Boarding school vs day school. When it comes to motivation, engagement and psychological wellbeing, which is the better choice?
Boarding schools have been a feature of the educational landscape here in Australia for a long time. But unlike in the UK, Australian parents aren’t choosing boarding schools because of the advantage they provide their children to get into university.
Australia is unique. It’s extremely large, and has vast regional areas. That’s meant that historically regional Australian children didn’t have the access to education that their peers in the capital and regional cities might. In Australia boarding schools have been essential for many students who really didn’t have any other choice when it came to getting a high school education.
Of course, today there are more options for Australian parents for schooling. Distance learning for one. And many regional areas have grown enough to offer their own high schools. But boarding school is still an option, and one that many parents are considering for their children.
So, if you’re making a decision between boarding school vs day school, what should you consider?
Boarding School vs Day School
Boarding schools are residential schools were students live on campus during the school terms. Day schools are where students attend classes at the school, but return home every day. But both should be places that nurture, encourage and spur creativity, imagination and learning.
They should also be places where your child can feel motivated, engaged and have good outcomes when it comes to psychological wellbeing. And it’s these factors that we’ll consider below.
Motivation is an important part of any student’s education. And the one we want for our kids is called ‘adaptive motivation’.
Adaptive motivation is where students feel a sense of accomplishment when they do a good job. In other words, they might think, ‘I feel pleased when I study hard and do well at school.’ When a child has adaptive motivation they value school, believe that persistence and hard work will help them do well and feel confident in their ability to plan and tackle tasks that can lead to success.
Research shows that in Australia children in both boarding schools and day schools seem to have this motivation in approximately equal measures. Studies conducted in other countries, such as the United States, show a slight favour for boarding when it comes to motivation. But here in Australia, both day students and boarders generally feel equally self-motivated to do well.
On a deeper level, motivation is likely to be highest when students experience high levels of competence (they’re learning, growing, and achieving mastery), high levels of relatedness (they feel a strong sense of belonging and community), and high levels of autonomy (they feel they have choice and control over their lives). Each of these factors will vary among schools and individuals, and again, Australia’s day students and boarders experience these needs as satisfied in about equal measure.
Children who are engaged at school, do better at school. Engaged kids enjoy school, they have academic goals, they participate in class, they do their homework and they don’t let school tasks (such as homework) overwhelm them.
Boarding schools are often believed to encourage this kind of engagement. Anecdotally this belief comes from a boarding schools focus on relationship building with the staff, teachers and other students. And many schools also offer a large number of co-curricular activities both on campus and within the community. Both of these tend to give students a voice and a choice, which is great for feeling part of a school community.
But research again shows that children in both boarding schools and day schools feel engaged at about the same levels. This means that they feel equally that they’ve got a voice and a choice.
If you’re looking for a reason to choose boarding school vs day school, the better idea is to simply look at the types of educational opportunities and extracurricular activities on offer. Finding the thing that lights your child up will go a long way to helping you find their ideal school environment. Perhaps the next variable may be the deciding one for you and your family.
Your child’s wellbeing is one of the most important factors to consider when choosing a school. Feelings of wellbeing are fundamental to the overall health of your child. Wellbeing enables them to successfully overcome difficulties and achieve what they want in life.
When it comes to psychological wellbeing, the research shows that boarders had slightly increased positive outcomes compared to day students. Researchers suggest that this may have to do with the boarders’ greater access to trained educators who are good at managing the social-emotional needs of students. On the other hand, parents are not usually trained to manage the changing emotional needs of their teens. Perhaps we’re just making it up as we go along? Certainly the conflict so apparent between parent and teen is less likely in an education context. Relationship needs may be met through community and belonging in different ways at school compared to at home.
Interestingly when it comes to relationships, boarders report having better ones with their families and peers than day students. In fact, those students believe that their parents ‘understand’ them better and that overall they get along with other students well.
Which should you choose?
Whether you choose a boarding school or a day school is a personal decision. You’ll want to sit down and talk it out with your child and hear their opinion as well. The key factors will ultimately centre on relationships (with staff and students), academic goals and expectations (often based on what is available to you where you are), and the extent to which basic psychological needs can be met in the education options available to you. If your child feels they belong, feels a sense of control, and feels that they are growing, they’ll fit right in wherever these needs are met. Remember, focus on fit, philosophy, and friends more than resources, results, and reputation.
Article by Dr Justin Coulson, Happy Families
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