From Big Fish to Minnows
Ladies and gentlemen, there isn't much time left before schools break up for the summer. For Year 6 children across the country, this means that these are the last few weeks of them being the biggest, coolest thing in the school. They're going to go from being big fish in a little pond to minnows in the Thames. I don't care how confident you are; that's scary stuff, particularly if, like my son, you're going to be going to one school while all of your friends go to another.
Primary school is a fun, safe place where you learn your A-B-Cs and 1-2-3s. Secondary school is an entirely different beast. I remember secondary school, and it was terrifying. I remember going for a run around the track at lunch on my first day, because I was shy, nervous, and feeling entirely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of teenagers around me, when a group of three boys a couple of years above me tripped me up, causing me to rip my new trousers, graze my knee, and sprain my ankle. They just pointed and laughed as I limped off, obviously thinking that they had been exceptionally funny and clever in tripping over a lonely girl. Then there was the incident with the football, where a group of kids refused to give my friends and I our football back, and it ended up in a fight between my group of 8 friends, and dozens of older kids (this isn't an exaggeration; we were surrounded, and there were at least four ranks of teenagers waiting to kick the proverbial brown stuff out of us). When I say secondary school is scary, I'm speaking from experience. Moving from a small, safe school of a couple of hundred students to a school of 1,000 or more, where all of the other kids are a lot bigger than you, and their every action is dictated by their hormone-fueled desire to be the alpha dog is not a nice prospect. Even if you have the most confident, happy child in their last few weeks of primary school, they're going to need your help to navigate the world of teenagers and endless homework, and there is no time like the present to start laying down the groundwork.
Creating The Look
Two words: school uniform.
A uniform is a wonderful thing. It looks smart, and gives the children a sense of unity. It also prevents them from being bullied for not wearing designer clothes, shoes, and trainers. It, theoretically, gives them pride in their appearance and their school. The down side is that it is seriously expensive. I've been adding up the cost of my son's new uniform, and I'm going to have to spend a minimum of £250 to ensure he is turned out correctly. In all fairness, most schools have a second hand range available, although this option isn't available for us, as my son is going to be one of the first students in a brand new school, so we're going to have to cough up the money and be thankful he's going into a school with the latest equipment and technology.
Now, my son has this amazing ability to make any item of clothing magically disappear. On one occasion, he managed to lose his underwear at school. They had been swimming, and, while he had gone in wearing boxers, he did not come out of his swimming class wearing them. They were never seen again, and, if the cleaner or lifeguard who found them is reading this; I apologise. The school secretary doesn't even ask me if I need anything any more, and just lets me into the lost property area for a good rummage. Most of the time, I'll find his missing items. Having said that, with his new school uniform being so expensive, he and I have had to sit down and have a little talk about looking after his new clothing. He now knows that I expect him to return home with everything he wore to school, and his PE kit in his bag. I will not go looking for it, and he will have to replace any items that he looses. I know many of his friends parents have had to have a similar talk, and I would recommend that any parent of a soon-to-be Year 7 does the same, if only so that you can yell "I told you to look after it!" when they inevitably lose something.
The Homework Load
There are many things that are going to change over the course of the next few months, and one of the biggest changes is going to be the volume of homework that is sent home. Kids hate homework, that is a well known fact, but it is something that is unavoidable.
Many schools use an online homework system now, such as Show My Homework. This is great, because it doesn't matter if the dreaded homework diary goes missing, because every piece of homework is just sat there, waiting for you to log in and complete it. It also means that dogs can no longer be blamed for eating missing assignments (I used to think this was just an urban legend of some sort, right up until the day my dog actually chewed my homework diary to bits. I was so afraid that my teacher wouldn't believe me, I spent hours in tears, and took the slimy remnants of the journal to show her. For her part, she gave me an extension, once she had managed to stop laughing). The issues arise if the server becomes overloaded, meaning that dozens of children are simply unable to review and complete their homework, and, to my knowledge, there is no way of knowing which of them actually were attempting to log in, and which of them are just using it as an excuse to not bother.
Regardless, going from doing one or two sheets of homework a week, plus spellings and reading, to having two or three to do a day is a huge difference, and something that is going to take time to get used to. For children with additional needs, such as ADHD, autism, or dyslexia, it is going to take them even longer to complete their homework, and it won't take long for them to resent it. Not only should you speak to your child and prepare them for this change in workload, but you should agree a daily time limit for homework of, for example, an hour. Don't forget that an hour of homework over the weekend isn't going to do them any harm, either, but they do need time to socialise, relax, and have fun.
Call Me, Maybe
If you haven't already, it would be a good idea to look into getting your tween a mobile phone, especially if a lot of their friends will be attending a different school. Swapping numbers with their friends will help them feel like they have some control over their social life (up until this point, most parents have a substantial say in who their child hangs out with) and allow you to teach them responsibility and give them a bit of freedom. It will also set your mind at ease, as parents tend to have less to do with secondary school than primary school, and it's nice to know that your child can contact you if there are any problems.
There are some hidden benefits to your tween having a mobile phone, too. There are several tracker apps that can be used, so that you know where your child is at all time, meaning that, if they skive off school, you'll know exactly where to be to conveniently bump into them. You can also limit or monitor apps and social networking with software such as Qustodio, which, in the days of online bullying, is something that will set any parent's mind at ease.
When it comes to paying for the mobile, there are several options available. Firstly, there is the good old Pay As You Go option, where you top up credit when you have the money to do so. This is great, because it allows you and your child to know exactly how much they're spending, but the downside is they may use up all of their credit and be unable to contact you if they're in trouble.
Getting an 11 year old their own contract may seem extravagant, but it means that they'll always be able to use their phone, as long as they haven't run the battery down. They will also be eligable for an upgrade in a year or two, so you don't have to worry about buying them the latest mobile every year. The downside is that it can impact your credit rating if they go over their limit and you end up with a huge bill that you are unable to pay.
Shared contracts are my favourite, and they're what I use with my son. I have a contract with EE which includes unlimited calls, texts, and 4gb of data a month, and for a few pounds extra, I am able to share it with a second device; a mobile phone that I have given to my son. Both of us are eligible for upgrades every two years, and I know that he will always be able to contact me or his father without running up an eye-watering bill at the end of the month. check with your service provider to see if they offer this option.
Live In The Moment
These are their last few weeks at primary school. It might be tempting to spend every second preparing them for the trials ahead, but they just want to hang out with their friends and enjoy what time they have left in this innocent world that is primary school. They won't be doing much in class, and they'll be spending every available second with their best friends, even if they're going to be attending the same school, because, in their hearts, they know that things are going to change rapidly. Let them have these moments. Let them build these beautiful memories together. Let them exchange numbers, talk about whatever it is 11 year old children talk about, and let them talk to you about their hopes and fears for the next few months. You baby is about to grow up very quickly, so make sure you make memories with them over the summer, too. Give them something incredible to talk about when they start their new school.