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Ages & Stages

Preparing for a New School Year

The start of each school year can be a particularly exciting— and anxious—time during middle childhood. While youngsters may look forward to seeing their old friends again, they might be apprehensive about a new teacher and, in some cases, a new school.

Find Out the Basics

In the days and weeks immediately preceding the first day of school, make an effort to find out some basic information about what awaits your child. For instance:

  • What will her daily schedule be like?
  • What time does school be­gin and when does it end each day?
  • Should your child bring a bag lunch and a snack to school, or are meals provided, or does she have the option to purchase them?
    • If lunch is scheduled relatively late, your child may want a larger morning snack.
  • Are certain clothes required for physical education classes and recesses?
    • Some parents forget that children go outdoors for recess, and in the win­ter that may mean hats, gloves, boots, and maybe snow pants, even if the children do not need to wear them in the car or on the bus.
    • Inquire as to whether your child should bring shoes to change into.

If it is possible in your school district, visit the school with your child to see her new classroom and meet her new teacher before school officially starts.


Although safety rules will probably be discussed in class, do not wait for that instruction: Make your own rules specific to your child's situation. In a low-key but firm manner, tell your youngster: "These rules are one way we take care of ourselves." Reassure him that he can keep himself safe. Review these safety issues several times during the year.

If your child will be walking to school:

  • Walk the route with him to assess its safety.
  • Find out about traffic patterns and crossing guards.
  • Instruct your child to stay on sidewalks and main roads rather than cutting through alleys and wooded areas that may be somewhat deserted.
  • If an older sibling goes to the same school, have the children walk together. Otherwise, you might find a responsible older child from your neighborhood who would be pleased to be invited to walk your youngster to school. As your children grow older, remember to look around your neighborhood for young children to help in this way.

School absentee policy:

What is the school's policy regarding checking on students who are absent? Particularly if the school encourages it, call early in the morning whenever your child is absent. This will provide an additional measure of safety for your child, since if he does not show up for school, the school secretary will be more likely to check with you.

If your child will be riding a bike and/or skateboard to school:

Does the school have rules regarding bikes and/or skateboards? Some schools require helmets and locks for cyclists. Before the first day of school, review the basic safety rules with your youngster. By insisting your child wear a helmet and abide by all bicycle safety guidelines, for example, you will be en­couraging a behavior that is potentially lifesaving and can become a lifetime habit.

Ask the school staff if your community has a program offering low-cost or even free helmets for children; if there is no such program in your area, talk with other parents about starting one to increase the number of children wear­ing helmets and thus make it more socially acceptable for your own youngster to wear one. Wear your own helmet whenever you bike or skateboard to model appropriate safety behavior.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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