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Cheam Houseparents on how to prepare children for the boarding experience

Is your child considering boarding at some point? We’re sure you have lots of questions bubbling away about what boarding is really like. Who better to answer your queries than Boarding Houseparents, Fran and Tom Chapman, at Cheam – a thriving day and boarding school set in 100 acres on the Berkshire/Hampshire border. They discuss the benefits of boarding, how to help your child adjust and finally, how as a parent you can prepare yourself to face the ’empty nest’.

How should parents approach boarding with their children?

Parents should try to adopt a very positive attitude, encouraging their child to focus on how they will enjoy their time at boarding school and reminding them to first and foremost ‘have fun’. Boarding is a wonderful opportunity to make new and deep friendships, gain independence and the freedom to be themselves as well as experience activities and opportunities they wouldn’t necessarily have at home. Talk to your children about all the benefits before they start and chat through any questions and concerns they might have. Where practical, it can help if the decision to board starts with the child, rather than coming from the parent.

What can help them settle into boarding life?

Often children are assigned a ‘Boarding Buddy’ which is a child who has experience of boarding. Along with highly experienced Boarding staff, the Buddy will look after them on their first few nights. Keeping busy, joining in with the activities and events on offer and throwing themselves into the busy life of the boarding community is the best medicine for settling in.

What should your child bring with them to make them feel at home?

Let them bring some home comforts: a teddy, blanket or their own duvet and pillow. We’ve seen our boarders often bring in photos of home, family and pets which they then use to decorate their bed area. Most boarding schools do everything they can to make their boarders to feel at home from the moment they step foot inside, so they can relax and unwind after a busy day.

How many nights are best?

We recommend that children start small on their boarding journey and do more as they grow. We encourage our Year 4 and 5s to start off with ‘flexi’ boarding one night a week. As the children move through school they will naturally want to start boarding more and will start committing to a set number of nights during the week. Each child is different so there is no fixed rule of when they have to do this, so boarding schools can meet the needs of each individual.

How can parents prepare themselves for their children boarding?

At Cheam, parents are able to speak to their children in the evenings to check in and weekly boarders are encouraged to call home or send a little update via email. Staff at boarding schools know how much parents appreciate updates and love it they receive photos and updates of their children having fun. If the children are happy then the parents are happy. Hopefully, they don’t find it too hard to let go!

Does boarding help prepare them for senior school life?

Being away from home helps prepare the children for the next step, especially if that step is moving onto a boarding senior school. The experience creates a more resilient, independent, confident and well-rounded child. Having prep boarding ‘under their belt’ will make a big difference for those first few weeks and months at their senior school.

What are the other benefits of boarding?

Children become more independent and more confident through boarding. Equally, there are benefits for parents too, who appreciate that their children learn how to look after themselves, such as learning to make a bed in the morning and managing their time better. As well as it being enormous fun, children learn many life skills in the Boarding House such as tolerance and learning how to live together and to cooperate with each other, these are skills which will stand them in good stead for the future.

How do schools deal with homesickness?

Homesickness is very normal, especially in the early days and your chosen school will be very experienced in helping them to overcome it and thrive when boarding. Patience, kindness and support are watchwords for staff at board schools when trying to help children through those occasional tricky moments.

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