Tips to Settle into your New Boarding School

Boarding at a new school can feel like a daunting prospect. Miss Sue Moody, Assistant House Mistress of Powell House, has compiled a list of top tips that are used at Downside to help with settling into your new boarding school: 

Tip 1: You’re not alone!

The key thing to remember is that you are not the only new person, and also that everyone else was also new once, so they understand what it feels like and knows how best to help. “Welcome” is a very important word at Downside, being one of our eight Benedictine Values. Our prefects are all there to welcome and help as you arrive through the school gates, directing you to your House, helping to carry your cases and chatting to you to try to quell any nerves you may have. Once in the House, there are more prefects and staff around to see you to your area and help with unpacking, as well as lots of other pupils eager to make friends.

Tip 2: Make your new boarding school feel like home

Putting up pictures of the family, the dog, and cat and other special items from home, including the special cuddly toy, will soon personalise your space.

Tip 3: Join in with boarding activities

The trick to settling in is to keep busy with a nice variety of activities, alongside lots of delicious food and snacks. The prefects join the younger pupils to lead with “ice-breaking” games, treasure hunts in Houses to start the competitive spirit going and other “hands on” fun. Then when it comes to bedtime, a hot milk drink and toast around the kitchen table with a sympathetic member of staff helps settle anyone with late night homesickness.

Tip 4: Uniform

The next day is the first chance to wear the school uniform, which helps with the bonding and feeling of belonging, even if sometimes the clothes are awaiting “being grown into”. Staff or “established” pupils escort you to meals to help you to navigate your way round the huge selection of delicious food – and don’t worry, you can help yourself to as much as you like and go back for seconds. We take our food very seriously here at Downside.

Tip 5: Get to know the routine

On the first morning, you will spend quite a bit of time in your tutor group, so you can get to grips with school routine, get to know the others in your group and start to find your way around. Everywhere you go there are smiling faces to look out for you and to point you in the right direction if you think you may be lost.

Tip 6: Try hymn singing

The first time the whole school gets together is always special, with that sense of pride and belonging, seeing everyone in the same smart uniform; a good rousing hymn practice soon blows cobwebs away. (We take our hymn singing very seriously at Downside, with time-honoured competition between House as to who can be the most rousing, if not always the most musical). Understandably new pupils may feel a bit self-conscious when singing for the first time, but the enthusiasm is infectious and the volume steadily rises. 

Tip 7: Keep active

Similarly, a good active sports session soon has the blood racing, team building and the obligatory bit of fresh mud to make brand new sports kit look “worn in”.

Saturday night soon comes around, with the whole school barbeque then yet more House parties, ranging from fancy dress competitions, to team games with things like passing the oranges, three-legged races, blindfold mazes, stepping stone challenges and tug of wars. After all that exercise and excitement everyone is ready for more supper snacks round the table before falling exhausted but happy into bed. Then on Sunday no sooner is Mass over, then its brunch followed by paintballing. Shooting at  prefects and the Deputy Head has to be done! Sunday night is an introduction to the weekend tradition of noodles and pizzas round – you guessed – the kitchen table.

Tip 8: Ask prefects for help

Suddenly the first days are over and it is Monday morning and time for “business as normal”. Prefects seem less scary once you’ve been on their team, and so it is easy to ask them for any help. The House staff seem to know everyone’s names already and suddenly the school seems less big and bewildering to navigate. The teachers always seem to be smiling and joking with you and suddenly it is hard to remember who is new and who has been here before.

It must be a good sign as parents are now contacting the House Mistress and Masters to ask if their child can find time to call home as they’ve not been in touch – must be having too good and busy a time!

Read more about boarding at Downside School.