The beginning of a new school year can be a harrowing experience for some elementary school students. The anxiety of academic expectations from a new teacher, new classmates and making sure one’s wardrobe are in season are just a few of the factors that play into that first day of school for any child. However, for a child beginning a brand-new school in a new town? That takes everything to a new level.
“The first day of school is full of excitement and anxiety for all students. For a child at a brand-new school it’s a whole new level,” says Rebecca Hammerman, principal of Carmel Academy in Greenwich. “My goal is to ensure they are supported by their teachers and peers from the moment they get off the bus to dismissal. I will usually match the student up with another child to help ‘show them the ropes.’”
Once a child has learned the lay of the land (especially the location of the bathroom and cafeteria), the next step is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the child. This is an important detail that parents are encouraged to provide to the school. The more information a parent can provide to a school the better experience the child will receive. For example, if your child has a love of music, let the school know so they can introduce them to the music program. Or, if a child displays anxiety in certain environments, that’s vital to a school in creating a comfortable and nurturing setting. Every piece of information about your child that may quell any anxieties is extremely helpful to teachers and administrators.
Bob S., a 5th grade teacher in White Plains recommends parents encourage their children to get involved. “I often suggest kids join a sport or after school club. It really is a great way for them to make friends.” Children often find comfort with activities they enjoy and it’s a bonus to find other peers with the same interests. Many schools offer after school programs that involve more than the usual sports and interests. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs are becoming more popular with elementary school children, so it would behoove parents to inquire at the school.
While schools can help to some degree, it’s up to the parents to help their child’s transition go as smoothly as possible. Paul and Alyssa recently moved to Rye Brook, and their two children are heading to a new elementary school in the fall. “We speak openly and honestly with them about the new experience in September,” explains Alyssa. “We have planned tours of the school for the kids so they have an opportunity to see and familiarize themselves with the new setting. In addition, we’ll visit the playground quite often this summer and we’re enrolled in soccer and camp to help meet new people in the area.” These ideas will not just help kids become more comfortable with their new school, it will help parents create relationships as well.
Chappaqua parents Tim and Robyn got involved with their daughter’s elementary school PTA when they moved there in September. “We felt it would be a great way to find out all about the school’s extracurricular activities and even contribute some ideas of our own,” says Tim. Overall, parents play a key role in their children starting a new school on the right foot.
Here are a few tips to help parents ease the anxiety their children may be feeling about attending a new school.
• Contact the school’s administrators and set up a meeting to discuss your child’s strengths and weaknesses. The more the school knows, the more they can help.
• Arrange a physical tour of the school. It will be less stressful for your child if they become familiar with their new surroundings.
• Branch out as soon as you move in and meet other families in the neighborhood.
•Talk to your child and ask them what are they excited or nervous about. Their answers may surprise you.
In the end, parents can only do so much to help integrate their kids into a new academic life. Teacher Bob S. explains that “parents need to be patient, for every kid finds their way in time.”
Seth Leibowitz is a Westchester father and special education teacher who enjoys writing about what he knows including parenting, hockey, music and study skills. Seth founded Tutoringhelp911 to help children with ADHD and dyslexia thrive in school.
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