This summer I find I am at crossroads in my life and with my kids. My eldest is away at, and in fact nearly finished, university. My middle one has just sat A Level exams – an experience that has seemed much harder this time round for some reason! My youngest will be doing GCSEs next summer. My time as a parent of school age kids and kids who need lots of support and input (other than monetary!) is fast drawing to a close. My particular nest will soon be empty. So I am reflecting on how school and their last year or two at home has, or in the case of my youngest is still, affecting them and contributing to the young adults they are all rushing towards becoming.

The challenges of parenting - raging hormones for a start!

During this maelstrom time of parenting there are many highs and lows with, what feels like, almost daily decisions and new challenges to be faced. They come at you thick and fast – suddenly they are choosing what to study with all the repercussions for the future if they don’t get this right and they want to ‘grow up’, go out, fit in and generally want to experiment with life in the wider world – suddenly friends and their peers are way more important than you as their parent. It is a perfect storm of raging hormones, testing boundaries, finding ‘self’, coping with more independence and coping is one of the key things at this time. All of these challenges come at a time when, if anything, our youngsters need to get their heads down and work and study hard.

Where school comes in

Studying is diametrically opposed to actually how they want to be spending their time! So those who are ‘better’ at coping are able to navigate and negotiate this tricky period of time in their lives somewhat more successfully than others. Of course, each child (or should I now say youngster) is different and unique and faces a myriad set of different circumstances but school is generally a constant factor for all of them. School provides structure and framework, in the main to simply get them through the hoops of exams but can also provide an important source of ‘life skills’. The beauty of gaining life skills is that they are generally not even aware of what, or that, they are learning! We all need these skills to cope (that word again!) in society, in work and in our relationships with friends, family and significant others. Some are mundane and obvious, other skills are less tangible but nonetheless valuable. We need to be punctual, organised, flexible, trustworthy, adaptable, hardworking, loyal, honest, dedicated, kind, caring and compassionate to name just a few (I am sure you can add to this list) but these are all skills or attributes that we are expected to just pick up along the way from childhood through school to adulthood.

Their first steps towards independence

School can provide some of these skills and especially if they are able to offer opportunities outside of the classroom through school clubs, sports, societies, responsibilities and duties and especially through school trips. School trips from the one-day trip to the full week or more residential adventure can provide new experiences, new skills, new friends, increased self-confidence and (drum roll!) increased coping skills! The youngster who steps out of their comfort zone, looking after themselves out of school and away from home is taking their first steps towards independence. Best of all, because these types of activities outside of the classroom are usually enjoyable then the learning tends to be deeper and more profound as it is learnt through fun.

The years since starting secondary school have been punctuated with a number of school trips that I can see have helped developed my three kids. Each outing has provided them with time with their friends, a chance to see, learn and explore a new part of the UK or even a new country. They learned to get along with their friends and their teachers and also with others they did not know. They learned new sports, games and skills which provided opportunities to shine where in the classroom their more able friends held the limelight academically. They learned teamwork and independence. They learned to (mostly) comeback with the things they went with!

Never quite the finished article...but almost there!

As I think about the next phase in my role as a parent I can see now how the little things my three have done and experienced over the years through school have contributed to them becoming the rounded, young adults I see today. They are far from the finished thing (are we ever finished?!) but they are well on their way and hopefully, with the benefit of the skills they have learned, they can ‘cope’ with the twists and turns of the journey ahead.

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