The benefits of prep school boarding


by Robert Lankester, Headmaster of Maidwell Hall

Say goodbye to school runs, endless testing and tutoring, mobile phones (at least in some prep schools) and chauffeuring increasingly frustrated children to endless after-school clubs. Instead, say hello to climbing trees, muddy knees and a carefree childhood. 


Have you thought about prep school boarding? 

There is no doubt that a country education can bring greater freedom, space and time. We used to live in an age where children could play in the streets and explore with their friends, having a level of independence that has been shown to build resilience, individuality and good mental health. However, these days many social factors have created a world that prohibits children from enjoying the benefits of this kind of freedom, with the result that parents feel they have to ‘helicopter’ them. A prep boarding education gives children the independence to play with their friends and a freedom that helps them to develop and enjoy their childhood, with all the positive mental and physical health attributes this brings.

Learning some of the harder lessons in life in your childhood is natural and gives you an emotional resilience that is beneficial  later in life. For example, decision-making – it’s very easy for parents to make all the decisions for their children, trying desperately to make life easier. Except that it doesn’t – parents simply become exhausted and the children can become ‘flaky’ and disinclined to commit to anything. At a boarding school children can have much greater independence and a sense of their own responsibilities. If this can develop in a homely and comforting atmosphere, the result should be children learning life-enhancing skills such as making their own decisions without even realising they are doing so.

When to start boarding?

So it’s clear there are many benefits to boarding, but when is the ideal time to start and which type of boarding should you choose? 

Over the past 20 years there has been a steady trend towards children boarding at a slightly older age. Children who wish to board at their senior schools routinely join boarding prep schools for one year only or even a term or two. But, however excellent the pastoral care at senior schools, you cannot replicate the small, cosy, nurturing feel of a small prep school, which can be a softer way to settle into boarding life. 

Many prep schools now offer flexi-boarding or a transitional arrangement, allowing pupils to make a gradual change to full boarding. This can make it easier for children to be part of the decision-making. However, do be aware that part-time boarding does not always offer all the benefits mentioned.

So when is the right time to start boarding? The answer as always is when it suits your family’s circumstances and when your child is ready (and preferably clamouring to start!) – and in my opinion, the sooner the better.

What about homesickness?

Another big question for many families is whether homesickness is an issue for children who board. There are plenty of eight-year-old full boarders and it is remarkable how quickly they adjust. It is certainly not my experience that younger children are more homesick than older children. In fact, we see very little homesickness and it’s an emotion that can be felt at any age – many young adults experience overwhelming homesickness when they leave home to go to university. Learning how to handle emotions like these is a lifeskill that is best developed in childhood and in a kind and nurturing environment such as a prep boarding school.

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