New Year, New School? Help Your Child to Settle In

A new school term is upon us, and for many expat children that will mean a new school, perhaps even a new home and country. How can parents best help their children to settle in if they’ve started school mid-year? Our Senior Editor, Jenny Mollon takes a look at the issues.
New Year, New School? Help Your Child to Settle In
By Jenny Mollon
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It’s January and despite being middle of the school year, this month can often mean a brand-new school for expat children. Perhaps you’ve moved to a new area or Emirate, or perhaps you’ve just arrived in the UAE.

Whatever the reason, starting school mid-year or mid-term can present a unique set of challenges. Social connections and academic progress can all suffer (or thrive!) based upon how a new school start goes. And of course, this year we all have the added layer of challenges that come with the Covid-19 pandemic. For many, it’s an unnerving time to be starting a new school.

If there’s one nugget of reassurance we can offer for new expat parents, it’s that the UAE’s private schools are well versed in helping new children to settle, whatever time of year they might start. This is a transient place, where families to tend to come and go and, over time, our schools have developed a special expertise when it comes to helping children to adapt to their new environment. Take heart in this fact and do lean on your chosen school for support. Our experience tells us it will be plentiful.

Graeme Scott, Director of Fairgreen International School would agree;

"In these uncertain times with economies in flux, the probability of international students starting new schools mid-year is greatly increased. Traditionally this has been viewed as far from ideal, however there are some real benefits. IB schools were originally established to cater for children of diplomats, in other words transient families, so the IB framework lends itself to flexibility and adaptability.
At Fairgreen International School, our teachers are used to students arriving all through the year and can put strategies in place to ensure a smooth transition. Current students are already established and not coping with their own start-up issues, and are therefore more able to support new students with buddy systems and the like.  This is already working well for the 27 new students who have joined us this term.
Also, with the number of students arriving mid-year being less than those arriving at the beginning of the year, a more personalised introduction is easier. At Fairgreen we have our Wellbeing Team reach out by telephone to the parents of new students after their first few days to see how things are going, report back on any successes or challenges (which are to be expected during transitions) and generally to ensure we remain a close knit community where personalised care is at the heart of everything we do."  Graeme Scott, Director of Fairgreen International School

Let’s look at what parents can be doing at home to support children transitioning to a new school.

First up…a perennial piece of parenting advice, don’t stint on reminding your children of just how proud you are of them.

In among dealing with the emotion and upheaval of moving country, home or school, it really can be easy to forget this one simple act. Remember, if our children see that we believe in them, they believe in themselves just that little bit more.

Tell them you know that they will get through any challenges ahead, and set aside some uninterrupted one on one time to hear what they have to say about those all important first days in their new school.

When it comes to their academic work, now is the time to cut them a little slack and simply remember to praise their efforts.

We’d also recommend that parents develop a thorough understanding of what their children will encounter at their new school.

Schools vary considerably in approach and feel and children do notice! Explain the differences to them and what to expect.

Is the new school more sporty, more competitive, more focussed on performing arts?

Consider new subject areas too: how will your child fare at Arabic, for example? What could you be doing at home to support their success in the new subject? If they have changed curricula, what new learning skills might they need to succeed?

If your child needs additional support, now’s the time to make sure your new school has absolutely all the information they might need from you, any specialists and of course, the former school.

Even if you child doesn’t have a specific need identified, but you suspect that they may need extra support, make sure the school knows. It can take time for new teachers to develop the knowledge of your child that they need to identify issues, so any information you can supply to help them better understand your child will no doubt be warmly received.

Since the advent of Covid-19, UAE schools have become adept at meeting parents online. We would recommend that parents request a review meeting with your child’s teacher within the first month of them joining the school.

Don’t be afraid to share any negative issues or problems…this is your chance to begin ironing them out!

If there are issues that need addressing, agree a time for follow up later in the term to look at how things are working. Keeping lines of communication open will be all important, especially during this time of restricted physical access. At Arcadia School, which has welcomed more than 50 new families this January, Executive Principal Giles Pruett reiterated the need for great communication by saying,

“Mid-year moves can be challenging for families as routines and relationships have already been established in classes.
Our advice to all 51 new Arcadia families joining this term is try to support your child by getting to know the school processes quickly and stay closely connected to the class or form teachers, parent class reps and associations to ensure that your son or daughter can find their feet quickly.
Social dates with other classmates also help to integrate quickly and great schools will already have a positive induction and 'buddy' process already set-up”.

Has your child started at a new school this term? We would love to know how they are getting on! Join the conversation by emailing [email protected]

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