Helping a child prepare for private school requires some understanding of the kind of transition involved: Is the child moving from public to private school? Is the child moving from home-school to private school? Is the private school also a boarding school, and if so, is the school far away from home?
There are certainly tips that can be applied to all situations, however, keeping these particular situations in mind will help ease the transition for all children in all types of scenarios. The following format gives three tips for each kind of transition:
1. MOVING from PUBLIC to PRIVATE SCHOOL: For the young person moving from public to private school, the biggest transitional feat will be to help your child understand that it is difficult to get “lost in the sea” at private school. Private schools generally have smaller class-sizes, so students get individualized attention, and teachers tend to be more patient (because they have less children to manage). This is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact, it’s quite the opposite, but young people may need some preparation to understand that they will always be noticed, attended to, and expected to participate. Some ways that parents can help this preparation are: to bring the child into school early to meet their teachers and talk with them about their individual needs, strengths, and goals; to help the child realize that their teachers are people who are there to help; and, to coach the child into realizing that any question is a valid question.
Because of the smallness of private schools, parents can also teach their children about socialization. Depending on the age of the child, they may feel pressure to fit in with groups of children who have been going to the private school since birth! Parents can help their children blend into these groups by teaching them how to make friends, how to keep friends with their old friends (from their old schools), but also how to be strong in the face of pressures from other students. A great way to encourage socialization at private schools, too, is to get children involved in extracurricular activities. The offerings for extra-curricular activities in public school are generally not as great as they are in private school; they can use these opportunities to take up lacrosse, field hockey, debate, chess, mock trial, soccer, tennis, or music groups. And by joining these groups, they will be able to pursue passions and meet new friends with similar interests.
Finally, depending on the public school from which they are coming, your child may need some extra coaching in study skills and organization. Private schools tend to have more rigorous academic expectations, especially in the upper grades. High schools and middle schools tend to follow more traditional curricula: including difficult classic texts in English, philosophical texts in History (or perhaps a separate Philosophy class), and more primary documents in all classes. They have high expectations for students, but they also offer extra help and more individualized attention, so parents can encourage their children to ask for extra help, and most likely, their teacher will give that help to them. In addition, there might be study groups available at the school, or with groups of new friends, to help aid the adjustment.
2. MOVING from HOME SCHOOL to PRIVATE SCHOOL: Whereas the child moving from public school to private school may have to adjust to getting more individualized attention, the child moving from home school to private school may have to adjust to the opposite. For the first time in their lives, your child might find the transition from the home to a class, however small, very difficult. They will have to share time for the teacher’s attention; they will have to cooperate with other children in the room; they will have to share materials in the classroom like books, and tables, and floor-space. While all of these things are great for your child to learn, they may come as a shock in those first few weeks. Parents can help by coming into the classroom with the child (depending on the age of the child, of course!) and showing them what the space looks like and pointing out the individualized spaces (storage bins, cubbies, or desk space) from communal space (the meeting area, the rug, the book nook). Parents can also encourage more visits from friends or same-aged relatives in the months preceding the move so that children get used to a communal environment before going to the new school.
Another big transition will be socializing with other students outside of the classroom. Parents can simulate what it might be like for students in the lunchroom or at their lockers or in gym so that these potentially overwhelming social situations seem somewhat familiar to a child before going into them. In addition, parents should encourage their children to sign up for school events like sports teams, music groups, drama clubs, or special-interest clubs to meet friends.
Time will also be a big shock to many home-schoolers: more specifically, how time throughout the day is spaced out in chunks called “periods” in school. Many home-schoolers may be used to a more holistic approach to learning, and moving into a school that has segments called “English,” followed by “Science,” followed by “Math”-all in separate classrooms with separate teachers-will be overwhelming. While they learn about the separate subject areas and organize them in their minds, it might be helpful for parents to keep that holistic learning alive by encouraging talk at home about how their learning connects to the “bigger picture.”
3. MOVING to a BOARDING SCHOOL: If students are moving away from home for the first time-to live and to learn-parents may need to do a lot of coaching into what it is like to live away from home. They may first try to remind their children that this is a great opportunity for independence. It is important for children to see boarding school opportunities as great times of growth (rather than a sometimes inevitable feeling of ‘my family doesn’t want me any more.’) Teach students how much they already know about taking care of themselves; things like: putting their clothes away, making their beds, minding another’s privacy, being responsible, thinking critically, and being polite. Remind them that they can use all of these skills to continue being independent away from home.
Connected to being independent, parents should also teach their children how to live with an unknown roommate. Typically, schools will notify incoming students with whom they will be living far in advance of arrival at the school, so parents could arrange a family visit with the roommate’s family. The children and families can get to know one another, and the children can start to talk about likes and dislikes, habits, preferences for the room, schedules, etc. so that they know what to expect from the other child.
Lastly, parents can encourage students to get involved in the school. Adjusting to life away from home will be difficult enough in the first semester, however, if students can manage it, parents should encourage their children to get involved in the school in order to avoid missing home and to teach their children something about time management and independence.
Private school can be such a great way for parents to see their children mature into independent and well-rounded people. It is such a great time for children and families to take advantage of all the private school has to offer in terms of individualized attention, extra-curriculars, and a highly educated teaching staff. It could be the start of some of the best years of your child’s life!