My friends’ two children moved schools during the Easter Holidays last year. Because of the immediate closure of all Primary Schools in March, they didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to their friends or teachers. A few months later, well-settled in their new school, my friend’s son opened up about how this transition had made him feel. To my friend’s surprise, he completely broke down and his sobs were the kind that come deep from the belly; he was grieving. Grieving the loss of familiarity, friendships and being part of that community. “When Jonny left last year,” my friend’s son said, “they all wrote him a card saying goodbye and wishing him luck… I didn’t get a card”. This sweet boy didn’t get the opportunity to close that chapter of his life, he’d left the book that defined so much of his childhood and jumped into a new story, leaving the old one unfinished and strangely open. Super-mum that she is, my friend wrote to the school and the teacher kindly helped the class write him a card. It may not sound like a big deal, but it has made a huge difference to the way he now feels about that time. It helped him process the change and end that chapter well.
I have found it easy to underestimate the impact that this lack of closure has had on children all over the country. Every Year 6 or Year 11 leaver didn’t have that Leaver’s Assembly, Prom or Class Party last year. These aren’t just fun events - they are rituals, a ceremony of sorts, that mark the end of one season and start of another. A Professor in Anthropology at the University of Connecticut writes, “Ritual is an ancient and inextricable part of human nature…it remains a powerful tool for promoting resilience and solidarity. In a world full of ever-changing variables, ritual is a much-needed constant”. Rituals are also proven to reduce anxiety, and help people to transition from one phase of life to another physically, emotionally and socially. Our kids need to mark the changes that are happening in their lives, especially in these times. If we put effort into some sort of ‘ritual’, whatever that looks like, it validates their emotional journey through the changes and gives them the closure that they need to move into the next phase of life.
To this day, nearly three decades later, I can still remember the song we sang when we left our old Infant School building and joined the Junior School. Although I was young, I know that singing that song together and having that assembly helped me understand a big change that was happening to all of us, and to this day it remains my best claim to fame as I played the chorus triumphantly through my plastic recorder on the local BBC news.
Chatting to someone who’s son graduated from University last year, they told me about the Graduation Ceremony that they put on for him at home. He wore a homemade cardboard mortarboard and they performed a short family ceremony in the lounge, which included singing the University’s song and hitting him on the head with a book - they assured me that this was part of the University’s Ceremony too! Although it wasn’t what he had hoped for, it still marked the end of a season and celebrated his stepping out of education and into a new phase of his adult life. It’s a memory that will be precious to young man and that family for many years to come.
When I think about these stories, and the ‘rituals’ that we do in this country, so many of them include songs. Weddings, funerals, school assemblies, festive traditions, even the start of sporting matches, all have songs that are sung to mark the occasion.
Songs are a brilliant way of expressing feelings and uniting groups of people, the lyrics give words to emotions and thoughts, and the unison reminds each person that they’re not on their own. We have a brilliant song in our Same Boat Music collection that explores this theme of transition called Change and Grow. If you have children who are moving to a different school, class, or kids group at church, then this song is a great one for them to learn and sing together.
There are places we’ve loved, and those we’ve left,
There are days we remember well.
There are faces we know we shan’t forget,
But this day we move forward,
This day we move forward.
Even if a group ‘ritual’ or ceremony isn’t available for your children, hearing or singing this song will help them think about change and the positive message will sink in. We’ve got a fun craft to go with it that you could do together, using the theme of seasons to explore how change is a part of everyone’s life, and reminding them that they are moving through it with you by their side.
So, in the words of every classic school disco DJ… “this one goes out to all the school leavers”.