What is common to The Naughtiest Girl in School, Elizabeth Allen and the boy wizard, Harry Potter? Apart from the fact that they are both fictional characters created by Enid Blyton and J K Rowling respectively, they both went to residential schools, Whyteleafe School and Hogwarts. They were both sent to these schools for the wrong reasons, disciplinary ones, but they found a way of life full of fun, adventure and learning. They made lifelong friends and a truckload of memories to boot!
Residential or boarding schools have been around almost as long as formal schools have and though their original purpose was often for religious or cultural instruction, their place in society has changed quite a lot in some ways and not much in many other ways.
I have been interviewing children applying to residential schools for about two decades now. One of the standard questions asked is: “Why do you want to come to a residential school?” and the standard replies that follow are:
“I want to be independent”
“I want to learn how to do things on my own”
“My parents feel that I need some discipline in life…”
“My father/ mother/ sibling also went to boarding, so I too want to have the experience”
Some non-standard answers are interesting too. They give some insight into the mind of the child or provoke further questions:
“I want to be with my friends all the time”
“I read about a boarding school in a book and felt like trying it out”
or even the occasional: “I don’t want to go to a boarding school, but my parents are not listening…”
Many people have the opinion that boarding life is highly structured and does not allow much freedom for individuals. This is partly correct but is not the entire story. Daily life in boarding schools tend to be very structured and this is for obvious reasons. After a while all members of the boarding community learn to weave their lives into the daily schedule so that the schedule is as natural as the rising and setting of the Sun.
This actually frees a lot of time to explore interests and curiosities to the deepest depths! I have watched young children endlessly trying to float odd objects in the pond, creating their own sport in the process and others sprawled on the library carpet drowned in a book. Most will master the art of finding “free time”, while a few hardy souls remain bewildered at the mountain of things that need to be done by Monday morning! Eventually, they will all learn to judge what matters, living in the moment when required and saving the best for last when you should.