I went to nine schools. Eight of them were day schools. The ninth and last was a boarding school. My brother also went to multiple schools, but all day schools. Did that make a drastic difference in the way the two of us turned out? Yes and no.
Taking the call
The decision to send me to a boarding but not my brother was driven purely by circumstance. "Which is just how it should be," says Dr Rohini Broota, child psychologist at Moolchand Medcity, New Delhi. "When making a lifestyle choice like this, situations and context are very important." Being an army kid, I moved schools every time my father was posted, often in the middle of my school year. Once I reached senior school though, my parents felt I needed some stability. And it was important to them that at least my last school should be a great one, as sometimes, even the best schools in the really small towns aren't the greatest, as we'd discovered.
My parents didn't consider sending my brother to boarding. They didn't have to. By the time he was old enough, they were in a metro on a longer posting, and he went to just one reputed school for his final school years.
Dr Broota agrees with the decisions my parents took. As she puts it, you need to take in to account factors like the availability of schools, convenience, affordability, the home situation and the maturity of the child. The last factor is especially important if you're looking at protecting your child from what could be a difficult situation at home-like fights between parents or between them and the kids, or a joint family splitting up. "But, some children need more security during hard times. As inconvenient as it may be, you need to keep them around you," she adds.
The right time
"Children need to be an equal party in the decision-making process," says Dr Broota. This implies they need to be old enough to have their own opinion on the matter, not before eight or nine. "The older the child, the better it is."
I was 15 when I went to boarding, and I had a huge say in the matter- I even picked the school after extensive research. Because it was my decision as well as my parents', I found it easier to deal with the homesickness and sudden independence. On the flipside, because most other students had been around many years, I had to break into the existing groups in my class. It wasn't ideal, but I learnt a lot from it-life lessons I still hold dear.
Better or worse?
Being in a boarding makes you more independent and adaptable. Sure. Living in a dormitory with seven other girls is not the easiest thing, especially when I was used to a room of my own! "This a great lesson, especially for only kids," concurs Dr Broota. "They learn to share and adapt, which they wouldn't need to do otherwise."
But getting more exposure? Well, it depends on how you see it. When my brother learnt to travel by public transport and make life decisions on his own, I led a rather protected life. Sure, I had experienced things one can't possibly think of while living in a small town. I had met and lived with people from across the country, the world, even. But it was a protected, comfortable life. I never went out on my own, not even across the road. My every need was taken care of and my world was limited to the walls of my school. Many of my friends who had studied in boarding schools all their lives found it difficult to adjust to the real world after living such a closeted life.
There's really no yes/no answer to this debate, and the decision lies entirely with you and your kids. Which are you considering, a day school or boarding? Do share your reasons.