The transition from primary school to secondary school is both exciting and very stressful, especially for the first born child.

The secondary school pond is always so much larger than the primary school pond. The environment of the school itself is foreign with so many numbered classrooms, lockers, hallways and specialised subject areas, not to mention the hundreds of people walking around who are verging on adulthood.

Secondary schools are well equipped to deal with the main points of the transition. They make sure your child has a supportive form group and contact teacher, they conduct induction days and tours, they hold friendship activities and camps and all staff are on alert for the lost looking young students.

But the transition to high school is so much more than navigating the first few weeks of following a timetable, finding classrooms and making friends. There are so many facets of this transition that need to be discussed and I cannot touch on all of them in one article. Here I want to focus on one major aspect of difference between primary and high school and one issue which even a middle school or a good transition into high school program cannot really help address and that is the transition in learning. There are significant differences in the workload, the style of teaching and learning, the academic expectations and the assessments.

Kids have been used to meeting one set of expectations from their classroom teacher to now having over five different teachers all with different styles of teaching and expectations for learning. While teachers try their best to keep communication between subject areas open, in practise there simply isn’t the time to do so adequately.

Sometimes parents have already begun reducing their involvement in school work as their child gets older, but it’s during this transition to secondary school that kids need their parents’ help the most with school work. They need help organising their belongings, keeping a school diary, planning ahead and most of all, keeping up with their homework and assignments.

The majority of students experience setbacks in their mathematics learning during this transition. I consider myself mathematically talented, but I remember well when I realised in the first few weeks of maths classes that there were things the other kids knew that I had never been taught in my primary school. Luckily for me I had a great teacher and I am quick to learn and master maths concepts. I can only imagine the anxiety most students feel when they realise they don’t know what the teacher is talking about and the other students do.

More and more, whether due to different teaching styles or different school cultures, students start high school without the necessary prerequisite knowledge, and most parents don’t even realise it. A friend of mine who teaches high school science has a daughter who will start high school next year. She is quite concerned about some of the gaps she sees in her daughter’s mathematics skills, and although she has discussed this with her daughter’s teachers, she doesn’t feel the issue has been adequately addressed. My friend has decided to be proactive and will work with her daughter on closing these gaps before 2014 begins. And yes, she’s even using our resources to do so!

Another major area of difference between primary school and secondary school is the focus on formal assessments. The reports you get from the classroom teacher in primary school are in equal part based on the teacher’s observations and on the work your child produces. In secondary school your child might receive pleasant report comments from their teachers, but their grades and results are based entirely on the assessments they have completed throughout the year.

Coming to terms with the idea that you must work hard each lesson to learn the concepts presented and then work even harder to prepare for assessments is not only a new idea, but also a difficult idea for parents and their kids to grasp. Even though we’ve all been there, by the time our kids reach high school we could easily have forgotten the realities. Your child’s choices and pathways are determined by the culmination of all these assessments and thus the earlier your kids feel at ease with the process, the better.

As a parent you need to get proactive and be prepared to support your child through the transition. Help prepare them for the reality that there will be more work to do and often homework every night. The work will be harder and constant revision is vital. In high school the student is very much in the driver’s seat. What you put in is what you get out and some children find it difficult to take responsibility for their own learning.

You could preempt the difficulties that tend to come up, like my friend is doing, and prepare your child by practising assessments and diagnosing knowledge gaps before they start high school.

Once your child starts high school, you can ramp up your involvement without being a ‘helicopter parent’. Get a copy of their mathematics learning program and keep it on the fridge. Work with them on their homework and have them describe what they’re learning in detail. Help them schedule revision on top of their regular homework, and help them find resources they can use to revise. Be mindful of your family’s schedule and don’t plan too many activities when you know your child has a test coming up and needs time to prepare.

The transition from primary school to secondary school is hard on everyone, but by working in partnership with your child and using some careful forward planning, the transition can be smooth and successful. Believe me when I say it will be well worth the effort.

Photo credit: TudX / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA