Editor’s Note: It is back-to-school season and I thought it would be a good time to reshare this classic post from the blog archive. I hope it helps any parents who have children starting a new school this year. I wish you and your children all the best.
Need ideas on how to help transition kids to a new school? You’ve come to the right place.
The start of a new school year is always full of promise.
There’s always a chance that we’ll never be late for school. That no lunches will be forgotten. That
no parent will lose their ever-loving mind no one will get frustrated during homework time because that’s not how we did math. That all permission slips and forms will be turned in on time. That a pandemic won’t disrupt the school year over and over again.
See? So. much. promise.
I give us a week before one of those balls gets dropped. *sigh*
Today I’m sharing how we help transition kids to a new school because our kids are both making the transition again. Yes, again.
If you count preschool, my kids, who are entering 6th and 9th grade, have attended seven different schools.
When I type that out it doesn’t sound good.
If I don’t count preschool it is six different schools.
Six sounds so much better. Yeah, right.
Needless to say, I have some personal experience in this area.
My kids did not change schools that many times for any negative reasons such as housing insecurity, job loss, family circumstances, etc.
There have been natural transitions to new schools from elementary to middle school. However, most of our new school experience is the result of moving a handful of times for job opportunities.
We treated each move as an adventure and we even had the opportunity to live in Ireland for two years, so we don’t regret those choices. What we gained from all of those different experiences more than made up for the downside, like my kids having to change schools.
Adventure is all fun and good, but you can’t escape the realities of life – like educating your children. Here is what has worked for us in terms of how to help transition kids to a new school.
By the way, this is coming from the perspective of a mom with input from her kids. I’m not an expert in child psychology or education. Do with that what you may. Also, my children do not have special needs, so I know that eliminates a layer of complexity to any transition.
How to Help Transition Kids to a New School: Transition Timing
Most of the time you don’t have a ton of flexibility as to when you might be moving, but if you do, then the question becomes when do you transition your kids to a new school? At the beginning of the school year or sometime in the middle?
It depends. We’ve done both and each scenario has pros and cons.
If your kids start at the beginning of the school year then they start with everyone else. This means the focus as “the new kid” isn’t directly on them because the teachers are busy getting everyone settled into the school routine.
Even if your child doesn’t know where to go or what to do, they won’t be the only child who doesn’t know where to go or what to do that first day or week.
They probably aren’t the only brand-new kid starting school that year either.
We happened to time the transition of my daughter starting middle school just perfectly. We moved back to the U.S. when she was starting 6th grade, which is the start of middle school. In that instance, everyone starting 6th grade was technically new and she blended right in.
If you start anytime after the first day of school, then your child will be singled out as the new kid – at least for a few days. I think this is actually a good thing because there is a little more one-on-one in terms of making that particular child and family feel welcomed into a new school.
Sometimes a buddy is assigned to help the child learn the ropes. School administrators, in my experience, seem to go out of their way to make new kids and parents feel welcome. I’ve even had a school secretary peek in on my child at lunch and called to let me know it was all smiles. That was very kind.
However, there is also an academic adjustment period if your child enters a new school mid-year. You may find out that they are ahead or behind in whatever curriculum their new school is teaching. Some sports or clubs may already be filled. You may also have missed out on certain volunteer opportunities like being a room parent…or maybe you’re not so sad about that.
Like I said, there are pros and cons no matter when your child transitions to a new school.
How to Help Transition Kids to a New School: Orientation is Important
I’m now going to assume that your child is entering a new school at the beginning of the school year.
If your child’s school offers an orientation for new students, DO NOT MISS IT. This is your golden opportunity to make your child feel more comfortable going to school on the first day.
At my daughter’s middle school orientation, I had her walk to each class on her schedule until she felt comfortable doing it on her own. It took 2 or 3 times and she knew where every class was located and felt so much better about navigating the building.
She also practiced opening her locker until she had it down pat. If you’ve ever had that nightmare about forgetting your locker combination, you’ll know why this is important!
If your school doesn’t offer an orientation, then call and ask if you can come for a tour. I’ve yet to be turned down for this request when we’ve made it over the summer.
There are a plethora of unknown factors when starting a new school that can make a kid feel anxious. Getting a feel for the physical space and procedures helps to eliminate many of the unknown factors that can cause anxiety. My kids feel much more confident when they have a general idea of what to expect and where to go on the first day of school.
My kids are visual learners, so I always ask for a map of the building. Walking through a new school can be overwhelming and there’s a lot to remember.
Having a building map is a tangible way for the child to remember later what they saw on that tour. That map can also be a bit of a security blanket. On more than one occasion I have found a building map folded up in the bottom of a backpack. The maps are never used at school, but they had the map just in case!
On our most recent school tour, the school secretary even gave my daughter a clipboard and a highlighter so she could highlight the main rooms where 7th graders have math, science, and English since her schedule wasn’t ready yet.
Some of the questions we ask on a tour or during orientation if the information isn’t provided in a written handout or online include:
- What time does school start and end for full and half days?
- When will we receive bus stop information?
- Where at school does the bus drop the kids off in the morning?
- Where do the kids go when they arrive at school? Classroom, gym, cafeteria, etc.
- Where do the kids board the bus in the afternoon?
- What are the dismissal procedures? (Bus number, etc.)
- Where do parents pick up and drop off?
- What is the procedure to notify the school if your child is going to be absent?
- How does lunch work at this school?
- If a child wants to have school lunch only periodically is there a good day to do this? For instance, Wednesdays might be a popular day for school lunch because pizza is served.
- Can kids wear backpacks to each class or do they stay in lockers?
- Do the kids have time to go to lockers in between classes?
- What are the rules regarding phones?
- If applicable, when will the child receive the school-issued laptop or tablet?
- What clothes are needed for PE? Do you need those on the first day?
- Where are the kids bathrooms?
- Is there recess? How long is it?
- If before or after-school care is necessary, what are those options?
In the age of Covid, you may also want to ask the school about health and safety procedures.
In addition to taking a tour or attending an orientation, you can also informally visit the school to make your child feel more comfortable. I don’t mean dropping by to walk the halls. I mean taking a walk or driving by the school so your child becomes familiar with what the building looks like.
If your school has a playground open to the public, you can also stop and play. Not only is this a good opportunity to familiarize your child with the school’s exterior, but you are also helping them associate this new place with fun memories before they start school.
How to Help Transition Kids to a New School: Friendly Faces
If there’s any opportunity to meet other kids who go to the new school before your child’s first day, DO IT.
It could be as simple as meeting the neighbors or as involved as joining a summer sports team.
It always helps the transition to a new school if your child knows a friendly face.
How to Help Transition Kids to a New School: Parent Role
As a parent, my role in the transition to a new school is to NOT FREAK OUT.
Easier said than done.
My kids are experts at picking up on the nuances of my mood. If I’m anxious about something, it is a cue to them to be anxious about it too.
I try not to over-hype the transition either. My kids know when I’m over-selling something, unfortunately.
What I aim to do is strike that balance of being positive, encouraging, understanding, and matter-of-fact about what is happening. This includes acknowledging their fears and nerves if there are any. It is very normal for all of us, no matter our age, to feel uncomfortable with a new situation until we get used to it.
If they have a question I can answer, I do. If they have a question I can’t answer, but it seems like something I could get an answer to, I try to make that happen.
If it’s just general anxiety about being new, then we’re in trouble. Kidding! Then I go back to being positive, encouraging, understanding, and matter-of-fact about what they are experiencing is a normal reaction to starting something new. Like other times they’ve started something new, their brains and bodies just need a little bit of time to get used to the new thing.
I also try to have my act together – at least this once – in terms of making sure the kids have everything they need on the first day. If I’m feeling harried because I’m rushing to get lunches made, find shoes, or pack backpacks, then my kids pick up on that stress. They don’t need me piling extra stress on that first day.
How to Help Transition Kids to a New School: Celebrate
Starting in a new school, no matter if it is the first day or the middle of the school year is a reason to celebrate.
My kids know, that no matter what happens during the first day at a new school, they have something to look forward to at the end of the day.
We celebrate with a gigantic cookie. It’s a treat that works no matter their age.
I hope these tips help you and your kids if they are transitioning to a new school this year.
If there’s anything that going to school during a pandemic has taught us is that resilience and adaptability are important characteristics to embrace!
If you have any tips that you’d like to add in the comments, please share. It just might help someone else!
I wish you and your family the happiest, most fulfilling school year.
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