Boarding Prep

Once a child knows they are going to boarding school, how far in advance should you start preparing them?

For younger pupils, we suggest that in the time leading up to boarding, parents build in positive opportunities for their child to stay away from home. No one knows your child better than you, so take it at your own pace and whenever you feel you have hit a positive milestone, remind your child of how well they are doing and the progress they have made. Victoria Deadman Gatt, Director of Community and Communications, Royal Russell

Take them on a tour of the school (real or virtual), show them pictures of the bedrooms from the boarding prospectus and explain that they will be in an environment with many other pupils and how exciting it will be. Suzanne Kuster, Marden Housemistress, Woldingham

We think it is important that all children spend a taster day and night at the school so they can become used to their new surroundings and any ‘fear of the unknown’ is very quickly removed. Alice Wright, Head of Boarding, Windlesham

What steps should you take for the practical side of things, such as changing a bed?

Once you know your child is attending a boarding school, it is ideal if parents ensure their child has some of the life skills they will need to help them ease into boarding. They will need to know how to put on a duvet cover, ensure their dirty clothes are sent to laundry on the right days, and so on. Suzanne Kuster, Woldingham

A great part of the boarding experience is being independent and learning new things, so we would encourage parents not to worry too much about the practicalities. A can-do attitude and willingness to make an effort is more important than knowing how to do everything. Victoria Deadman Gatt, Royal Russell

What about good habits around food and meal times, snacking and tuck?

Three meals a day are really important and breakfast is not overlooked at boarding school, so getting them into the habit of having a good breakfast will be useful. As
for snacks, they shouldn’t be used to eating too much rubbish! A few treats are fine but a healthy diet is crucial in long boarding days. Rob Lane, Housemaster of Loveday House, Cranleigh School

What advice do you have for creating good personal hygiene habits?

It’s helpful if children can wash their own hair in a shower, and if they have already learned to brush their teeth for two minutes, that is an advantage too. Alice Wright, Windlesham

One of the wonderful aspects of living in a boarding house is the girls help and support each other. House staff will ensure our younger students are showering, brushing their teeth and hair and on weekends the girls love nothing more than to put on face packs and scare their housemistress! Suzanne Kuster, Woldingham

Sharing a room may be new to many pupils. How can children prepare for all this entails?

Living confidently and harmoniously with others is essential when boarding. Our younger pupils all have shared bedrooms so we would encourage parents to have a discussion about how to be respectful of others’ personal space, boundaries and belongings, as well as how they would like to be treated by others. Victoria Deadman Gatt, Royal Russell

Talking about it positively will really help – as might sharing with siblings for a while. But actually, it’s much more about a mindset than anything practical. Boarding is about living alongside others and learning to solve problems and share successes together. Rob Lane, Cranleigh

If a child struggles to unwind and go to sleep, what is your advice?

In the younger years, we prepare the girls 30 minutes before bedtime. They hand in all devices, and everyone must be in their rooms with what we call ‘little lights on’ – their side lights and their fairy lights creating a calming atmosphere. The girls can then read or chat quietly for another 15 minutes in their beds before we turn out their lights. We find that the girls have had such a full-on day that they fall asleep quickly. Suzanne Kuster, Woldingham

How would you support a child who is homesick?

All children will miss home at some stage, especially when they first start boarding. It’s important that they understand that it’s all right to feel that way. Here, all staff
communicate with each other on a daily basis, so everyone is aware if a child is feeling wobbly. Alice Wright, Windlesham

Homesickness can happen in the first few weeks, especially with girls who have not spent much time away from home. We talk to the girls about it in the first few days to let them know we are here for them to help, and we will buddy them up with another girl who has had homesickness to support them if needed. Suzanne Kuster, Woldingham

We encourage them to personalise their bedroom as they would at home, for example, by putting up photographs of friends and family, and surrounding themselves with home comforts, such as cuddly toys. Niamh Green, Deputy Head, Mayfield

Should there be a shift in phone use to prepare for boarding, and if so, what?

The time the girls spend on their phone each day is limited. In Years 7 and 8 we have a no mobile phone policy during the school day and boarders are allowed their phones before and after school, but not overnight. Girls respond very positively to this approach. Niamh Green, Deputy Head, Mayfield School

Encourage good study habits and ask for your child’s phone while she studies so that she is not distracted. Encourage good sleep hygiene and request that all the family leave their devices in a central area like the kitchen overnight. Don’t allow phone calls late into the evening and set a time when device usage stops. Charlotte Owen, Head of Marden, Woldingham

What would be your approach to helping a child understand what they need to manage themselves and what they should ask for help or support with?

Discussing with your child how to take responsibility for themselves and their own belongings is a great start. Perhaps share some of your own tips for how you help them organise their school uniform and equipment currently. Establishing good habits at home will help it to become part of their routine when they arrive at boarding school. If your child struggles with organisation, help them to create a checklist of items that they should pack each day and remind them to check it daily. Victoria Deadman Gatt, Royal Russell

Try not to check their work every night! It’s a slow process of getting them to take ownership over their work but the earlier you start, the better. They need to feel empowered to make decisions about their work and how they do it. Rob Lane, Cranleigh.

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