Ensuring the integration of your children in a new school abroad

Insights from professionals
Published 2019-05-24 10:06

Virginia Bastide is the co-founder of the Paris Institute of Childcare Training, and, most importantly, the mom of three bi-cultural children. She gives you her expert advice to ensure your children settle in successfully in their new school abroad.

Virginia Bastide

Virginia Bastide, hailing from Scotland, is the Co-Founder of the Paris Institute of Childcare Training and Head of Recruitment at Le Répertoire de Gaspard. More importantly, though, she is mum to three bilingual children.

Starting a new school can be hard for children and I should know! As a parent of three kids, I’ve just had two of them start new schools within the space of six months! So far so good. Here are my handy hints and tips to help other parents and children on their way.

Whether it’s their first day at kindergarten, middle school or high school, a new school can affect your child’s academic and social performance and overall development. And if they are switching to a school where the language used is different to their mother tongue, there’s the whole language barrier to consider too!

Choosing a school is down to many factors such as the proximity to home, your budget, has the school got a good profile? How do kids perform? What do online forums tell you about the place? Are there other parents you can talk to about the school? What education system do you want them immersed in? No one option is right, do what’s best for you and your family and stand by it, regardless of what people say or think.

In our case, we opted to send our Franco-Scottish kids to French school with English after-school help in order to keep both languages going.

Here are my top tips for making it achievable and realistic with no regrets for the future

Get a head start

Preparation is key, planning ahead and organizing yourself will always lead to success.

Talk to your kids about their expectations, try to create a sense of excitement about this new adventure they will embark on. After all, today’s society is all about being able to adapt to change and new situations, these are important life skills. Ask them what they are excited about, what their concerns are. By talking it out, you can calm and reassure them.

Do a test run

Do walk to school before the actual start date, even try to see the school without the pupils. I was fortunate enough that the headteacher at the second school let the boys see their classrooms empty so they could get a sense of the space and where key areas for them were – lockers, cloakroom, toilets, canteen etc. For young ones, these can be points of stress if they don’t know where to go so getting that information in a calm, quiet way is ideal. Make sure you have all supplies sorted, choosing their own backpack, lunchbox or clothes might help them be more confident and in control on their first day.

Normalise the situation

Try to make kids understand that these days people are often on the move and its normal to change and start new schools and it’s exciting to get this opportunity. Maybe some of their previous friends moved or a family member relocated for work – discuss that and highlight known examples to them.

Even then, the smallest event to us can seem huge to them, like where do I hang my jacket? Where should I put my gym kit when I get to school? They may seem insignificant to us but when a kid is trying to fit in with their new routine, it’s important to help them on the right track. Let them know you believe in them to handle anything that comes up, and that you're always available for help and support.

Maintain ties with your mother-tongue

If your kids are starting a school in another language, try to keep the mother tongue going. In our case, and I know of many other families in the same situation, they opted for getting people to help with school pick-ups by someone speaking their mother tongue. Through a specialised agency, they were able to provide us with native English speakers, so after a long day of hearing French, it was a welcomed change to have an anglophone pick-up on the days that Mum or Dad could not!

Stay in touch with old friends

Make sure you set-up playdates and stay in touch with old friends if possible. Just because you change and start a new school does not mean you stop the friendships and with the ease of skype or Whatsapp, they are just a call away.

In fact, turn it into a positive, think about all the new friends they will make and add to previous ones.

Be patient

Remember, you were a child once and these changes can be huge for them. Be patient, listen to them, give them time to adapt. They will open-up when they are ready and willing, the key is being around to listen to their needs. In my case, French school can be different from the anglophone system and there are pros and cons to both. Make sure you find the positives and share that with the kids. They are dealing with a new environment on many levels and although you need to think about that, it does not mean changing  your expectations from them.

Check- in with the teachers

Don’t seem over anxious but it’s good to see teachers at the end of the first week to check on progress and discuss any issues. Best to knock them on the head. Find out how you can help, see if there are school parent groups to join to get involved.

Build a good routine

After the initial excitement and worry, you’ll find that after a few weeks you have all got into a rhythm, building a good daily routine and getting plenty of sleep is important.

In our case, it’s as if they have always been at their current school. They really enjoy it and instead of asking them to tell me about their day, the best way for them to communicate is to ask “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” or “What made you feel happy?”. Also, praise them for sharing their new adventure with you.