Helping Children Transition Into a New School Environment
It’s never easy moving your child to a different school. For elementary school-aged children, going to a new school can be especially trying. The idea of having new teachers, classrooms and friends can be daunting to even the most outgoing of kids, and it will take purposeful planning on the parents’ behalf to ensure that their kids know it’s normal to be nervous about heading to a new learning environment.
It isn’t uncommon for students to feel out of place for the first few months of transitioning to a new school, especially if they are in a new home environment as well. Kids who experience the stress of going to a new school may show their discomfort by acting out, withdrawing from social activities or even changing their diet and sleeping patterns.
Changing schools in high school also isn’t easy. Older kids face a unique set of challenges when changing schools, such as coping with greater academic pressure while adjusting to change. Fortunately, parents and teachers can help a child settle into a new school whatever their grade level.
If you’re wondering how to deal with transferring schools, we are happy to help you and your child through the process. In this post, we’ll share tips for going to a new school so you can help your child adjust whether they are a toddler or high school student. We’ll also answer a few common questions parents have about helping a child settle into school. Going to a new school seems scary, but with the following tips and a positive mindset, the transition will be much easier.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
- Tips for Going to a New School
- How Children Adjust to a New School at Different Ages
- Tips for Starting a New School in the Middle of the Year
- Transitioning From Public to Private School
- Common Questions About School Transitions
- Get Involved With Playground Development at Your Child’s New School
12 Tips for Adjusting to Going to a New School
Transitions at any age are hard, but they can be made easier by keeping the following tips for moving to a new school in mind. These tips can help a child of any age adjust more easily to a new school and environment.
1. Allow Your Child and Yourself to Experience the Stress
This particular step seems counterintuitive, but acknowledging the stress that both you as a parent and your children are experiencing makes it that much easier to move beyond it. This is an excellent opportunity for you to sit and talk with your child about what is bothering them, what their fears are and what can be done to help them feel better about the new surroundings and circumstances.
2. Cut Your Child Some Slack
Children in new educational settings are already overwhelmed with new schedules and teachers, so they do not need extra pressure to perform at home. Lessen your children’s load when it comes to unnecessary work, especially during the first few weeks of a new transition. Slowly introduce your children to outside activities, acclimating them to their normal level of activity.
3. Talk to Teachers About Your Concerns
Almost no one will understand how much stress you and your child are going through more than your child’s teacher. Discuss your concerns with your child’s teacher, and ask for feedback. You are likely to discover that your teacher has resources to help you help your child. After all, they’ve likely helped out numerous other children who have made a big move before!
4. Talk to Fellow Parents
By joining the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), you can talk to other parents who may be in the same boat as you are. Having people who understand exactly what you are going through can provide support, and can even help your child find other children who are new to the school.
5. Let Your Child Have Playtime With You
Set aside time to show your child they are not alone. Go to the playground, go to a museum or just stay at home and play in the backyard. Regardless of what you decide to do, your child will appreciate the fact that you want to spend time with them and will let loose a bit in the process.
6. Keep Open Communication With Your Child
The best way to know when your child is doing well is simply by talking to them. If you keep tabs on what your children are doing, you will know if they are struggling or doing well in their transition. This requires constant communication with your child about how they are feeling. Before you know it, you and your kids will be happily settled in your new environments.
7. Plan a Play Date
Speak with other parents and see if you can arrange a play date with your child’s classmates. A few hours at the park can help your child feel more comfortable around other kids in their new school while having fun, getting exercise and relieving stress.
8. Wait a While to Reunite With Old Friends
It’s beneficial to help your child maintain contact with their friends and classmates from their previous school. Writing letters, making phone calls and sending emails can all make your child feel connected to the friends they no longer see every day. However, give it some time before arranging a play date with friends from their previous school.
Allowing your child to feel comfortable in their situation before reuniting with old friends encourages them to take ownership of their new school. Waiting a while can also help your child branch out without turning back too quickly to the familiar.
9. Keep the Old Routine
Did your child have a special morning routine while attending their old school? If so, try to keep the same routine with their new school. Structure and familiarity comfort children and help them adjust to change.
10. Keep Your Child’s Workspace Similar
Having structure extends to the after-school hours, too. If your child had a routine space for doing homework, reports and other school assignments, do your best to maintain that space. Completing schoolwork in the same location that they previously did can give your child a sense of normalcy and help them feel empowered to tackle new assignments.
Even if it’s just your kitchen table, try to keep your child’s homework space the same. If your child previously liked to do homework at their desk next to the living room window, give them a similar space with a window. The view may be different, but it will likely feel similar. Make sure they also have the supplies they need to start the school year right.
11. Read Books Together
Read books about moving to a new school with your child. A book can offer helpful suggestions for both of you, and it might also encourage your child to ask questions or talk about their feelings. For example, the book “Growing Friendships: A Kid’s Guide to Making and Keeping Friends” by Eileen Kennedy-Moore is easy for kids to understand and is written to help children ages 6 to 12 transition to a new elementary school.
12. Tour the School
Your child might be worried about getting lost in their new school. To help them feel more confident on their first day, see if you can arrange a tour before school starts. Also, make sure your child knows where they will be picked up and dropped off every day to help calm their nerves.
13. Prioritize Sleep
Moving to a new school is a stressful time, and your child may be struggling to get the sleep they need. Children ages 6 to 13 need nine to 11 hours of sleep every night. Adequate sleep will help your child cope with anxiety in a healthy way and process new experiences.
To help your child get the sleep they need, limit screen time before bed, follow a bedtime routine and keep them from doing anything too exciting before bed. Make sure they get at least 60 minutes of exercise per day and try to prevent caffeine consumption. Lastly, make sure their bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. It’s best to get into a school sleep routine a week or two before school starts.
14. Encourage Your Child’s Hobbies
Supporting your child’s hobbies can provide them with much-needed stability and relaxation during a transition to another school. Hobbies help kids release stress and gain a fresh perspective on their situation. Through engaging in hobbies, kids can have fun and take a break from thinking about their new environment.
If your child doesn’t have a favorite hobby, suggest that they try some extracurricular activities their school offers. Engaging in their favorite extracurricular activity might bring your child opportunities to make friends at their new school. You can also suggest different activities, from active hobbies like sports, yoga and hiking to creative ones like art, music and writing.
15. Give Your Child Some Control
Adjusting to a new school is challenging and might make your child feel powerless. The stress of lacking control over their environment can be multiplied when your child experiences life changes they don’t understand. You can combat these feelings by giving your child more opportunities to make decisions during the transition.
Give your child a little extra control over their new school environment by letting them pick out their first day of school outfit, lunchbox, backpack or binder. Having something new that reflects their personality might make your child feel a bit more confident on their first day of class. If the new school allows parents to pick their child’s class, you could also arrange a visit so your child can have input in the decision.
16. Be Patient
It’ll take a little time for your child to get used to a new school. Be patient and let your child know you are there for them. Reassure them they are going to have a great school year, and before they know it, they’ll no longer feel like the new kid.
How Children Adjust to a New School at Different Ages
A toddler is going to handle a transition to a new learning environment differently than an older child. For example, a toddler may throw a tantrum to express their stress, while an adolescent may display more attitude. Nevertheless, every child adjusts to a significant change in their own way despite their age. Here’s what to generally expect and how to help your child settle into a new school according to their grade.
1. Toddler Transition to a New Daycare
Toddlers typically do not handle change well, so it helps to accept that the transition may be difficult, especially if the child is also dealing with a new house. Although 2-year-olds have more thinking and language skills than babies, they still need time to feel comfortable around strangers and unfamiliar places, and they need structure and predictability.
It’s not uncommon for a toddler to experience strong separation anxiety during the first few weeks of daycare, and they may cling to you or cry for you not to leave. Although the transition may not be easy, here are some ways to ease your child’s anxiety and help them adjust:
- Always say goodbye: Predictability comforts a young child. By saying goodbye every time you leave your child at daycare, even if they cry, you create a predictable pattern. This will help your child trust you’ll return at the end of the day. If you or a family member do not say goodbye, it may seem as though you disappeared, which adds to the unpredictability.
- Ask your child’s current caregiver for notes: Before you move your child into a new daycare, ask their current caregiver to share notes about your child so you can give this information to the new caregiver. These notes may include the child’s routine for meals and naps, how to comfort them and their favorite activities.
- Say goodbye to their old daycare: Make your child’s last day at their current daycare special by having a small celebration. Bring their favorite snacks and music and help them say goodbye.
- Stay with them during the first week: If possible, stay with your child for an hour or two each morning at their new daycare and gradually decrease this time for the first week. Interact with other teachers and children so your child can see they are in a safe place.
2. Transition From Home to Preschool
Preschool-aged children will react differently to preschool depending on their personality and previous experiences. Sometimes children in this age range revert to old behaviors such as baby talk or clinginess if they feel unsure of their new environment. Just like with toddlers, familiarity, predictability and routine comfort preschoolers and help them through a transition. Although many preschoolers feel excited to start school, it’s natural for them to experience separation anxiety when saying goodbye. Follow these tips to help your child adjust to preschool:
- Help them warm up: Take your child to the preschool a few times beforehand so they can explore the classroom and toys within your presence. Use these visits as opportunities to chat with teachers about the daily routine.
- Create a goodbye ritual: Before the first day of school begins, develop a goodbye ritual to help comfort your child. For example, you might use a special handshake to say goodbye or include a cheerful note with their lunch.
- Stick to a routine: Have things ready the night before and make sure your child has time to get dressed and eat a healthy breakfast without feeling rushed. Make this part of the daily routine.
- Read with your child: Children in this age range love to hear a story read to them. Help them prepare for preschool by sharing a book written especially for their situation.
3. Transition From Preschool to Kindergarten
Helping your child adjust to kindergarten may be easy if they had positive previous experiences in a school setting. However, some children start kindergarten without any school experience. Either way, most kindergartners want to play with other children and feel grown up. If your child tells you they are afraid of moving from preschool to elementary school, or if they act out more than usual, you can help calm their worries. Here are tips for transitioning to school for preschoolers:
- Help them through play: You can help your child transition from preschool to primary school with activities. For example, you can create a book of drawings illustrating their hopes and fears relating to school. Or you might act out the transition at home with stuffed animals, puppets or dolls to show your child what to do when they feel afraid.
- Talk with them: Talk to your child about the transition in a positive way and try not to let your anxiety show.
- Visit the school as soon as possible: Visit the school over the summer if possible or before your child attends and bring your child with you. If the school provides a daily schedule, go over it with your child ahead of time.
- Set up a play date: Moving from preschool to primary school will feel less stressful if your child already has a friend in class. Ask teachers if the school offers a late summer playground meeting so your child can become acquainted with some of their classmates early.
- Acknowledge their fear: Let your child know it’s okay to be afraid. You might share a story about a time you felt scared and how everything turned out fine.
4. Transition From Elementary School to Middle School
The transition from elementary school to middle school is a milestone in a child’s life. Your child might feel terrified about getting lost in a larger school or being around the big kids, especially if they’re in a new town. By following these tips, you’ll make the transition from elementary school to middle school much easier:
- Visit the new school: It’s likely your child is afraid they will not be able to find their classes in their new school. To help them feel more confident on their first day, learn how your child’s middle school is organized. For example, some schools keep different grades in their own sections while others organize the layout by teams. Explore the school with your child in advance so they can locate their classes and other important rooms like the gym and cafeteria.
- Practice opening the locker: Your child might also worry they will not be able to get their locker open. Go to the school beforehand with a combination lock and make sure they can open and close their locker without trouble. If they struggle with the combination lock, consider getting them a lock with a key instead.
- Pick out clothes: Middle school kids typically focus more on how they look than younger children. Help your child choose an outfit that will make them feel good about themselves on their first day of school. You don’t need to spend a fortune either, as thrift stores or consignment shops might have what your child needs.
- Prepare for the mornings: Your child might have to get up earlier for middle school than they did for elementary school. Help your child adjust to the new routine by getting them up early a week or two before school starts. That way, they won’t feel tired during the first week and can handle the transition better.
5. Transition From Middle School to High School
If you’re wondering how to help a teenager adjust to a new school, you’re not alone. Teens are far more independent than younger kids, and they want to be in control of their lives. However, your teen still needs your support and guidance as they face new challenges. Kids begin to think about college, their future, relationships and jobs when they enter high school. Transitioning to high school is a big part of growing up. Here are tips for a successful middle school to high school transition:
- Visit the high school: Again, your child will need to learn the layout of a large, unfamiliar school. It’s likely they’ll worry they’ll get lost and be late for class. Take advantage of any open houses or orientations the school offers to help your child navigate the school with confidence.
- Help them develop goals: Ask your child about their goals and plans. Listen to them and show your support. Your encouragement will help them view high school as an opportunity to grow and accomplish their goals.
- Discuss extracurricular activities: Talk about school groups, sports or extracurricular activities your child might like to try. This can help them make friends who share similar interests.
- Be positive: Let your child know you believe in them and that they are going to do great. Avoid warning them about how tough high school can be because that can only add to their stress.
- Listen: Let your child know you support them and are there to listen if they feel overwhelmed or afraid. The transition to high school will be easier if they know you’ll be there when they have a bad day.
Tips for Starting a New School in the Middle of the Year
Moving to a new school after summer break is a stressful experience. However, starting a new school in the middle of the year is even more difficult. While other kids already had time to adjust to the routine, your child will be starting everything anew. It’s best to start a new school at the beginning of the year. However, it’s not always possible. If your child fears they’ll feel out of place, reassure them it won’t be so bad. Follow these tips to help them adjust to a new school any time of the year:
- Speak to teachers ahead of time: Talk to teachers before the move to let them know of any needs your child has and how your child feels about the move. Teachers are there to help you and your child, and the more knowledge you give them, the more they can help your child adjust.
- Talk with your child: Let your child know what to expect and that it won’t be easy. Give them time to express their concerns and hopes.
- Get involved: Ask teachers, counselors or coaches what groups or activities your child can get involved with to help them with the transition. Find out if there is a buddy system for new students.
- Stay engaged after the move: Speak with teachers after the move to check in and make sure your child has adjusted well. A teacher may notice certain behaviors that your child doesn’t show at home and can alert you if there seems to be an issue.
Transitioning From Public to Private School
A public to private school transition or vice versa can be just as challenging as moving to a new town. However, sometimes it’s the best option depending on the circumstances. Here are tips to help your child adjust to a new educational setting:
- Wait for a break: Wait to switch your child during a break rather than starting mid-semester so they can start at the same time as their classmates.
- Talk to their teacher: Let their teacher know that they are transferring from another school and may need some assistance with the transition.
- Explain the change: Explain the reason for the switch and focus on the new school’s positive qualities and opportunities.
- Help them stay in touch: Arrange a play date with friends from your child’s old school, and give them time to make friends at their new school.
- Get involved: Join the PTA or volunteer at your child’s new school if possible. The more involved you are, the easier it will be to help your child adjust.
Common Questions About School Transitions
Here are a few more questions you might have about a new school transition.
1. How Does Changing Schools Affect a Child?
The truth is, changing schools is tough, particularly because it often disrupts friendships for kids. This is most troubling for introverted children who may find it difficult to make new friends. Also, middle school may be the toughest time for a transition because kids are undergoing significant developmental changes during this stage of life. However, when you try to make the transition as easy as possible for your child and show your support, you greatly reduce the impact of a move.
2. How Long Does It Take to Settle Into a New School?
The amount of time it takes to adjust to a new school depends on the child and the support they receive. While some kids feel comfortable in a new school within a few weeks, others can take much longer to adjust. If transferring to a new school has been especially hard for your child, a counselor or therapist can help them cope with their stress and other difficult feelings.
3. What Are the Signs the Child Is Not Adjusting to a New School?
Some kids adapt to transitions easily while others find it more difficult. Sometimes, the situation can make it tough to adjust to a new school. If your child experiences a lot of stress due to a move, look out for these signs:
- They frequently refuse to go to school.
- They throw a tantrum when it’s time to go to school or when you talk about school.
- They often have a meltdown when you try to take them to school.
- They show signs of separation anxiety more than before.
- They change their sleeping or eating habits.
If your child displays any of these signs, try not to panic. Meet with a teacher or counselor and discuss your options. You can work with them to identify the source of your child’s distress and ways to help your child with the transition.
Get Involved With Playground Development at Your Child’s New School
Whether your child is transitioning to a new elementary school or changing schools in middle school, it can be a difficult time. One of the best ways for a child to relieve stress, make new friends and cope with change is to play. Free, unstructured play helps kids release their energy and forget their troubles. It also helps them develop emotionally so they can cope with life’s challenges. Lastly, when kids get to play outside, they get the exercise they need to stay healthy, and they’ll feel more relaxed when it’s time for bed.
As a parent, you can help ensure your child gets enough exercise and unstructured playtime while at school by getting involved. For example, if you join the PTA, you can work with other parents and teachers to build a thrilling playground that gets kids excited to play. At Miracle® Recreation, we specialize in putting the thrill back into play with innovative, adventurous playground equipment kids can’t wait to use. To learn more about our inclusive playground equipment, contact your local Miracle representative or request a free quote today.