Moving up and Moving on: Using Stories to Deal with Transition

I’ve been a teaching assistant in local primary and secondary schools for eleven years and have loved every minute. Pupils I remember starting school for the first time all those years ago, including my own children, now tower over me in the high school corridors and leave me wondering where all those years have gone!

When my primary school contract eventually ended, I secured a job at the local high school and made the transition to secondary with the pupils I had been working with. It was lovely, if a little terrifying! I couldn’t help wondering though: if a grown woman could feel as anxious as I did on my first day, then how must a child feel?

For most of my pupils, the transition to the local high school meant that they still saw their friends, but how would a child cope with the upheaval of relocating to a new area entirely? For them, there would be no familiar surroundings or friendly faces looking back at them. Being ripped out of your comfort zone and thrown into new routines in new surroundings could knock the confidence out of anyone.

As adults, we have so much going on in our heads that we can sometimes miss signs that a child is suffering in silence. We might think a child looks a bit quiet but often dismiss this, thinking that if it was serious, the child would talk about it. Sometimes we might even be guilty of simply thinking ‘I’m too busy right now’ or ‘I wouldn’t know what to say’.

Alternatively, sometimes we actually say too much instead of carefully drawing a child’s thoughts and feelings out of them in their own words. Sometimes, a well-meaning ‘it’s not so bad’ or ‘you’ll be okay’ leaves a child feeling that nobody ever listens or truly understands.

I wrote Stories with a message to try to address various emotional issues that children often have to deal with in an engaging story format. Having seen myself the anxious faces of pupils who have just moved from primary to secondary school when they arrive in their new classroom for the first time, I thought it important to include a story about a child moving schools to help teachers start to explore the emotional implications of this with their pupils.

‘New school’ in Stories with a message for the primary school follows a character called Holly as she starts a new school after her family relocate. Her parents seem oblivious to the anxiety she feels at the prospect of her first day at her new school and Holly feels forced to deal with these unfamiliar feelings alone. As it turns out, Holly’s first day is much better than she had feared, but the story and accompanying questions encourage children to consider others’ feelings and discuss coping strategies that could help them in a similar situation.

All of the stories and questions in the Stories with a message books can be written or used as a discussion exercise to reinforce an understanding of right and wrong, cause and effect, and reward and consequence. They also give the teacher a rare opportunity to gain valuable insight into a pupil’s way of thinking.

Rachel Adams has many years’ experience as a teaching assistant and is the author of the Stories with a message books for primary and secondary schools, which deal with difficult social and emotional issues.