Text: Monika Pedersen
August marks the start of the new academic year in many European countries, bringing anticipation, excitement and fresh hope. It stirs up a flurry of feelings and emotions for teachers and students of all ages. And this does not change over the years! On the contrary, new beginnings are a time to celebrate and look forward to the new opportunities that throw themselves up.
As returning students or teachers, there is a joy to see friends and colleagues exchange stories, share events, and revisit the path which paused in June. The typical behaviour of a returning student is to squeal with delight on seeing close friends and classmates, run around the school to check out the new classroom and revisit the previous one, find the class list and scan if the new students are starting and search them out, and to greet former teachers warmly.
"It is not always a positive time unless a child has a very upbeat nature and then it is part of an exciting adventure."
However, for a family who has relocated to a new country or city and school, this is when an emotional roller coaster is experienced. There is no safety of known procedures, locations, and people. Instead, there is a void filled with unanswered questions and self-constructed ideas, which may or may not be valid. It is a challenging time for the entire family with a new home to set up, new jobs in which one must prove oneself, and new educational establishments to settle into. As an adult, this change can create a sense of stress to make it all work smoothly for the family. For the young people in the family, this stress often manifests itself in many questions: Will I find a friend? Will the new class be accepting and kind? Will I find my place? What will the teachers be like? Will the work be hard? Will I manage it all?
It is not always a positive experience unless a child has a very upbeat nature, and then it is part of an exciting adventure.
All these concerns consume a lot of energy and occupy a lot of space in a young person’s mind. However, teenagers may not articulate all these thoughts, as they may not want to lose face in front of a parent. Instead, their anxiety may manifest in behaviours such as unpredictable mood swings, a reluctance to participate, and a tendency to be silent, to mention a few.
A younger child may be more vocal. Here lies an opportunity, as a parent, to unpack questions and insert positivity and excitement regarding the new chapter and all the opportunities it may bring, including more friends, new clubs, interesting new classes, etc
A young child starting school for the first time has no reference point. The key here is to create an exciting story. Daily chats about school, what to expect, and how to navigate things are essential and help prepare a child for his or her first day.
Avenues of support
Fortunately, many schools or class parent groups hold preschool parent and child gatherings such as a picnic, brunch, and play park gathering, so parents and children can network and make connections. This really helps to facilitate a feeling of belonging.
Schools often hold a tour of the school for all new students and parents a week before the start date so that students can gain a logistical picture of the building. Often teachers are at school preparing, so there is a chance to informally meet the class or a subject teacher.
Many international schools, which are geared up for a multi-national, mobile community, are experienced in these issues - thus, a gradual start to the year, with a short first day with an assembly where the Head of School welcomes everyone, and teachers introduce themselves is the norm.
Older students tend to participate in class day trips or overnight stays, which provide a crucial opportunity to connect.
Primary students participate in various activities with their new teachers to feel safe and comfortable in their new surroundings. The focus at all levels is to establish a sense of security and the chance to interact and make friends. The emphasis on understanding transition and emotional needs is great and ensures a successful passageway to learning.
International schools have a long history of catering for expats; thus, they are a great option to provide security and continuity of education for children when relocating.