First Year in Canada, First Day at School

Newcomer schoolchildrenPreparing your child for the Canadian classroom

In Canada, September is synonymous with back to school. Though it’s technically still summer, this month is all about back-to-school shopping, getting ready and adjusting to a new school year. Parents become heavily invested in this yearly tradition, updating wardrobes, preparing school meals and snacks, shifting work schedules and setting up before- and afterschool care.

Whether it’s the first time your child goes off to school or whether that child is simply starting a new year, it can be a few stressful and emotional weeks. And, of course, if your child is starting school in a new country, parents should expect a bumpy transition until your child—and family —has a chance to adjust.

For me, it was difficult in the beginning. Though my parents were involved and excited about me starting school, they didn’t really know much about the Canadian education system or speak the language, much less know North American trends for 10-year-old girls.

The newcomer back-to-school experience, as I like to call it, is a unique one in that both kids and parents go through it and survive it together. What helped my parents adjust was meeting my teachers ahead of time and connecting with other newcomer parents to create a support system and familiarize themselves with school practices and rules. They also had friends with kids in school and used them as resources as well.

Personally, I was less worried about the structure and rules of school and more concerned with overcoming that feeling of being a fish out of water. Wearing bright home-made sweaters and eating what children deemed as ‘strange’ food did not get me far at first. It took me three months to make friends, adjust from going to school half-days in Argentina to full-days in Canada, and learn English with the help of teachers and staff.

But slowly, the more I reached out to people who wanted to know me and help me, the more I began to form a school community. This played such a big part in my adjusting period. With each friendship I made, I felt a little more confident; with each test I passed, I felt a little more secure.

School success was another big part of adjusting to a new school environment. Once I saw my grades and language skills improving, things started to turn around and school became exciting again. Over time, I even struck up the nerve to join a few after-school activities that helped me feel more a part of the school community.

Looking back now, what I learned from my own experience is that the secret to surviving the newcomer back-to-school experience is time. A new school year always comes with a few roadblocks and surprises, but getting through that first year is always the toughest. Still, encourage your children to endure it because with time, that bumpy transition will smooth out and some of those anxieties will surely subside.

Natalia Diaz

Natalia DiazOwlkids Contributing Editor Natalia Diaz was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and writes about education and family issues. She lives in Markham, Ontario, with her family.