temperament and teaching style, as well as the significant jump in the quality and quantity of the work. We tend to underestimate how difficult this can be for young people who are most likely dealing with wayward hormones at the time, and often there is a knock-on effect into other aspects of their lives.”
Tracy Starke, head of counselling at Rondebosch Boys High School, says: “It is also exhausting for them to get used to tackling eleven or twelve subjects when they were used to six or seven.” There is also a significant jump in both the quality and quantity of the work required from Grade 7 to Grade 8. “Couple this with the constraints of subject teaching and a child does not have the same time to process information before having to adjust to something completely different,” says Claassen.
“A child may be struggling with a concept in mathematics. Then, when the bell goes, they have to move on to an English lesson where they must adjust to thinking about a comprehension, which is a completely different set of skills. The implications on a child’s perception of ‘coping’ with work are significant.”
Smoothing the way
Clinical psychologist Joanne Becker says: “Developmentally, Grade 8s are already feeling self-conscious and do not want to appear vulnerable in front of their peers. They can feel out of their depth in a new school and parents should find ways to help them feel that they have a measure of control.”
Get high-school-ready. Prepare them for their physical surroundings. “Make sure they know where the toilets are, what the bells mean, how their timetable works, and how their day will be structured,” says Becker.
Establish routines. Routines can ease the general disorder they feel. “Have a single place for homework and study, away from distractions,” says Claassen. “Help them to establish habits of being organised: keep work filed, have a calendar visible with significant dates clearly labelled, pack school bags the night before, and ensure they have consistent sleep times.”
Prepare them emotionally. Pay close attention to your child,” says Claassen. “You will know if they are struggling. Help them identify the issue and empower them to deal with it before you get involved.” Adds Becker: “Discuss their expectations and what they will do if they hit a wobbly. Help them create a toolkit of things they can do to stabilise themselves – perhaps exercise or gaming. Be a safe space for them; listen without judging or overreacting.”
Teach them to take responsibility. Preparation for this transition should begin long before Grade 7, says Starke. “Teach your children how to speak to adults, how to approach someone if they need help and that there are consequences to their action or inaction. It is up to parents to equip their children with the skills to manage the transition to greater independence.”