Preparing for the First Day of School in a New Country

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The first day of school can be daunting for new students and even more so in a new country. But there are some steps parents can take to help prepare for the first day and to make it a little less stressful.

• Openly listen to your child’s fears so you can discuss them and if possible solve them in advance.
• Remind your child that everyone is new at some point and that it is OK to ask questions if he or she is unsure of something.
• Help eliminate the fear of the unknown by touring the school and locate key classrooms with your child before the school year begins.
• If possible, arrange a meeting for your child to meet her new teacher. If it is not possible to meet the teacher in person, ask the school administration if your child can send the teacher an email to introduce herself as well as ask any questions.
• Ask the school what kind of programs they have in place to ease the transition of new students. Many international schools have a buddy system where a more seassoned student is assigned to show the new student around.
• Find out if there is a parent-student orientation meeting. Here many of the questions that you and your child have will be answered and your child will be able to meet some of the key players like the principal and teachers
• Try to find out what school supply ‘must haves’ will be necessary before you leave your home country. For example, in some schools students need a swimming or bathing suit for gym class, which can be difficult to find in the winter seasons in certain countries
• If the school teaches in a language that is not a language the child knows, make sure he knows the point person he can go to with questions like, where is the bathroom?
• Although nerves might be high the night before school, try to make sure that your child gets a full night of sleep and a hearty breakfast to start the day.

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8 Responses to Preparing for the First Day of School in a New Country

  1. Judy C. says:

    Your suggestions of how to help prepare your child for the first day of school are excellent. These can help children moving to a new country, moving to a new state or even starting the next grade. Another lovely way to help many students who suffer from anxiety in new situations is to take photgraphs of the school, the new classroom, the library, the bathrooms, the cafteria, etc and also the teacher, the office staff or anyone else who the child will be spending time with. These visuals can be very calming and reduces the need to ‘talk’ about what is going to happen which can often trigger anxiety attacks. Your child can quickly refer back to the photos if they suddenly worry about not remembering where to go, who to meet or what will happen on that first day.

  2. Carola says:

    Some schools might be able to refer you to another family who recently went through a comparable experience. This often works as a good introduction to the school, the community, and the culture.

    I recently worked with a Japanese family moving to San Francisco. The 5-year-old boy spoke no English and I was concerned about his visiting several preschools, even with his parents present. One preschool invited a Japanese mother at the school to be available for an hour on the morning of the visitors’ tour. This gracious gesture made the family feel welcome and comfortable — and was an indicator of the extent to which the preschool was willing to be supportive. The parents ultimately chose this school for their son.

  3. Doreen says:

    Great ideas for everyone moving into a new school. When my older children went to middle school they had similar anxieties. The buddy system and mentoring programs are wonderful too. They help the whole family adjust to the relocation.

  4. Try to get a class list or one or two numbers of children in the same class and get together with that family before school starts.If a child walks into a class knowing some of the children, it is a big help too.

  5. Jeannie says:

    If possible check to see if new school has recommended reading lists for students’ recreational reading over summer, or vacations. This may put all students on same ‘page’ when school restarts.

  6. N K says:

    Our school has an orientation for new students only – a few days before school starts. At that time they pair the new students up with current student ambassadors who show them the campus, answer any questions, and act as buddies in the first week of school. This helps the new students settle down quickly, and they do end up asking questions of their peers that they may not necessarily ask adults.

  7. Sara S. says:

    I have found that international schools are much better prepared to manage the adjustment process than American schools. With so many new students each year, this is just part of the school experience for these institutions. By contrast, try to find other “new” families to connect with at an American school. You will have more of a shared experience.

    Best thing that ever happened in terms of integration to European school was the classmate of our third-grader who happened to have a birthday party shortly after beginning of school. Great time for parents and kids to meet. I even found a realtor there who connected us with the house we rented for the duration of our expat assignment!

  8. Melissa says:

    The first day in a new school is an event worth preparing for. This is not the time to wing it. Seek support and introductions from the school if none are offered.If your child is the only new student the school may not have registered that you need support.

    Look and listen for clues from your children and act swiftly if they seem sad, lonely or overwhelmed. Some things that can help:

    -speak to your child’s teacher either before the start of the school year or immediately after it begins to share your excitement or concerns.I have found teachers to be much more helpful if you reach out to them first.

    -if your child if having trouble meeting new children, take initiative. Sometimes other children don’t know your child is new. This is often the case for older children in larger schools.

    -Do something that gets you into the classroom or meeting other parents. Pick up your child from school for a few days even if you don’t have to so you can be there early and meet other parents and put the parent and child combinations together.

    -Host an informal gathering of kids and their parents. We hosted a Halloween party in a country that didn’t celebrate that event. I invited parents too since they didn’t know us and I thought they may not allow their children to come to an unknown student’s house. Enough children and parents came to break the ice and give my daughter some friendly faces to return to at school the next week.

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