Packing for School

Packing for School
What are you allowed to bring to boarding school? What are you not allowed to bring to boarding school? Answers to those questions and more.

Here's what we are looking at. Your daughter heads off to boarding school in a two months. She's got a horse and a cello and a raft of sports equipment including skis and field hockey sticks. You're going to need a truck to get her to school, right? It all depends. Let's review the items and equipment schools will allow her to bring and things she should not bring. Bear in mind that every school has its own unique rules and regulations concerning what can be brought on campus and what cannot.

Incidentally I remember quite vividly load our Dodge Caravan full to the brim with what I can only call 'stuff'. I never knew one young lady would need so much 'stuff' when she went off to boarding school. But she and her mother had determined what she needed and what could be left at home for another trip. I was comforted to discover dozens of other over-loaded vehicles at the school when we arrived to move our daughter in. And most of the fathers looked just as bemused as I did.


Let's start with the horse. Riding is an integral part of many boarding school athletic programs. If riding is important to your child, investigate the equestrian programs offered by the schools which you are considering. Our daughter had ridden in seventh and eighth grades. Fortunately for us, her interest in that expensive pursuit had waned by the time she was ready to go off to boarding school.

You can bring your own horse to school in many cases. A lot depends on the facilities at the school. Most schools will have school-owned horses and a limited number of stalls for boarders' horses. The school will require your daughter to take care of her animal. There will be veterinarians and farriers to deal with. Still, if riding is important to your child, go for it. None of this comes cheap, but then you knew that long before you read this.

Here are some examples of the kinds of programs schools offer together with the program details. I have chosen one school from each kind of riding you are likely to encounter. English style riding and western style riding seem to be the programs which you will encounter.

Musical instruments

If your child plans to continue his music lessons at school, he will probably insist on having his own instrument to play. That works for most of the small to medium-sized instruments such as flutes, trumpets, violins, clarinets and so on. If he plays the piano, that's another matter. I am assuming, of course, that you checked out the music program at the school. Many boarding schools have facilities where students can practise. Private lessons can be arranged as well. The important item to confirm is that your child will be able to continue his lessons and to make progress if that is what you both want.

Music in all its many forms has a place in boarding schools. In this video Berkshire School student Matthis Wieczorek plays the guitar.

Sports equipment

Most schools will ask you to bring your own tennis, badminton and squash racquets, golf clubs, field hockey sticks, hockey skates and so on. Most schools will also require you to bring your own smaller protective items. They will supply the heavy protective equipment needed for contact sports such as football and hockey. Again, if you have concerns and questions, be sure to ask the school's athletic department beforehand.

Electronic equipment

Gone are the days when boarding school dorm rooms had land lines. So in most schools cellphones are a must. One thing you might want to check out is which carrier has the best signal in the school's location. If you don't do that, you will have many frustrating phone conversations with dropped calls and poor signals of one or two bars.

Having said that, some boarding schools do not allow students to bring cellphones to school. If you are not sure what the school's cellphone policy is, ask.

Tip: Before your child goes off to school, begin to acclimatize him to the school's protocols and rules for using cellphones. He won't be able to use it whenever he wishes unless there is a true emergency. That includes texting.

Most boarding schools have specific directions about what kind of computer to bring to school. Needless to say, if the school allows the use of a computer it will most likely be a laptop. That laptop will be more or less state of the art in order to keep up with the demands of academic program. Desktop computers generally are not allowed any more.

Many schools will not let your child bring an iPad or any other tablet to school. Ditto for e-readers such as Kindles. It just makes sense to read the school's packing list carefully a month or so before you have to pack. Discuss any items which may not be brought to school so that there are no hard feelings.


Many boarding schools have uniforms which your child is required to wear. The specifications for those uniforms will be detailed. Be sure to order his uniforms in advance. Do not wait until the last minute. School uniforms are generally not open to your interpretation. You must adhere to the exact specification and probably where to buy the uniforms.

Residential life is pleasantly surprising for most new students as this short video shows.

Most boarding schools have dress codes. Review what the school expects and equip your child with the necessary items. Remind your child not to push the boundaries when it comes to dress code rules or any other school rule for that matter.


All boarding schools have strict policies about medications. Your child's prescriptions will be dispensed by the school nurse. Also she may not bring any over-the-counter medications with her. The nurse will have the more common over-the-counter medications available as needed.

These packing list for Kent School and Madeira students are fairly typical of the sort of thing you can expect at most boarding schools.


Review packing lists and all those other lists well in advance. Do not leave any of this to the last minute. Ask the school about anything you are not sure of. It is simply not worth being embarrassed when you arrive with something which is not permitted to be used at school.

Have more questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl

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