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First Time, First Year: The Ultimate Guide to Sending Your Child to Secondary School!

“For me, it felt like I needed a survival guide for the first week… pure confusion!"

Sending a child into their first year of secondary school is daunting for everyone, especially if it’s the eldest child. There’s more students, teachers, subjects, and responsibilities. With less resources for parents of First Year students, compared to Junior Cycle and Leaving Cert students, we’ve compiled the ultimate first year survival guide for you!

The First Year Shopping List

In our Ultimate Back-to-School Checklist, we went over a lot of the things you’ll need to buy for your child before returning to school, but it was very general and could be applied to students of virtually any age.

In reality, the First Year shopping list is much longer, but the good news is most of it can be viewed as an investment in your child’s education.

Things like a sturdy school bag with back-support and strong straps, durable stationery and writing materials, in addition to the new uniform, could last your child a few years if you go with the more expensive, reliable options.

This will save you money in the long run, especially if there are more children coming after them.

That said, for things like First Year or Junior Cycle specific textbooks, there is value in buying cheaper, second-hand options (as long as they’re not also workbooks), as they will only be useful as far as Third Year.

Whatever way you approach it, it’s not going to be cheap, but there are ways to save money if you know where to look!

The Crucial Homework Journal

The homework journal is usually bought from the school themselves and is a multi-purpose tool for first year students

It’s used to record homework assignments, upcoming tests, notes from teachers to parents, notes from parents to teachers, test scores, and much more. 

The homework journal facilitates organisation and responsibility in first year students, as well as effective communication between school and home, and so its importance cannot be understated.

Checking your child’s homework journal every night is crucial if you wish to be actively involved in your child’s academic life. Understanding how much homework they are receiving in each subject and which subjects are causing problems can help address problems before they arise.

It is also important to check in case there is important correspondence from a tutor, year head, or subject teacher within its pages. You know how kids can be when it comes to ‘forgetting’ to give you updates!

In short, the homework journal can provide an invaluable insight into how your child is managing the transition to secondary school, so pay close attention to it this September!

More Organisation Tips

One big lesson you and your child will learn is that the key to success in First Year, and secondary school as a whole, is organisation.

All of a sudden, your child has to juggle multiple subjects – many of which they have never studied before – as well as all the corresponding homework, tests, materials, and relationships with the relevant teachers. Keeping on top of all this is vital to learn effectively and develop academically.

Here are some organisational tips that can be helpful to follow:

  • Keeping a copy of the timetable at home: it’s just as important for parents to know what classes take place when and where as it is for students, so this will be beneficial to everyone in the family. For new first year students, a copy of the timetable at home helps students to learn their timetable off by heart, adjust to the new routine, as well as prioritise tasks according to when they’re due.
  • Using the homework journal: the homework journal is no good to anyone unless it is used to write down homework as it is assigned. This way, your child can also complete tasks in order of priority, e.g. if their English essay isn’t due until Friday, they can start on another subject and make a note of when they need to begin the English assignment.
  • Avoiding procrastination: at the same time, it’s important to have a discussion with your child about the dangers of procrastination. If everything is left to the last minute, it is stressful and rushed, and repeating this over time can lead to a habit that could be extremely difficult to break. Encourage your child to complete all homework due the next day that evening, and to at least attempt anything due later in the week if there is any remaining study time.
  • Maintaining a clutter-free study place: a set study space helps students with focus and productivity, but ensuring this is neat and tidy is just as important. Remember: a clear desk is a clear mind.
  • Packing school bags the night before: Having all the books and other materials in the bag the night before means a less chaotic morning and less chance of a phone call midway through the day from your child that they forgot their Geography book! Pay particularly close attention to PE days – PE is as important as other subjects, and forgetting the uniform will have the same consequences!
  • Getting a good night’s sleep: if your child is awake till all hours on TikTok, they’re not able to pay attention in class or complete their homework to the highest standard. Monitor their phone usage and consider enforcing a ‘phones downstairs’ rule at bedtime.
  • Maintaining a clean and organised locker: if your child’s locker is a mess, with loose pieces of paper, soaked copybooks, and stale lunch all over the place, it will be much harder for them to find everything they need while moving from class to class. Encourage them to keep it clean and organised with only things they need for school inside.

Your child will not have the organisational skills necessary to thrive in secondary school unless you nurture them. It is vital that you help them in their transition to avoid conflict with teachers and/or falling behind in class.

Understand The Junior Cycle Curriculum 

One thing many parents don’t realise is that the Junior Cycle starts in First Year. 

That’s right: much of the material covered in First Year is examinable in the Junior Cycle papers. Thus, it’s important to know how your child will be assessed and graded from the offset.

We’ve actually prepared a foolproof guide to the Junior Cycle too. Read it, get a general sense of what it’s all about and how it works – this way you will be much better equipped to support your child during the Junior Cycle.

PS – we also have the Junior Cycle Maths Syllabus SIMPLIFIED available to you, too! It contains everything your child will be studying over the next three years!

Picking Subjects At Junior Cycle Level 

We hear so many parents talk about how their child simply MUST do Business Studies, and that there’s no WAY they’ll be allowed to study something like Visual Art.

But the truth is, students perform much better at subjects they enjoy studying. And they’re a lot less stressed when they’re enjoying themselves, too.

While there is a lot of practical knowledge to be gained from subjects like Home Economics, many children, especially those with an existing passion for the arts, will get much more out of studying something like Music.

It’s also worth mentioning that at Junior Cycle level, subject choice does not carry as much weight as Leaving Cert. 

Have open and honest discussions with your child about subject choices. Look at the syllabi for the various subjects online, as well as flicking through some textbooks, to get a better sense of what will be covered so that both of you can make the most informed decision possible. 

The Awkward Part: New Friends

Many children will go into first year with some friends from primary school, which eases the transition process greatly.

That said, it is important that your child interacts with and forms friendships with other students for the sake of personal growth and development.

Encourage your child to make new friends, even if it means incorporating them into the existing friend group. Additionally, you can have a look at the school’s website and see what extracurricular activities are offered – this can be a great way for your child to meet new people and try out potential new interests.

Communicating With Teachers

The channel of communication between parents and teachers in secondary school is much less direct than in primary. Many of your child’s teachers will have upwards of 90 students, so it is important that both you and your child are able to communicate your needs and wishes, because neither the school administrators nor the teachers can read your mind!

For first year students, this means:

  • Putting up your hand when you don’t understand a question
  • Asking teachers for feedback on tests that didn’t go well
  • Reporting incidents of bullying

And for parents, this means:

  • Filling out all paperwork provided by the school and making note of learning difficulties, disabilities, health issues, allergies, religious observances, etc.
  • Arranging meetings with teachers or administrators if issues arise (e.g. consistently low grades in a subject, recent health issues, bullying)

Open communication with the school is the only sure way to address issues. Encourage your child also to speak openly with you about any issues they have so that you can pass them on to the school if things escalate.

Conclusion

Look, moving into 1st year can be traumatic. I remember being so worried about the smallest things. The reality is, some calming words from Mum and Dad are all students need for that initial phase. “The fright” is over after the first week. If you do need help, reach out to me for advice anytime.

T.J – CEO of Breakthrough Maths.