Tools for Back to School
Crisp, unwrinkled notebook paper, sharp, smooth pencils, brightly colored binders and piles of glue sticks are just a few of the things we love about back to school. The unwritten, newness of a coming school year offers excitement and hope to many students and parents. For foster children who may be entering yet another new school, dread may replace excitement as the first day of school draws closer.
As a parent to a child in care, you can help make the transition to a new school easier and actually exciting for the child in your home. As you prepare all those school supplies, take a few extra steps to help your foster child excel this year.
Meet other students. Walking into a new school alone while other children gather in groups, excited to see each other again, can be intimidating. Introduce your foster child to other children in the same grade who will attend his or her school. If you don’t know parents with children the same age, start by checking with your church’s children’s department. You can also talk to teachers and other parents. Taking the initiative as a caregiver to offer opportunities to start forming relationships goes a long way, and knowing a few kids before school starts can help your child feel more comfortable as they walk in the door.
Talk to the teacher. When you talk to your child’s teacher, be as honest about your foster child’s situation as you can be without breaching confidentiality. Ask ahead of time if the teacher plans any family-related projects like family trees or pictures from the past. If these projects are planned, talk about alternatives your foster child might do instead, or ask for advance notice so you can help your child gather any necessary information and prepare for any emotions associated with this process.
Give a tour. Walk your child through the school and make sure he or she knows where their classrooms, locker and restrooms are located. Make sure your child knows how they will get home or to daycare, with whom they are allowed to ride, and how to contact you in an emergency. Knowing all these critical details are in place will make you and your child more comfortable on the first day.
Check in with your caseworker. If you don’t already know, talk your caseworker about your foster child’s school history. Does he or she have an individualized education plan (IEP)? Does the child in your care receive specialized services at school such as speech therapy?
Go shopping. Just like every other child starting school, your foster child will need some new supplies. When possible, allow your child to choose his or her favorite color or character for a backpack, binder or pencil case. When they have a hand in choosing new supplies, children often take more ownership and care of those items. Also allow your child to choose new clothes for school. You don’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe but a few new pieces of clothing her or she loves can help provide comfort and confidence for those first day of school jitters.
Get involved. Ask your foster child about his or her interests. Work with the child to find ways to plug into sports, band, chorus, art or any other activities your school or community offers. After school activities allow children to meet new people and learn new skills, often giving a child a community of like-minded friends where they feel at home and understood.
Role play for privacy. In an effort to connect with others, some children will tell every piece of their story, which may create some awkward situations or result in teasing and bullying. Talk to your child about the questions other students (and even teachers) may ask, and role play how to handle those situations. While you don’t want your child to feel shame about his or her situation, it’s always wise to discuss appropriate times and ways to share personal information.
Talk about expectations. Let your foster child know what you expect when it comes to grades, effort, respect for teachers and interactions with other students. Your foster child has probably been through a lot in his or her short life. They may not have had someone to guide them through these situations in the past. By being clear on what you expect, both you and your child have some boundaries with which to work.
Finally, get a good night’s sleep. Everyone feels better, works harder, and learns more easily after a good night’s rest. During the summer it’s easy to let bedtimes slide and just sleep late in the mornings. Start moving into the school sleep routine a few days before school actually starts so you’re all ready when the big day arrives!
We’d love to hear your tips for going back to school in the best way possible! Share your best ideas with us on our facebook page!