Children in foster care change schools often. Our Education Coordinator, Paige Douce, shares some advice on how to help your child face the unsettling challenge of attending a new school.
Facing the unknown can be really tough for any child, as it feels totally out of their control. It’s extremely helpful in this situation to arrange for the child to visit their new school before the first day of classes. This allows them to walk around and explore their new environment while there are few people and no pressure. They have the chance to learn their environment and feel more in control and safe when they return for their first day of school. While visiting the school, practice some of the school day routines, such as finding the bathroom, lunchroom, or gym. Talk with the child about what the beginning of the day will look like, such as how they will get there and where they will go when arriving. Also, talk about what will happen after school, how they will get home, when they will see you again. It can be helpful to practice these routines playfully with the child in the days leading up to the first day. It can also be really helpful to meet the principal, secretaries, or the child’s teacher, so they see a familiar face that first day.
Children may feel they don’t have control over attending a new school. Thus, it’s important to provide the child several opportunities to make choices that give them age-appropriate control. Let them help pick out some of their school supplies, so they can have ownership and be proud of their things. Ask for their help putting together a healthy lunch, if they pack their lunch, and picking out their clothes. Ask for the child’s help in choosing a healthy after school snack, which gives them something to look forward to when they return home.
If it is a child’s first time being away from a parent/guardian for a long period of time or if the child is anxious about separation, parents can provide a “separation object.” This can be a simple item, such as a hair tie, bracelet, wristwatch, or something small that belongs to you. Ask them to take care of it until you see them after school. This is helpful in two ways. It’s something physical they can keep with them that’s a reminder of you, while also reminding them that the separation is temporary and you will return.
Paige also provided a list of books to read with your child that can be helpful:
- How do Dinosaurs Go to School?, by Jane Jolen and Mark Teague
- Wemberly Worried, by Kevin Henkes
- The Day You Begin, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by Rafael Lopez
- The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak
- The Invisible String, Patrice Karst illustrated by Geoff Stevenson
- Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You, by Nancy Tillman
- Real Friends, by Shannon Hale
- The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, by Stacy McAnulty
- Marshall Armstrong is New to Our School, by David Mackintosh
- You Will Be My Friend, by Peter Brown