Tips for Transitioning into Elementary School

Written by: Laura Ann Oliver, Michelle Detwiler, Karra Barber

Once a child begins school, parents face letting go of the sole responsibility for their child’s learning. For even the most actively involved parent, this can prove easier said than done. Parents of children with disabilities can experience significant anxiety when it comes to allowing another person to assume such an important role in their child’s life. In spite of that, establishing open lines of communication with your child’s school, especially their classroom teacher and paraprofessionals, will help to ensure that you are kept aware of what occurs when you cannot be with your child. Maintaining this open flow of communication permits a parent to have a voice in all that is going on while your child becomes part of a new educational setting.

Since early experiences in education can have such a profound effect on how children perceive learning itself throughout their lives, it is important to make this time as positive as possible for both you and your child. Prior to the transition, gain as much knowledge as you can about what goes on at your child’s school. For a smoother transition into a new situation, such actions like observing the classroom, getting to know future teacher(s), and understanding one’s educational options, all help to ease anxious feelings of anticipation.

Prior to the First Day of School

For the families of individuals with disabilities, preparation for early childhood education needs to occur sometime long before the beginning of a school year. The tips in this section focus on areas that parents may want to consider before their child transitions to school for the first time, as well as for those transitions occurring through first grade. Careful preparation will allow both the parents and the future classroom teacher to feel a greater sense of confidence about what lies ahead. In addition, this approach provides parents and teachers with the opportunity to anticipate and sort out potential concerns before any issues actually arise. Essentially, taking a proactive attitude sets the tone for developing a strong partnership between home and school.

For most children, their early educational experiences have a profound effect on the rest of their education. This means that positive early experience establishes a solid foundation for learning, as well as for success in the future. In fact, it has been found that both parents and teachers believe that the way a child feels about their school has a major influence on a how the child transitions into a new school environment. As a result, parents play an essential role in encouraging their children to maintain positive beliefs regarding school.

Tips for Transitioning to Early Childhood Education

  1. Be enthusiastic about going to school. Remind your child of all the “new and exciting things” that they will do. To aid in preparation, ask your child’s future teacher to tell you about some of the lessons they will be doing in the classroom, especially during the first few weeks of school. While children may function at different cognitive levels, in general, they recognize enthusiasm and positivity coming from their parents. When a child transitions from home to school for the first time, even greater emphasis and enthusiasm should be placed on explaining what he/she may expect. The surroundings and procedures of a school are a completely new experience, thus greater preparation and maintaining a positive attitude is vital for parents.
  2. Visit the school. Take the opportunity to meet with teachers, administrators, and other school staff, such as the nurse. This orientation helps you get know more about the philosophy and practices that are encouraged in the new educational setting.
  3. Observe your child’s future classroom and teacher(s). This gives you the chance to witness how the teacher runs the class. Also, this can be a good time to consider if the given classroom environment creates any accessibility issues for your child’s specific disability.
  4. Write a brief statement of things you would like the teacher or school to know about your child.
  5. Arrange for your child to meet his new teacher before school begins. Prior introductions help relieve some anticipation about starting the school year with an unfamiliar person. In addition, the teacher may also want to observe your child in his or her current learning environment to help better prepare future lessons to accommodate your child’s needs.

Schools in Session

The first day has arrived. You are confident that you have done your best to prepare yourself and your child. But what can you do now to make the transition easier for your child?

The following are some additional tips for the first few days or weeks of school:

  1. New routines and environments can be exhausting for many children. That’s why is so important to try to make sure that your child gets enough sleep, especially that first week of school. Setting a consistent bedtime can help ease the strain.
  2. Prepare a healthy breakfast to help get the first days off to a good start. Feeling hungry can be distracting, especially for very young children. They will be able to better focus on what is going on in the classroom if their stomachs are full.
  3. Time to say goodbye. Try to keep it brief. This can be a difficult moment for both parents and child. Remember that your child can sense how you’re feeling, so keep a positive and enthusiastic attitude. Also, establishing some sort of special goodbye routine, for instance a hug and a high-five, can make the separation far less stressful.
  4. As the year progresses, attempt to maintain morning routines. Develop an order to getting ready and leaving for school. Consistency helps a child to adjust by increasing a child’s sense of security.
  5. Stay proactive by attending parent-teacher conferences and other important meetings. Also, make an effort to attend school activities that are open to parents. Your involvement can make your child happy and lets the teacher know by your actions that your child’s education is extremely important to you.
  6. Stay in contact with the teacher throughout the year to help your child prepare for major changes or transitions that may occur at school. If possible, try to avoid presenting any major changes at home while the child simultaneously experiences transitions in school.

The End of the School Year

Finally, you and your child have developed a positive relationship with the classroom teacher. However, it will eventually be time to move on to new educational challenges. Throughout the early years of education, the end of a school year often means that you and your child will need to be prepared to transition once again. The current classroom teacher can be a valuable resource in determining what steps will need to be taken. Saying goodbye to the current teacher may be difficult for your child, so allowing the teacher to be an active part of the transition process may help provide some ease in the inevitable separation. In order to get ready for the next school year, you may need to follow many of the same practices you did at the beginning of the current year. Remember, being well prepared and establishing an open line of communication with your child’s school and teachers gives your child the opportunity to navigate transitions with confidence.


Laura Ann Oliver is a third year doctoral candidate at Michigan State University.  She is the recipient of the Special Education Technology Scholars Fellowship.  Her concentration areas include special education technology and educational policy.  Laura Ann is also the co-founder of Individual Eyes Education, which develops multimedia presentations and seminars designed for parents of children with special needs as well as educators.

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