As children progress through different grades in school they face different challenges. In addition to changing academic and social demands, students also experience physical and emotional changes. Although children are continually engaged in the process of adapting to new challenges, educators and mental health professionals agree that there are certain critical transition points which can be particularly stressful and require special support and understanding. Parents and educators can help children cope effectively with their varied school experiences in a number of ways.
What particular transition times pose specific challenges?
- Physical and emotional challenges: For many children, preschool requires the first prolonged separation from parents and other individual caregivers. Children may also be required to sit quietly for short periods of time at a table and listen to direction.
- Social challenges: The group nature of preschool means toddlers must learn to share activities, supplies, and attention, and relate to new children.
- Academic challenges: Preschoolers develop their listening, attention and memory skills by learning the names of colors and shapes, listening to and telling stories.
Early elementary school:
- Physical and emotional challenges: The transition to the grade school years may require moving to a new building and a longer school day. Learning to be a student also becomes important, involving adjusting to the routine and structure of the school day and the development of a sense of responsibility for completion of assignments and homework. Students face more structured, objective rewards and consequences for their behaviors.
- Social challenges: In the early grades, children are still adjusting to a world outside the home. They form new friendships, learn about teamwork and may find themselves developing special interests and skills.
- Academic challenges: Mastery of the fundamentals needed for the rest of their school careers is required. Children acquire basic reading and math ability; they learn computational skills, how to read words and how to read for meaning. They are required to answer questions about who, what, and where, which gives them information about character, plot and setting.
Upper elementary school:
- Physical and emotional challenges: In the upper elementary grades (grades 4 and 5) more independent functioning is required. Differences among students become more apparent with regard to abilities, and given the increased demands on all fronts, new problems may surface or existing ones may be more difficult to handle.
- Social challenges: Children have the opportunity to expand friendships, to work cooperatively with others, make their own social arrangements, join social groups outside the family, and plan independent activities. Cliques may form and bullies may cause difficulties, although these difficulties may happen at any point.
- Academic challenges: The academic emphasis is no longer on the acquisition of basic skills. Children are expected to be able to use basic skills to acquire information and solve problems, to be competent in reading comprehension, written expression, and knowledge in content areas.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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