Advice for starting a new school

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New student at school

First day of school tips

Starting a new school is very daunting for any child, regardless of which country that school is in.

Can you imagine how scary it is to be starting a new school in an unfamiliar country? I’ve always been incredibly impressed by expat kids who do this time and time again; always being the new kid, particularly when they’re a little older and the whole self-awareness and self-confidence issues begin to rear their head.

I’ve put together some quick tips to help your child make the new start as stress-free as possible:

Visit the school before your child starts

  • Visit the school with your child before they start there. This can take a chunk of anxiety away from that ‘first day of school’ panic. Simply seeing the building, the entrance, the whole campus can ease worries. And not just for your child – it helps you know the lay of the land, the school run timing and just getting some familiarity under your belt.
  • If possible, visit the school during a normal school day. Now, I know this isn’t always possible, but if you can, give it a go. If it’s not possible, then simply seeing the building will help.
  • While there, check out what the current pupils are wearing and carrying. This is particularly important if the school doesn’t have a uniform, which can seem unusual if you come from the UK where uniforms are quite important to schools. Moving from a uniformed school to a non-uniform school can be an exciting time for an older kid. Particularly teenagers, who can start to exercise their personalities. Most children don’t want to stand out from the crowd, so seeing the unspoken ‘dress rules’ is important. Make sure you take note too, as you want to help your child fit in so they experience the best that schools have to offer. With older kids, fitting in will override comfort and common sense, so be prepared for the fact that wearing the ‘right’ shoes or ‘cool’ backpack is vital! You may also meet other parents who can help you find your feet in the area, so grab any gestures of friendliness with both hands while you have the chance.
  • Find out what items you need to buy before school starts. Some schools provide all stationery while others require you spend a small fortune and source it all yourself. And finding the latter out after school has started is not fun – I speak from bitter experience! So, insist on getting these details quite early on in your school-search and registration so you’re not charging around on the first day of school just as the shops shut.
  • Ask what will be required on their first day of school. Lugging everything, including a PE kit, will not be fun – your child has enough to contend with on that all important first day. I can pretty much guarantee that all that will actually be used that first day will be a notebook and pens/pencils. Don’t take PE kit until told.
  • Label everything. Everything. Items will get lost. Make it easier to find in the lost property box by making sure everything has a label on it.
  • Make the journey to school a few times so you and your child know the route to and from school. And make the school run during school hours – what may be a simple, straightforward route at 11am may be a 2 hour nightmare at 8am.

On the first day of school

  • Be prepared. Encourage your child from the start to get their school bag ready the previous evening. You may as well start this habit early to prevent future angst.
  • Do not be late. This can spell social suicide for many children. There’s nothing worse than everyone’s eyes on you as you walk into a room late.
  • If your child has to start at a new school midway through a term, acknowledge how difficult it can be for them. It will be harder for them to make new friends and fit in with an existing peer-group, let alone catching up academically. Provide as much support as you can.
  • With older children, a parent being seen at the school gate is a huge ‘no’! Encourage independence. Let them get on with it and be there if you’re needed.

Timetables and homework

  • Make a copy of their timetable. As soon as you see it, make a copy for your own use. Just so you know when certain kit is needed, and in case your child’s copy gets lost or damaged. It will help you to know when clean PE kit is required! It’s also helpful for reference in those countries where school ends at different times each day, so you know when your kid will be home at lunchtime, for example.
  • Create a homework area at home with the right ambience and equipment to hand. If it’s not too late, start the old homework strategy now – whatever rules work for you, get them into the habit of actually doing their homework without arguments.
  • Agree when homework will be done and stick to it.

Riding the rollercoaster

Expect the first few weeks/months to be an emotional roller coaster for your child and you. There will be a lot of ‘trying out’ new friendships as well as a lot of settling in and getting used to a new routine. Life can get quite emotional. Just ‘be there’ and try not to intervene too much (unless something very serious is occurring, of course).

I’ve always reckoned that it takes a child about one term to settle. It may take some a term and a half. If it gets to two terms and they’re still not settled and are having problems, you may need to look deeper into what’s going on.

Good luck to your child, and to you too, of course!

Originally published on: 13th Aug 2014
Updated on 13th July 2021

Choosing the right school for your child is one of the hardest decisions you’ll make as an expat parent when moving abroad. There are many education options around for expats, and so much depends on your individual family set-up and child that there is no ‘one-school-fits-all’ solution. Each child is different and each country’s school system is different, even within the ‘generic’ international schools. Also, families differ in their requirements and aspirations, and even relocations vary greatly. What worked well for you all in one country won’t necessarily be replicated in your next move.

It’s easy to get very stressed at this point. Don’t panic! I’ve put together this book to help you kick-start your search for the best type of school for your child.

Now available on your local Amazon.

Buy from Amazon

Instant access abridged version right here!

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  1. I am starting a new school on Tuesday my old school wasn’t very good and I got behind on my learning because I got distracted.I sometimes get quite severe anxiety and this helps me think straight and that I should stop overthinking it and just realise how excited I am to be in a learning environment where I can be happy.I would definitely recommend these top tips for others who are starting a new school or even an adult starting there new or first job.Just go for it and be yourself!!!

  2. Pingback: The joys and sorrows of a school transfer boy. Smart enemies, not smart even if they have no friends ~ – Corner Read
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