All Change Please!
Regular readers of these pages will have gleaned by now that my dream is to see our children and young people step into all that God has for them; to see our children and young people grow into resilient individuals who face their future with all the tools necessary to be fully functioning adults. This will be most likely to happen when every child and young person knows they are loved and supported, when each one has an adult outside of their family/home life who they trust to speak into their lives. I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be encouraging teenagers to be open with their families, far from it. There is a lot of research which points to the family being the place with the most influence over a teenager’s faith! However, some do not have positive relationships or role models in the home, and even if they do the teenage years are all about becoming more and more independent from parents. A positive role model and someone they can trust outside of the family is key to the survival of teenage-hood. Of course, this may be more than one person throughout their school years, and one point at which this has the potential to derail our children is transition from one educational setting to another.
At this time of year schools are beginning their plans to support their pupils who are moving on or arriving with the turn of the academic year. Spend any time in either primary or secondary school and you’ll hear the word ‘transition’ mentioned, especially at this time of year. The move from primary setting to secondary is an especially abrupt change, one that once upon a time wasn’t something that schools did very much about. Now, however, this is an area of school life that treads a well-worn path of supporting change in our young people’s lives.
Managing change is difficult for all of us: there’s a whole area of managerial discipline devoted to it and when you consider the most common causes of stress, the majority of them are linked to significant change:
- The death of a loved one.
- Loss of a job.
- Increase in financial obligations.
- Getting married.
- Moving to a new home.
- Chronic illness or injury
It’s worth pointing out that our children and young people are often thrown into one or more of these situations, outside of their control, at the same time as experiencing huge upheaval in their school life! Some deal with it well, taking it all in their stride and seem to lap up the change in school. For others it’s a turbulent time and these are those that as parents, teachers and Youth/Children’s/Schools Workers we need to keep more of an eye on as they navigate these new troublesome waters. In either case the impact of changing from one situation to another will be felt by the pupil and those around him or her.
One interesting thing I have found in conversation with Youth and Children’s workers/specialists/leaders across various denominations is that there is more and more joined up thinking between the two age groups. Sometimes that’s because funding is tight and so a church employs one person to oversee both, this may not be an ideal situation but actually can lead to some very good practice. After all 11yr olds don’t just turn up – they’ve all been children (and continue to be in the eyes of the law at least for a while longer), whether they’ve grown up in our churches or not. We need more work that takes the broadest possible view, over a young person’s whole childhood, as reflected by changes like this very magazine’s wider focus! Many of those in the Youth and Children’s Ministry worlds are pointing to just how important this work is, work that doesn’t seek only to entertain or wow our children but work that seeks to care for, support and disciple the whole family. Transitions are also key in our church based youth and children’s work, Ali Campbell at The Resource has useful tips for managing this change on his website theresource.org.uk search for ‘transitions’.
Of course in schools work the lines are much clearer. At 11 they move out of primary education and into secondary. With the rise of the use of Social Media having been much in the media this year we need to remember that primary schools are not as safe, secure and cosy as they once were! Issues of self-esteem, identity and bullying that have long circled the waters of secondary life and teenage hood are now infiltrating the lives of children as young as 8 and 9 years old. By and large, both primary and secondary schools will have something in place already which probably looks like ‘taster days’ and might also include parents evenings and encouraging parents to be in touch with their child’s tutor is needed, you might even find that secondary teachers may make a visit to the primaries. So, if the watershed between primary and secondary is so marked, how can we join the dots between the two? Keep reading for some practical ideas!
This period of Transition is one that gives us Christian Schools Workers the chance to make a difference. So what could we add to the schools’ plans?
Transition Prayer Spaces. I talked to one schools worker friend about this as a prayer space based on the themes of transition and change was something we looked into locally a few years ago. In the end it didn’t come off but I don’t think that was because it wasn’t a good idea! Do check out prayerinschools.com and click on the ‘plan a prayer space’ button for more details.
Transition Small Groups. One of my local schools has asked for some small group work with our local YMCA around self-esteem and choices because they have a handful of pupils who need some additional support as they prepare to go into Yr 7.
Assemblies for Year 6. This is probably the easiest way of offering some support to primary children moving onto secondary. It’s especially useful when those working in secondary schools go in with primary workers who the children would know.
Offer to accompany Yr 6 trips or residentials. In the last term of the year Yr6 often do many different activities including taking the pupils off site for visits. At one local school this has included a trip to Eastbourne Tennis Week, and a day out at a local Activity Centre, as a secondary schools worker you might find it useful to volunteer to accompany these, getting to know the students who may be heading to the school you work in. Similarly you could offer your involvement in any Yr 6 Activity Week. If you have a specific skill such as Circus Skills or Art/Craft or Sports Coaching you might be able to offer these to the school for a session/day. As with the above, getting to know pupils who may be heading your way is invaluable both to your work and to the school. Being able to offer your time for free will also be a huge blessing to the primary school!
You might like to do something more, check out what these schools work trusts have done and consider whether you might be able to offer a bespoke package that involves part of a day or a whole day of activities:
Christian Schools Work Hastings offers full day of activities based around team games, winning points or losing them for not listening to instructions. The day is designed to help Yr 6s begin to engage with what being at Secondary School is like in a fun way. They hand out It’s Your Move booklets (published by Scripture Union) during the day, having asked local churches to donate books to their local schools.
Canterbury Christian Schools Work Trust has created a project called Six-To-Seven which is based around ‘Changes Challenges and Choices’. They deliver an hour’s workshop in school involving games and challenges, they take in an older pupil to support this, something which the younger pupils enjoy almost as much as the rest of the content! There is a significant emphasis on encouraging pupil’s to have an appropriate adult who isn’t necessarily their Mum or other family member who can support them through secondary years. The trust have also created a website for students to access material shared in the workshop over the summer and beyond.
The Lighthouse Project, Crawley have run a workshop for the whole of Yr6 based on the It’s Your Move booklet. It includes an activity about phobias, a dilemmas game and an interview with a recent school leaver to encourage and reassure children. This has been very well received by the pupils who are all pleased to be able to talk to people not their teachers or parents about this and other things.