16 July 2009 03:28 PM

School Transitions

by Dr. Rick

For the past several weeks the Dr. Rick Blog has been concentrating on summer tips for keeping kids learning and intellectually active during the summer.  Now, let’s spend the remaining weeks of summer thinking ahead to how we can make the new school year as successful as possible.


First things first.  For some students, this year will be a “transition year,” time to go from an elementary to middle school or a middle to high school.  These transition years can be exciting and full of promise, but they can also cause some anxiety.


What are students going to new middle or high schools anxious about?  Here’s some of what students have told me over the years.

  • Who will be my friends?
  • I’ll have so many new classes.  How will I ever find them in that big building?
  • The lockers scare me.  What if I forget my combination?
  • There are so many buses!  How will I know which is mine?
  • What if my friends want me to do things I don’t want to do?  Will they still like me?
  • Will I have all the supplies and materials I need?
  • The schedule changes every day.  How can I remember where I’m supposed to be?
  • I hear the halls are crowded and I don’t know anyone.  It’s scary.
  • Will I be safe?  What about bullies and mean kids?
  • I’m going to have a lot of teachers, one for each subject.  Will I like all of them?  Will they like me?
  • Everyone seems to be in a hurry.  Is there any free time?
  • My parents got involved in everything in my old school.  I don’t know whether I want them to do that here.

Research and common sense tell us that the first year in a new school is critical – getting assimilated, making friends, setting goals, establishing habits and attitudes, selecting courses, discovering talents and interests, choosing mentors, learning new skills and knowledge, and building confidence.  We want to make things as easy as we can for our kids.


What to do?  Every student and family is unique, of course, but here are a few tips.

  1. Get to know the school.  Attend as many of the end-of-summer activities your school offers.  There’s probably an open house – go to it with your child, and invite one or two of her friends to go with you.  Safety in numbers.  Explore the school’s website ahead of time.  If the school doesn’t have an open house, advocate for one.

  2. Roam around.  Go to the school and explore the campus.  Have his new schedule with you.  Go to the classrooms, the restrooms, the cafeteria, the gym, the main office, the nurse’s office, the guidance suite.  Repeat if necessary.  Note how long it takes to get from classroom to classroom.

  3. Know the rules.  Read the Student Handbook with your child before school starts.  Talk about responsibility.

  4. Be prepared.  The boy and girl scouts were right.  Think ahead for challenges that could arise.  Buy a combination lock before school starts.  Let your child practice with it.  Often.  Practice makes perfect and swift.

  5. Be encouraging.  Being upbeat and positive is incredibly important.  Encourage your child to join clubs, teams, and activities that he’d be interested in.  This is the best way to make friends, discover new interests and talents, put down roots, build confidence, and create a feeling of belonging.

  6. Make friends.  Talk about friendships, how to make friends, how to be a friend, how friendships change and evolve over time.  Share stories about your school friendships, especially the rare and satisfying ones that have stood the test of time.

  7. Know the teachers.  Make every effort to meet and keep in periodic touch with teachers – in person, through notes, email, their web pages on the school’s website.  Know what their expectations are, when report cards are coming out, the due dates of major assignments, the testing schedule.  Help your student keep on track by doing your essential parental job of friendly, persistent nagging when necessary.

  8. Organize.  Nagging is a tactic of last resort.  Help your child stay ahead by setting goals with him, planning for important dates and events, establishing routines for his homework and studying, and letting him know you’re aware of his responsibilities.

  9. Get a study buddy.  I’m a big believer in study buddies, friends who can study with your child, challenge her, compete with her, and celebrate with her.  As soon as you detect an academic problem that goes beyond the study buddy, get help.  The earlier the better.  Get a tutor, a helpful teacher before or after school, or an Honor Society student who needs community service credit.  Just get help.

  10. Keep that confidence up.  Talk with your child daily about school to let him know you’re interested in his day and that education is important to you.  Show him how to recognize his successes, learn from his mistakes, and look forward to meeting new challenges.

For more back-to-school tips, see my blogs of August 5, 2008, and August 7, 2008.  I’ve also written a month-by-month planner for a successful school year (August 19, 2008, and August 21, 2008).  For my tips on the importance of routines, study buddies, staying on track during the school year, and much more, click “Archive” above.  And for information on free, ninety-minute parent seminars, "Transitions: Middle and High School," sponsored by the company I work for, Sylvan Learning, see our website, www.sylvanlearning.com.  By attending the seminars, you can learn about the challenges children face as they reach middle and high school -- academic, social, and psychological changes.


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