How to help your child transition from alternative to mainstream school

In the 21st century, parents have numerous school choices: public or private, magnet or charter, mainstream or alternative. Unfortunately, not all schools continue through the 12th grade, or you may later find that a particular curriculum no longer suits your student’s academic needs.

For a variety of reasons, if your child currently attends a program that adheres to an alternative philosophy (like Montessori or Waldorf), you may be faced with the unenviable task of transitioning from one school to a more mainstream school. This can be challenging, but it isn’t insurmountable. Here are three tips to help your family (and, of course, your student) ease into the environment and realities of a mainstream school:

1. Choose a “graduating” year

If your child currently attends an educational program like Montessori or Waldorf, your family may be accustomed to mixed-age classrooms or teachers who progress with their cohorts. This is far less common in the traditional school sphere. As a student at a mainstream school, your child will likely change teachers each year, as well as learn alongside only those individuals in her grade (save for high school). One way to assist in this adjustment is to choose a natural transitional year. For instance, after completing fifth grade, students move from elementary school to middle school. After finishing eighth grade, students move from middle school to high school. These can be excellent times to switch schools, as many children are facing the same or similar issues as your student, and this instinctive camaraderie can be invaluable.

2. Engage in open, ongoing conversation

Uncertainty can engender a great deal of anxiety and fear. Even if your child is young, start discussing her schooling transition well in advance of her first day at the new program. For students in kindergarten through roughly third grade, driving by the mainstream school or playing on its playground after school hours (if permitted) can be a great way to familiarize them with the unknown. If your child is older, consider bringing her to any meetings with the mainstream school. Encourage her to browse the new school’s website. Answer any questions that arise, or promise to find the answers if you don’t know them. Changing schools may be easier for your student if she doesn’t feel alone.

3. Participate in a summer program hosted by the mainstream school

Some mainstream schools host summer camps that combine academic pursuits like arts or robotics with more traditional summer pastimes like field trips and swimming. Other schools (especially high schools) offer summer orientation programs that review attendance and homework policies, class schedules and other important details, while also allowing incoming students to meet and socialize. Still, other schools arrange special evenings for the entire family, from ice cream socials to small carnivals. Request a summer calendar from your child’s new school, or look for one online (either on the school or PTA website). Participating in these programs can help your student — and you — make new friends and meet staff members before the school year begins.

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