Back to School / Health and Wellness / School Readiness / Ages 2-24

How to Succeed at a School Transition

School transitions can come with a lot of emotions. How can you prepare your kid, and the whole family, for getting off to a successful start in a transitional year?

Back-to-school season is usually a mix of excitement and nerves for everyone. But if your child is making a big school transition—like starting kindergarten or heading off to middle school or high school for the first time—the end of summer might bring more nerves than usual.

Research suggests that the transition between elementary and middle school, in particular, is where many students fall off track academically, so it’s an important moment in your child’s educational journey. Whether they’re starting kindergarten or moving onto middle or high school for the first time, some advance planning can help them get off to a smooth and successful start.

Here are some ideas for how to get a transitional year off to a great start:

  • Talk about what’ll be different and what’s staying the same. Especially for younger children, preparing them for what they’ll experience is so important. Of course, these conversations will depend on your child’s age (and personality), but it can be helpful to remind them about anything that will be familiar in their new environment, like friends who are attending the same school, or activities they enjoy at home that they’ll also get to do at school. Talk through the differences, too: Maybe they’ll be switching classes for the first time, or will have a locker of their own, or maybe this is their first time in a big building with older kids rather than a standalone daycare or preschool. Change can be exciting, but for most kids—like most adults, too—knowing what to expect will help them feel less anxious.
  • Get familiar with their new building. Whether or not you’ve had a chance to tour the new school, you can help your kid get familiar with the building by visiting the outdoor space and playing on the playground, basketball court, or playing fields. (You might have to drop by school anyway to pick up electronic devices, IDs, or other things before the school year starts—may as well make the most of it!) If your child is going to be taking a bus to school, review the bus route and bus behavior, and for older kids who might be getting themselves to school for the first time, practice the route to make sure they’re totally comfortable.) Finally, take advantage of any welcome events the school is organizing. Meeting other students, getting a glimpse at the hallways, and knowing where the bathrooms are can all go a long way toward easing new school jitters.
“Take advantage of any welcome events the school is organizing. Meeting other students, getting a glimpse at the hallways, and knowing where the bathrooms are can all go a long way toward easing new school jitters.”
  • Connect with friends, old and new. Make a plan to spend some time with familiar faces before the school year starts—or to meet new people, so your kid knows a few classmates on the first day. Can you arrange playground meetups with other families from school over the summer? New middle or high schoolers might feel more comfortable walking, carpooling, or taking the bus to school alongside a friend or neighbor.
  • Practice any new skills they’ll need. For rising kindergartners, getting familiar with their letters and numbers will help them start the school year running—but don’t worry if they’re just learning those skills; that’s what kindergarten is for! At home, give them plenty of chances to practice the social skills they’ll need in school, too, like taking turns and following routines, as well as useful motor skills like cutting with scissors, holding a pencil, and putting on their own jacket or shoes. Even older children might need to put new skills to use as they transition to middle or high school, too. Make sure your big kid is ready to manage their own assignments, for example, with some kind of organizational tool that works for them.
  • Set goals for the year. Some of these goals should be focused on what they hope to learn this year, of course. But also nudge your child to consider some social and extracurricular goals for their new school, like joining a club, trying their hand at a new visual or performing arts activity, or trying out for a sports team.