Knowing whether to board or not to board is a decision many parents struggle with. We asked Charlotte Hughes D’Aeth to share her insights into life at boarding school and why it was the right choice for her.
People are always shocked when I say that I started boarding at 9; “But that’s so young!” they exclaim, “didn’t you miss your parents?” to which the answer has always been no!
I have often felt that if I could redo part of my life it would be my prep school years. Granted, Hanford was less like a school and more like a holiday camp with lessons; tree climbing, early morning horse-riding and chickens included. But it was also an excellent grounding for life, both in and outside the dormitories. We learnt how to conjugate Latin verbs by rote, sew in a zip (something my mother still struggles with), how to argue and make up and how to push ourselves (often with a nudge from the head) and how to be ourselves.
Now, as a housemistress myself, I often tell my girls that boarding is the best way of learning how to get on with people you won’t always like; this lesson, instilled in me at Prep school carried through into my following two schools and still rings true today. Clearly the past can be rose tinted and I’m sure it wasn’t quite as idyllic as I remember (shower curtains only got introduced in my 2nd year there and we could only wash our hair once a week!), but my prep school experience gave me the opportunity to carve out my own, budding personality and celebrate it, something that proved trickier to get right in a big public school as a teenager.
I am very lucky to have been at two exceptional and well known coed British boarding schools and whilst I found my first experience quite challenging, I am sure this was in part due to the being in the throes of the teenage years. However, I would never change those years, they taught me so much about myself and about how to navigate your life when things don’t always go well. This experience also meant that when I changed school for sixth form, I knew what I needed to do to get the best out of myself. As my mother has always said, you only get out what you put in and so I threw myself into every activity going (apart from sport, not my forte) and there was plenty to get involved in.
The joy of a 24/7 boarding experience is there is time to do so much, public speaking, be part of Young Entrepreneurs, mentor younger pupils, go on theatre and art trips, do Duke of Edinburgh and still hang out with friends. And funnily enough, I found people who shared the same sensibility. As a teenage girl, there is nothing you want more than to fit in, but I learnt that not fitting in is sometimes the best way to achieve that!
Boarding has been an integral part of my life; it taught me independence yet how to be close to my family, resilience yet how to be vulnerable, gravity yet how to take everything with a smile and a dose of humour. Privilege is not something you are immediately aware of as a child or a self-obsessed teenager, but I now know how privileged I have been, not just because I had the privilege of being educated at top schools but also because I had the privilege of learning life lessons from people of all walks of life.
Boarding taught me a huge amount about Emotional Quotient (EQ), about looking in peoples’ eyes to see if the joke had gone too far, about choosing to be loyal rather than cool (at what felt like a steep price at the time but now seems so trivial). When you live with people who aren’t your family, you both have more freedom and more responsibility to those around you. You learn to listen, to problem solve and to work out when to get advice from others and that being supportive is much more important than being judgemental or “right”.
Boarding helped shape me into the person I am today (with a little help from my parents!) and I still think it is a hugely formative experience. It’s not always fun or easy, but it sure does teach you who you are and who you want to be and I celebrate it for the person I am still becoming.