So You Are Going to a New School
By: Courtney Wiersum, M.Ed.
The sun is continuing to shine, and the warmer air is upon us here in Michigan. For many families, the school year is quickly coming to a close; which means that summer will arrive before we know it. Transitioning to a summer routine can be challenging for many students; but for those children faced with going to a new school in the fall, the summer time can be even more stressful.
Children with disabilities tend to struggle when changes to their routines occur. Anxiety levels can be high as children move from elementary to secondary schools, change special education programs, or move to a new area. Here are a few simple strategies to use when assisting a child with a school building change:
√ Visit the new school frequently. For many children, moving from an elementary building to a secondary building can be intimidating. By visiting the school frequently, you can help the child reduce his or her anxiety level. You do not need to enter the building each time that you visit. You can do explorations around the building perimeter, try out the playground equipment, and look in windows and doors.
√ Visit with the new teacher(s). When you are used to working with a particular staff, changing teachers can become challenging. By visiting the child’s new teacher in his or her classroom, the child can begin to adjust to the new environment before school begins. This also allows him or her to develop an initial bond with the new teacher, and allows the teacher to familiarize his/herself with the child.
√ Create a book together about the new school. For many children with disabilities, reading stories about an upcoming event or change can be helpful. You can create a storybook by taking pictures of the child’s new school and teacher(s). You can include:
- The door he/she will enter/exit
- The bus he/she will ride
- The locker/coat rack he/she will use
- The desk he/she will use
- Snapshots of the child’s new classroom including pictures of items in the classroom that he/she may find interesting
- Snapshots of the cafeteria or specials rooms including art, gym, and music
Once you have had your pictures printed, you can create a storybook with the child about his or her new school. You can paste the pictures on sheets of paper, and include a few sentences about what the child can expect. Once the storybook is complete, read it with the child several times a week.
√ Be supportive of the child, and do not allow him or her to see or hear your concerns about the move. Children with disabilities tend to have a higher level of receptive language than expressive language, which means that they are better able to understand spoken words than they are able to express them. It is very important not to discuss any of your concerns or frustrations about the move to a new school building in front of the child. Your child will be looking to you for support during this time of change, and it is important for him/her to know that you will be there.
By following these simple guidelines, you can help reduce the anxiety and frustration that children sometimes feel when they are transitioning to a new school. As parents and educators alike, it is important for us to work together and support our children in the every way possible. Being supportive and understanding, taking an active role in helping the child with the transition, can make this time of uncertainty easier for everyone involved.