You thought you knew the big school transitions, right? Kindergarten, check. Maybe fifth or sixth grade, depending on your district’s structure. Ninth grade, for sure.
Only then your kindergartner learned from home all year, and suddenly she’s heading into first grade and it’s a whole new big transition you didn’t expect. Schools and families are generally prepared for the extra support students need in their first years in a new school building. But what’s going to happen in the fall, when whole classes of kids who aren’t supposed to be going through a big transition...actually are?
Unfortunately, we can’t control what school does. We hope most schools will recognize that for all kids coming back into the building after so long away, there will be a need to reset routines, help students adjust, and—especially for little ones—just find their ways in these new and intimidating places.
But there are also some things you can do at home—and at drop-off—to make sure your child’s school transition goes smoothly, even if it’s not technically a “transitional” year.
Reset home routines. Will they (and you) need to get up earlier? Is there a bus to catch or a uniform to have ready? Whatever the changes, start early to make incremental adjustments to your routine so you don’t have to manage all the changes—at school and home—at once.
Connect with teachers in advance. As soon as you know who their teachers will be, get in touch to say hello. If you can, get time on their calendar to have a Zoom call and talk through how your child’s last year went, what their strengths are, and where you think they’ll need some support. (Include the kids in these conversations as much as they want!) Consider using our Getting to Know My Child guide as a conversation starter to talk through what went well and not so well during their time with remote learning, too.
Meet some other families. With the weather warming up and more adults getting vaccinated, it’s even safer to head to a park and connect with other families in person. Set up some playdates for the younger kids, and encourage outdoor meet-ups for the older ones. Even if they already know each other via Zoom, it’ll be nice for everyone to visit in real life before school starts up again.
Do a “school day walk-through.” Check in with the teacher to find out what your child’s daily schedule is going to look like. For younger kids, like first graders, make a schedule you can hang up at home (with visual cues to help early readers), so they know the order of the day. You can even try a practice school day at home. For older kids who will be switching classes, maybe for the first time, make sure they have a list of where they’ll be going and when. If they aren’t familiar with the building, see if you can download a floor plan (or ask a teacher or the school’s family liaison for one) so they know the basics: where their classes are located, where the bathrooms are, and where they’ll head for lunch.
For little ones, make a school drop-off plan. It’s very possible that caregivers still won’t be allowed into school buildings in the fall, which means your littles might be heading in on their own. Talk to them about this in advance so they’re prepared to be brave, big kids. If you’ve already met up with some other families, maybe you can plan to meet outside school in the morning so the kids can walk in together. It’s always nice to have a buddy!
Celebrate the milestones! The kids have been through so much this year. Whether they’re finishing up preschool and heading into kindergarten or transitioning into an older grade that wouldn’t be a “milestone” in a normal year, make a fuss over it. Have a movie and ice cream night, make their favorite meal, get dressed up and do a mini graduation or transition ceremony in the yard so friends and family can cheer for them—whatever works for your family, let them know you’re proud of what they’ve accomplished and excited to see them on their way.