Preparing For Your Child’s First Residential

After the madness of the Autumn term with new starts, Halloween, and then the build up to Christmas, you might be forgiven for thinking that the new calendar year brings a sense of calm to your child’s school life. Then the permission slip arrives and suddenly you are faced with a brand new milestone and with it a whole heap of emotion.

Your child’s first residential is a significant moment. It points to your child becoming increasingly independent, something that may alarm you given that he or she is still only in primary school. It’s also a sign of just how fast time can fly. One moment you are cradling your teething baby at 3am in the morning, the next you are waving them off to spend a night or two with a group of people who are not family or friends at a place none of you have visited before. We take a look at how you can make sure both you and your child are ready for this big occasion.

What Will Happen On My Child’s First Residential?

Group of schoolchildren on a school trip

The timing of residential trips vary from school to school. Some schools don’t offer them until the children are in Year Six, whilst others start when your child is still in Key Stage 1! For younger children, schools will typically start with just one or two nights away in somewhere that is generally enclosed, such as an outdoor activity residential centre, rather than a trip where they might have more freedom to explore, such as to a major city or ski resort. Older children are more likely to be taken away for a few days at a time.

Teachers and teaching assistants will accompany the children throughout, and possibly staff from outside organisations. For example, in the case of residential centres, there are usually staff employed by the centre who are experienced with school groups and will help manage the group. Unlike on school trips where parents are invited to attend and help out, parents are not usually involved in residentials, as the emphasis is on building your child’s independence.

Does My Child Have To Go On A Residential?

Young boy on a hammock

School trips are not compulsory and your child’s school cannot mandate attendance on any trip or residential. If you are reluctant to let your child attend because you are worried about them becoming homesick, have fears over safety, or think they are not ready to stay away overnight, then you might be tempted to inform the school that your child will not attend and request that your child is given activities in school to complete instead.

However, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are plenty of benefits of attending a residential. Firstly, many enable your child to experience something they may not get the chance to otherwise, such as skiing, abseiling, watching a London show, etc. Secondly, they also enable children to develop new skills, such as team building, and they are brilliant for building up confidence. For this reason, it’s worth trying to put your fears aside and instead focus on the possible benefits for your child. Furthermore, it’s worth bearing in mind that if your child does get left behind at school, then there is good chance that he or she will need to spend the week in a class with younger children, as schools do not have the resources to provide a normal timetable for your child when the rest of the class are out on a residential.

My Child Is Anxious About Going On A Residential

Children Sat On School Play Equipment

Some children might feel afraid about the prospect of their first residential, especially if they have never stayed away from home without family before. A good school will do lots in advance of the trip to help prepare any children who feel nervous, such as talking in class about all the exciting things that they will be doing. However, you can help at home, as well. Try not to make too much of a big deal out of it by talking it up at home, especially if you also feel anxious, as your child will certainly pick up on that. If your child does bring it up in conversation, be bright and breezy about the topic and focus on the positives. You could try looking on the Internet at the place your child is visiting to show them what kind of things they will be able to see and do there.

When it’s time to pack for the residential then schools will generally allow your child to bring along a teddy as a comfort, but don’t pack anything too big and certainly don’t allow your child to take anything valuable, as there is a good chance it will be lost or damaged. It might be tempting to put in a note or two from you to remind your child that you love them, and to be brave, etc. As sweet at this idea might be, it will probably have the opposite effect to what you intended, as many teachers and residential leaders report that notes tend to make children more homesick, serving as a reminder of their parents.

Therefore, instead of focusing on things from home that your child can take with them for comfort, why not turn it around and ask your child to find something to bring back for you as a souvenir? We are not talking about expensive tat from a gift shop here, but rather something simple, such as a pretty stone, a pinecone, or a shell from a beach. Alternatively, it could be a leaflet from a museum, or perhaps a map of the tube if they are going to London. If your child is allowed to take spending money, then you could ask for a postcard, as these tend to be cheap and serve as a great reminder. That way, you are redirecting your child to a task for them to do on the residential, rather than encouraging them to think about what they are missing at home.

Practical Tips For Preparing For Your Child’s Residential

Two boys with suitcases and chalk train drawing

So far we have looked at the emotional side of preparing for a residential, but here we look at some of the practical tips that will help your child have a successful trip.


Your school will probably provide you with a kit list, especially if your child is going to an outdoor activity centre. Do make sure that you include everything on the list, and don’t be tempted to over pack by adding multiple sets of clothes, etc., as it will just add to the chaos in the accommodation.

Do name every item of clothing your child takes, as this will help staff to reunite any lost items. That being said, do be prepared for the possibility that some items will be lost. For this reason, don’t pack anything too expensive, such as your child’s best coat or a designer t-shirt.

Roll up an outfit together so that your child can just pull out one bundle – i.e. place trousers, t-shirt, underwear, socks, and jumper in a pile and roll them up together before placing in the suitcase.

Pack your child’s bag with your child. This is so that your child knows where everything is and doesn’t look for items that are not there. For items, such as toiletries, you could consider popping them all in a zip-lock bag with your child’s name on, for ease of access. If your child is especially disorganised, you can include a list of everything that is in the bag so that your child can hopefully gather everything together on the list at the end.

However, it’s also a good idea to stress to your child that you won’t be angry if they do lose an item while they are away. With 30 children sharing accommodation some loss is inevitable, and it’s important that your child’s enjoyment of the residential is not hampered by them feeling worried about your reaction to a lost jumper. We all know how irritating it is when a child loses clothes, but for this occasion, it’s a good idea to channel your inner Elsa and simply “Let it go”.


If your child needs medication, such as an inhaler or an epi-pen, then any good school will have a procedure for managing this. If you are not sure, talk to your child’s teacher in advance to find out what the procedure is.

If your child has a health condition or an allergy then a residential can be a worrying time for parents, but rest assured that most schools have extremely robust procedures for dealing with these situations and staff are well trained in this area.

Sweets, Treats, and Spending Money

If your child’s school has specifically requested that parents do not include any treats, such as sweets, please do adhere to this request. The children will be excitable enough without someone sneaking in a huge bag of sweets to share around right before bedtime. You really don’t want to be known by the teachers as the parent who thinks the rules don’t apply to your precious darling.

If your school does allow treats, then check carefully what is permitted and what isn’t, and don’t just take your child’s word for it. Most schools will issue detailed guidelines about what to take and what not to take before the event. This also applies to spending money, which may, or may not be appropriate depending on the nature of the trip.

During the Residential

Group Of School Children With Teacher On Field Trip In Nature

It’s normal to worry whilst your child is on their residential but do resist the urge to phone the accommodation to try and check in on your child. Your school will probably provide regular updates on the trip via a service, such as Class Dojo, or the school website. Remember that no news is good news, and the school will definitely contact you if there is an issue. For longer trips, some schools will allocate a time for phone calls home.

After The Residential

Boy with hat is sleeping on the back seat in the car on the road trip on vacation

You will certainly be pleased to see your child come off that coach but do be prepared for a very tired child. If it’s a one night residential for the first time, then it’s very likely that your child didn’t get a lot of sleep from all the excitement, and they also spent the last two days running around.

If they do manage to stay awake on the journey home, then have one of their favourite meals ready for them when they get home, followed by a nice warm bath before bed. Don’t bombard them with too many questions, as they will probably be too tired to talk. Hopefully the details of their adventures will come out over the following days.