By Leah Klein
Before children, I was a first grade teacher and by mid-August, I would usually be setting up my classroom. My emotions would waffle between excitement for the coming year and butterflies because, for teachers, every year is like the first year of school. Fast forward a few years and I had to help my children get through their own first day jitters—especially the year we transitioned to a totally new school for my kindergartner and third grader. I knew what they were going through: as a student, I transitioned in second grade and again in sixth grade from school in Canada to school in France and back. Then I moved from private to public school in high school.
If you’re transitioning your child, it’s important to realize that this change isn’t going to be a walk in the park, but it won’t be a disaster either. Here are ten tips to help with the transition to a new school.
1. Keep calm and don’t carry on.
Don’t over-think or question your decision or situation too much. Take a deep breath and make a list of what you love about your old school and what you don’t like. Write a list of pros and cons for your new school, new city and new situation. Every school has its strengths and weaknesses. Don’t stress about how the building looks, what the ranking of the school is, or whether the school feels familiar or not. Find out who the principal is, who your child’s teacher might be and who the specialists and after-school teachers are. This will help you find a friend and ally within the school who will connect with you and your children.
2. Get familiar with the place.
If the school is in a new town, head out and explore the neighborhood. If it’s a new school in the same town, take a bike ride over to check it out. Stop in to drop off a form or play in the playground (call the principal to see if it is okay to go inside and say hello). After your visit, hang out at a nearby park or library. You should also look into finding a sports team or club that your child can join—often groups will meet or start training before class starts.
3. Plan a play date with classmates.
See if you can arrange a playground meeting with new friends. We recently did this with a family that is about to move to our city. They came down for the day and we met them at the playground.
4. Use online resources.
Read teacher blog posts, school newsletters and join Facebook, Yahoo or Google groups. If your town has School Choice, try to read up and visit as many schools as possible to get a feel for them. Make sure to look into how the lottery works, too. Also, don’t overlook the calendar. Find out what day school starts and what school hours are. Don’t assume that the new school has the same schedule as your old school.
5. Separate your feelings from your child’s feelings.
As parents we have our own childhood memories—both good and bad. Try to separate your own fears from your child’s so that you don’t add fuel to the fire.
6. Be an advocate for your student.
Get to know the school’s strengths. If your child has special needs of any kind, don’t hesitate to connect with teachers or specialists that you think will benefit from learning a bit more about your child before school starts. If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or needs special services, find out what is available in the school for your family. If you have concerns about the school, talk to other parents to see if they have similar concerns. You may find that you are worried for nothing or that parents are working together with the school to make changes. This could be a great way to get involved.
7. Keep old back-to-school routines.
Sticking with as many familiar routines or rituals as possible will make those first days back less overwhelming. Play it cool and treat day one like any other first day of school. After everyone is settled in, celebrate the successful transition.
8. Create a “Facebook” of their very own.
You can usually find a photo of your child’s teacher (or teachers) on the school’s website. Print out the pictures and make a page with teachers’ names, the principal’s name, specialists’ name and a little drawing for your child to look at in their room or in the car. My son has trouble remembering names, so we even made up sing-song rhymes to go with his teachers’ names.
9. Don’t go back to visit the old school right away.
It’s nice to visit old teachers and classmates but give it some time. Let your child feel comfortable and take ownership of their new school first. Once they feel somewhat settled, it’s fine to go back to see old friends.
At the end of the school day, listen to your child. But don’t ask too many questions. If they don’t open up easily, try to find quiet moments to sit together and read or play a card game. It’s a great way to see how they are feeling even if they don’t talk about their day. Many teachers are okay with a quick email at the end of the day or week if your child isn’t telling you much about their day. If your child does raise some concerns, ask first if they want you to follow-up with their teacher or leave it be. My daughter was often upset about how her day went but wanted to resolve things herself. Other times, I would email the teacher to point out something that bothered my daughter—in those cases, it was helpful for both of them to be aware of the situation.
This article originally appeared on mommynearest.com on August 18, 2014.