“Oh, London is a man’s town, there’s power in the air;
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair;
And it’s sweet to dream in Venice, and it’s great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.”*
My brother remembers a boy at his Prep school in the 70s, when he was about 8 years old, who, the moment his
parents had dropped him back at school, would race down the drive in a bid to escape. In those days, conditions at
boarding schools were generally pretty tough and it was more or less standard to be permanently miserable,
constantly homesick. Since it was rare to find any support from within the school, pupils had the choice between
keeping a stiff upper lip (ie. supressing their feelings) or running away.
Happily, much progress has been made since then. Homesickness has not been eradicated, of course: the next few
weeks will no doubt see boarding schools throughout Britain coping with numbers of tearful children. On the whole,
however, after the first few days of no doubt feeling rather lost, pupils will be so busy – in and out of the classroom
– and making friends that they will hardly have time to be feel blue. Getting involved in all that is on offer is a key
element in feeling part of the school and, in some small way, ‘at home’.
And what an enormous variety is on offer these days to keep pupils occupied throughout the week and the week
ends. A transformation from my own boarding school days, from which I can remember two extra-curricular events:
1) watching the film “To Kill a Mocking Bird” on a big screen in the school hall and 2) stopping off for chips after
going to a play in a local town (I can’t remember what play; the chips were much more memorable). I can
remember because they were about the only extra-curricular things that happened over 4 years of boarding school. Most week-ends were spent eating sweets, which might help overcome the Blues in the short term but make them
very much worse in the long run.
Of course – I say from my own experience – it is not uncommon for the parents to suffer the blues as well, feeling
the hole left by their absent child. And so arises the question: how often should parents make contact? Perhaps a
little more than a closely-monitored call once every half term on the House phone (harking back once more to my
own schooldays) but perhaps a little less than a long Skype home every evening. A family whose 10 year old son
has just started at a Prep school in England have been advised by the Headmaster not to call for the first week: a
gentle way of saying ‘let us do our job and give him time to settle in without distractions from home.’
Rest assured: on hand today are a friendly team, well-qualified to listen to a child’s needs outside the classroom as
well as in. These include a Housemaster or Housemistress and their deputy, a Tutor, Matron, nurses in the
infirmary, generally a chaplain and several other members of staff who a child can turn to for pastoral care. There is
no longer any need to bottle up the blues, sharing them only with the pillow and teddy at night-time.
*Henry Van Dyke, 1909