Transitioning to a new school can be hard to face, but it’s often for the best. Reasons for moving a child to a new school might include the parents relocating for a job, or sometimes simply because the student is progressing up to the next grade, such as from preschool to kindergarten. Whatever the reason, a move can be hard emotionally when it means leaving friends or being the new kid. Entering a new school can be a challenge; the child may have to adjust to new rules, new academics, and a new environment.
It is manageable, however, and kids are pretty resilient — sometimes more so than their well-intentioned parents! New friends will be found, kind teachers will be discovered, and the first day of school will quickly become a fading memory as the year goes on.
Here are a few tips on how to steer the family ship through to calmer waters:
Project Confidence in Your Decision
Kids will sniff out your anxiety if you spend time voicing doubts about the decision to move to a new school. With that being said, don’t be falsely stoic and dishonest when discussing the move. Speak to the change touching everyone in the family, but how you are confident that it’s the best choice for your child.
Share Your Own Stories
Talk to your child about a time when you had anxiety about starting something new or share a story about yourself as a child on a first day of school. In exchange, listen to your child’s fears and concerns and empathize. You might talk about your first day of middle school, for example, and how you faced many of the same challenges your child is facing.
Talk to the new school’s administration about procedures on welcoming new students. Often there is a welcome event before the first day of school, and many schools coordinate summer “play dates” where current families host new families. This is a good opportunity for new students to socialize and make friends before their first school day, which can go a long way towards easing social anxieties.
If the child starts the new school in the fall, look into summer camp options that either the school offers or that is associated with the school where your child could potentially meet his or her future classmates. This can be an excellent way to meet staff and teachers who also may work as counselors over the summer. Many summer camps offer educational yet fun activities to enrich your child’s curriculum and keep them learning even when school is out of session — while having fun at the same time.
With a new school or a next grade, you may be concerned about your child adjusting to the new academic rigors. Find out if a teacher from school offers tutoring over the summer, if there’s a list of books your child can read, or even if you can get a sample of lessons to get a head start with. Easing academic anxieties can help your child adjust more easily to their new school.
At least initially, show your child that you’re new, too, and that you’re introducing yourself and joining groups in order to make new friends. Quantity or length of time isn’t what matters; this could mean staying for an assembly, attending a PTA meeting, or going on a field trip.
Meet the Teacher
Introduce yourself to the teacher, explaining any fears your child may have. Often the teacher won’t be aware of your transition unless you share a little about the situation. Teachers’ accessibility can vary by type of school, so start exploring this as soon as you get your teacher assignment.
Acknowledge Classroom Size
The number of students in a classroom varies greatly between public, private, and parochial school. Parochial schools tend to be larger, 30 to sometimes 40 students, and with two teachers. In public schools, there are usually 25-35 kids per classroom to one teacher. In private/independent schools, the ratio is about 10-12 to one teacher. Depending on the sociability and learning style of your child, a smaller classroom may be more conducive to your child’s success.
Read About It
Here are a few books to help remind your child that he or she is not alone in his or her anxiety:
First Day Jitters, by Julie Danneberg and Judith DuFour Love. Great for kindergarten to second-grade, this story has a fantastic twist that’ll make your child see the first day of school in a new perspective.
The New Bear at School by Carrie Weston. Follow the plight of Boris, the new grizzly at school, who wins over his classmates by ultimately being himself. This book is mean for young elementary school children and preschoolers.
Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School, by David Mackintosh. Kindergarten to third-grade readers meet Marshall Armstrong, the new kid in school, and overcome their preconceived notions at his much anticipated birthday party.
Iggie’s House by Judy Blume. This classic middle-grade novel is about steering clear of judgment and welcoming the new family to the neighborhood, as well as overcoming issues of race.
Wonder, by RJ Palacio. This is a beautiful book about a fifth-grade boy not only starting a new school, but also facing his peers with a facial deformity.