AMES – The first day of school is fast approaching and many families may be facing a transition to a new school. Careful preparation for beginning at a new building or a new district can help minimize effects on children – academically, socially and emotionally, says Cheryl Clark, a human sciences specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
Clark specializes in family life issues and offers these tips to help children get used to their new setting.
• Attend school orientations or open houses. These events are planned to ease children into the new environment. Sometimes just seeing what the new school looks like relieves stress. This is a good opportunity to meet teachers and see classmates.
• Make friends early. Before school starts, if possible, sign up for sports teams or attend events where students can meet others who go to their school. “Once the school year begins, encourage your child to join clubs or extracurricular activities,” Clark said.
• Model the behavior you want to see in your children. Introduce yourself to the new teacher or principal. Get involved in parent organizations and meet other parents. You can be a strong role model for how to venture into new spaces.
• Get school supplies based on lists furnished by the school. Selecting their own backpacks, lunchboxes or other supplies gives children a sense of control on the first day. Having the supplies specified by the school can ease jitters that might otherwise happen by not having the appropriate materials.
• Talk about it. “Ask questions such as ‘What are you most excited about for the new school year?’ and ‘What are you most worried about?” Reassure your child that other students have the same feelings,” Clark said. Keep in mind that how you frame the experience will impact your child, so emphasize the transition as a chance to learn new things and meet new people.
• Do a trial run. Take your child to the bus stop, drive to the building or practice the walking route ahead of the first day of school. Set your departure time and plan backwards, allowing plenty of time for a healthy breakfast.
• Rest up! In the days leading up to this transition, set routines so your child gets enough sleep. “Not getting enough sleep can increase stress, make concentration difficult and just simply leave your child grumpy,” Clark said.
• Prepare the night before. Set out clothes. Pack lunches and backpacks. Any prep done the night before can reduce the chances for last-minute emergencies.
• Be patient. Children may be quieter, more challenging or just not themselves during this transition. Give them a little time and space to adjust to the new setting and let them know that home is a safe space for sharing their feelings.
• Keep tabs. “If your child shows signs that the transition isn’t going well, talk to school personnel,” Clark said. Guidance counselors and school psychologists can give advice for difficult situations Signs to watch for might include changes in eating and sleeping patterns, separation anxiety or refusing to go to school.