Thinking About Your Child’s Next School Year—It’s not too Early! Posted on April 18, 2018 By: Bradley S. Jerson, PhD Although signs of spring are just beginning to show, it is not too early to start thinking about ways to help your child make the most of the move to a new school year this fall. During the next months, schools hold planning meetings for the transition to the next academic year, which often present an excellent opportunity to have a thoughtful conversation with your child’s team about what next year will look like. Below are some tips for talking to your kids AND their school teams about what may be most helpful for excitedly “moving up” to the new school year. Why does this matter? Transition planning for the next year makes for a smooth start in the fall. For some students, this may be as simple as starting to point out a new part of the school building where they may be next year or introducing them to new faces they haven’t yet met. For others for whom school is a bit more challenging or whose medical or developmental concerns interfere with optimal school functioning, a more comprehensive and thoughtful plan may be necessary. Planning in advance can avoid the need to play “catch up” if things do not go well at the beginning of the year. This is particularly essential for kids moving to a new school. How can I talk to my kids about next year when they’re not even done with this year? Any parent who has ever asked their child, “So, how was school today?” knows that it’s not always easy getting insight into their days. We definitely do not recommend placing spy-cams on their backpacks, so thankfully there are some other ways to get at this. You will be surprised what an open-ended question can do to help you get some insight into their school days and concerns about the next year. There may be many predictions that are quite accurate (bigger school, more work, more class changes) and then there may be others that are more exaggerated because of fears they have from the ways schools look on TV representation or stories they have heard as urban legend within the community. Some questions that may be good conversation starters: “Tell me what you think will be different when you start school next year?” “What is something that will be better/easier and what is something that may be worse/harder?” These alone, may allow kids to share thoughts they have about which you may not have been aware were concerns. The answers can help you prepare them for the reality of the changes and also inform efforts the school team can help to make for an optimal start to the school year next year. Helpful links: PBS.org – Talking with Kids About School Understood.org – Questions to Ask Your Child About School For all students with special healthcare or educational needs: Parents should ensure that they speak with their child’s team to prepare for the next year. This will ensure all 504 or IEP accommodations remain in place, or new ones are developed in response to any difficulties from this year. Get more information about these topics. For students transitioning to a new school: Parents can start to reach out to the new guidance counselor, school nurse, or psychologist to ensure that all relevant team members are aware of your child’s individualized needs if they currently have a 504 or IEP. Even if there is no formalized plan in place, parents should feel comfortable reaching out to the current team to share any concerns or ask clarifying questions about the new school. This is an important measure across the developmental spectrum (even pre-K into kindergarten). For students whose medical symptoms may be worse at certain times of day or be influenced by certain environmental factors: Now is the time to advocate for individualized schedules to maximize the likelihood of success. This is much easier to do now when schedules are still being developed rather than in the fall when they observe a problem. Of course, schools may not always be able to guarantee a requested class at a specific time. However, for example, if you know that your child would benefit from a later rather than an earlier lunch time, now is a good time to bring that up. For students who have experienced excessive teasing or bullying or feel sad or scared about being in school: Unfortunately, bullying continues to be a part of childhood. Schools are initiating programs and curricula to attempt to reduce its prevalence. However, there are still steps that parents can take to ensure a more comfortable, supportive environment. For example, a simple request for their child to be placed in classes with at least one close friend may serve as a significant buffer and protective factor against possible bullying or depression in school. For students with significant learning issues identified this year (e.g., new diagnosis of ADHD, learning disability, or suspicion of a learning disability): If a psychoeducational evaluation or a PPT meeting has not occurred, the families can request one in writing with the school to ensure that a plan for special services is in place prior to classes being assigned. For seniors in high school transitioning to college with special health care or learning needs: It is now up to the students to identify themselves as individuals with a medical condition (or other learning issue for which they had received accommodations during high school) to their colleges’ offices of student disabilities. Many students try to “leave the illness at home and start over,” only to see that it catches up with them when crises could have been avoided. Seeking accommodations is not a weakness, but simply levels the playing field to ensure they can succeed as well as everyone else in this new environment. More information about transitioning to college with a disability is available from the U.S. Department of Education. Bradley S. Jerson, PhD is a pediatric psychologist at Connecticut Children’s who helps families adjust to the psychosocial aspects of chronic and acute illness, while promoting positive health behaviors to optimize quality of life. Dr. Jerson was featured on the Fireborn Institute’s “Happy Student” podcast to talk about how chronic illnesses affect children’s school life. Listen here.