Boarding schools have come a long way since the tales of cold showers, uncaring, strict staff and huge dormitories filled with rows of homesick children. Now students often describe them as ‘one big sleepover’ and a ‘home from home’: secure, friendly places where they can flourish academically, learn tolerance, resilience, discipline, independence – and make life-long friends.
Evenings and weekends are packed with activities, and as well as large grounds and facilities, children can enjoy the company of perhaps hundreds of others every day and weekend. With the right culture, the older students become older sibling figures who guide the younger ones in the ways of boarding.
Head of Boarding at Gordon’s, a state co-educational day and boarding school in Surrey and TES Boarding School of the Year for 2022, Sam Cooper is also a joint Houseparent with his wife Daisy, for the school’s youngest contingent aged 11 years old. They run their boarding house as an extension of their home and start settling in their new charges months before they actually arrive through in-person meetings or Zoom calls with overseas parents.
In the early stages the children are kept busy with activities. If they’re playing ‘capture the flag’ then they’re building relationships through play and are less likely to dwell on home! However, home sickness is always going to crop up, usually at bed-time. Then they come downstairs and talk it through on the sofa with a warm drink. They also support each other in their bunk beds really early on – that is how they develop those lasting friendship bonds.
Preparing your child for boarding:
Encourage independence – support them in looking for lost items themselves; preparing books and equipment for school.
Encourage activity rather than passivity – The real confidence booster is some control over their own kit, schedule and learning.
Get them to do chores around the house such as tidying their bedrooms and making their bed.
Encourage personal hygiene values and healthy eating options.
Preparing Yourself for your Child Boarding
Think about the ‘empty nest’. It will never fully prepare a parent but it may help to imagine it.
Learn to let go. Let your child fail and make mistakes, it’s the only way to be sure they’re learning and we will catch them if they fall.
Remember that good things take time. Take a bit of a step back and let them have an adventure.