The ABCs of Back to School

Friday, 23 January 2009

Starting a new school year is bundled with mixed emotions. There’s a new teacher, new workload, the emptiness of friends lost and the uncertainty of new friendships. There’s an excitement in the belly but also a bucket-load of butterflies. So how do you get through the jitters and cruise into a new year with style? These tips will help make your year a real winner.

Get yourself ready

Get ready, set, go! for school by staying calm and positive. A relaxed, cool attitude will help you feel confident and more approachable. If you are worried about certain subjects, talk to mum and dad about a little tutoring before you start the new year.

Pei Schiff, mum to seven-year-old Tyler and four-year-old Kaden (pictured above), takes advantage of the more relaxed summer schedule to prep her boys academically. “We take the time to help our boys with a subject they haven’t excelled at,” says Pei, whose boys attend the British School of Beijing. Another great idea is to spend time honing your sporting and hobby skills, so you can join in clubs, teams and other groups with gusto. Staying fit and healthy will help you stay strong and ready for anything.

Get to know other kids

Starting a new school in Beijing means dipping your toe into a large cultural melting pot, with students from all over the world.

A great way to settle quickly is to introduce yourself to other kids, and don’t be afraid to make different types of friends. Emma Croxford (10) is new to Beijing and has entered year 6 at BSB. “I like starting a new school,” she says. “You get a new environment and can try new things.” Having moved a lot, Emma thinks making friends is a great way to settle in, and she recommends asking questions if you want to get to know kids. “Tell them about you, but ask them questions, too. Ask their name. Ask them what they like and don’t like.” Emma also thinks that well-established kids should try to welcome new students, “Talk to them so they feel comfortable.”

Who knows – if you do this, you might also find a new best friend.

Get mum and dad involved

Networking is great for kids, but it’s also important for parents. When mum and dad join the PTA and volunteer during school events, it’s not only the school that benefits – it’s the kids, too. As parents get to know one another, the relationships between their kids are strengthened – through play dates, social gatherings and the building of support systems, which can be invaluable if children suffer difficulties in school, like bullying or learning issues. And when parents take the time to network with teachers, they can better understand their child’s “fit” in the school, academically and socially.

Teachers are always looking for parents to volunteer to help out in class, or to become the class parent, who is responsible for linking together all the mums and dads. Irene Chan, whose children Ernie (9) and Kris (5) attend WAB, volunteered as a class parent. “It helped my kids settle down faster, and helps makes them feel more secure.”

Just be yourself

The pressure to “fit in” at an international school is even tougher because of the cultural divides that add to (but also enrich) the balance. While it’s tempting to be someone you’re not – just to fit into the “cool group” – you’ll soon find yourself struggling to keep up the game. Being true to yourself, however, will attract the perfect friends, every time.

Caroline Golding, mum to Emma, feels its vital for kids to be themselves so they can make true friendships from the get-go. “Friendships are a huge part of school life for kids. When she first meets people, I tell Emma to smile and be herself. If she can do this, the relationships will just unfold naturally.” Caroline also believes in leaving social circles open so kids aren’t stuck in cliques.

Most kids enjoy a variety of activities, so expanding your circle of friends means you can avoid these cliques, and express many sides of your personality and interests. Joining after school activities (ASAs) is a great way to widen friendship circles – and provide a greater variety of friends to enjoy and draw upon for support.

Try out new things

Pushing yourself to try new things stretches your boundaries and strengthens you, making you better able to cope with challenges at school. Thomas Page-McCowan (15) remembers stepping outside his comfort zone and loving it. “When I was younger, I went to school camp and was expected to go abseiling. I didn't want to do it, but in the end I did it and I really enjoyed it and felt so proud,” says Thomas, who is in year 11 at Dulwich College. “Since then, I’ve tried many things I thought I was unable to do.” This kind of courage gives kids a real sense of empowerment, which can help you ease into the school year very nicely.

It’s also an attitude that’s crucial for high school students to embrace, given the importance placed on leadership and dynamism that universities apply to their student-acceptance criteria. “Look at all the activities available,” says Thomas, “And try things outside your comfort zone.” Never know, you might just love it!

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Starting at a new school can be an overwhelming experience, from the new workload to social issues, or just finding your way around campus. Some schools provide buddy systems, and teachers and admin staff are always available to talk to.

“It’s a very normal thing to feel overwhelmed by the workload at a new school,” says Lisa Rheinberger, a year one teacher at the British School. As international schools can be up to 18 months ahead of the curriculums in other countries, children may enter a grade in Beijing with math or literacy levels they haven’t even begun at home. Thankfully, Beijing’s schools provide the resources for kids to cope. “Some new students may take a while to fit into the new school curriculum, but with a little help and direction, they soon catch up. If students are struggling in any way, it’s really important that they ask for help.”

Of course, mum and dad are great for help, too.

Have lots of fun!

There’s no question kids should work hard at school, but work can also be fun. It depends on how you look at it. If you’re struggling with a particular subject, you won’t learn much tackling something you hate or don’t understand.

Talk to your teacher and parents about ways you can make learning more fun – for example, if you struggle with math, search online for a fun math music CD that can make multiplication tables a snap. Set up study sessions with friends. Learn languages using visuals. Ask your teacher for ways to learn through games, or online.

Ross McCowan, dad to Thomas, understands the value of hard work. “School is the time to establish work ethics and study skills for application in ‘real life’,” he says, however, he also believes it’s important for kids to have fun, even in the classroom. “Don’t forget teachers can be fun, too. Participating in team activities, sharing skills and making friends also require as much dedicated time,” he says. And friends are always fun.

Hot Tips for Parents

· Research Beijing’s schools to find your child’s best-fit.
· Carefully consider the grade level your child will enter; they are different from home.
· Try to choose a school close to home, to cut down on long commutes.
· Keep up a daily dialogue with your child, their teacher and friends.
· Get as involved with the school as possible, and network with other parents.
· Spend extra time with your child on homework requirements.
· Encourage playdates with other children, especially Mandarin-speakers.
· Keep things positive and relaxed when it comes to school issues.

First published, in part, in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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