From Preschool to Kindergarten/Elementary School

What to Expect

It probably seems that your child just adjusted to preschool, and already it’s time for another transition. As with all transitions, it helps to have a detailed plan, and to know a little about what to expect from and for your child. Talk with your child about what goes on at school; stay aware of his or her day-to-day activities, challenges, and successes. When possible, encourage your child’s increasing independence at home and at school.
Your concerns may differ slightly from those of your child’s Medical Home or teachers. The following lists offer an overview of the varying and sometimes overlapping concerns surrounding your child’s education and transition.

Meet with the New School Team

Before your child begins school, you’ll want to meet with his “school team.” This team will likely include his future teachers, those involved with establishing his IEP, and a school health or accommodation team, which might include a guidance counselor. You may also choose to include your child’s therapist(s) and current or former (preschool) teachers who have experience working with your child. This team, including you and your child, will work to identify and document issues of concern during this transition. You’ll establish a plan for handling these issues, including designating who is responsible for completing specific actions, and setting target dates for completion and/or re-evaluation. Some school teams also complete a Student Profile, outlining your child's specific needs and health conditions. You’ll also want to use this meeting to update student’s health plan.

Points to Address in the School Plan (IEP/504/Health Care Plan)

  • Are the curriculum requirements well matched to your student's particular abilities? For instance, will your child be able to succeed in the general curriculum or will they be in a special education class? Are there any specific classes that may have difficulties with and need accomodations for such as P.E. or computer keyboarding?
  • Does your child need any individual accommodations to assure that she can access the general curriculum, such as books on tape, adjusting reading level, homework accomodations, etc.?
  • Are there safety or mobility issues? (Does your child need to attend classes up or down stairs? Are trailer classrooms accessible? Can he get to his locker easily? Can he have extra time to get to class? Etc.)
  • Consider your child’s social skills, communication ability, self-help, and self-advocacy skills. Will she be able to obtain her lunch in the cafeteria and sit with friends, or will she need help? Is bullying a concern, and how will it be addressed?
  • Should pre-vocational skills be introduced or encouraged?
  • Are there any specific health issues your child will need to address, such as possible adjustment of medications for longer school hours and homework time?

Common Family Concerns

As your child enters kindergarten or elementary school, you may be anxious about the change in her environment. As your child takes on her new role as “student,” you and she may find that this new role comes with new worries. How will she get along with her new peer group? Will she like her new teachers? If your child is medically fragile, are you comfortable with the care she will receive at school?
Your child may have new responsibilities, like taking the school bus, or completing homework. These are typical concerns, and it’s likely you may have other unique concerns depending on your child and her condition. The best way to address these worries is to discuss them with your child’s teacher and health team, and, of course, with your child. Open communication with your child and their education team is always helpful in easing your mind and keeping you "in the know" about what is going on at school.

Common Teacher Concerns

Your child’s teacher will likely share some of your concerns, but will have specific questions and concerns as well. Some teachers have little experience working with children with special needs or conditions, and as you know, each child presents unique situations. Teachers often express that they feel ill prepared or simply uninformed about what a particular special needs child requires. You can help your child’s teacher by listening to his questions and concerns ahead of time, and, if needed, being available to help them understand your child's needs.
A few common teacher questions include anything from how to use necessary special equipment, to wondering about your child’s academic challenges, behavioral issues, or ability to work in a group. They may wonder who else will be involved in caring for your child at school, and whether your child will spend much time away from their classroom, in special education, or working with a therapist. As always, an open conversation with your child’s teachers can help both you and the teachers more comfortably meet your child’s needs, and better understand the challenges that each of you face in helping your child achieve his educational goals.

What Might You Expect from the Medical Home?

During your child’s transition into elementary school, your child’s Medical Home will continue to be involved. They may be helpful in determining and asking for necessary accommodations for your child. For instance, your child may need an aide present in the lunchroom (to watch for choking while eating) they may need an augmentative communication evaluation or device, or a letter from your Medical Home may be necessary to specify accommodations needed in physical education classes. You might ask for their help to communicate with the school about changes in health status or needs, and for helping to keep the IEP up to date.
Depending on your child’s needs and condition, this might be a time when you begin encouraging your child to interact more directly with his medical home. During appointments, your child’s clinician will likely continue to encourage self-care by teaching your child about his special health care needs and medications. They may encourage your child's participation in hobbies, sports, extracurricular activities, leisure activities, and community groups, such as Scouting or Special Olympics. And of course, they will continue to answer your questions, and to suggest strategies and resources that can might help you to help your child succeed at school.

Suggested Strategies to Help Your Elementary School Student

  • Inform a new school, well in advance of the first day, of your child's conditions and needs.
  • Take your child to visit the new school and classroom before the school year begins.
  • Learn important locations in the new school; locate bathrooms, classrooms, the lunch room, the main office, and the nurse’s office.
  • Meet the new teacher and establish preferred means of communication, i.e., phone call, appointment, email, etc.
  • Meet with the school nurse to formulate a health plan.
  • Introduce your child to other people she will be in contact with, such as the office secretary, lunch workers, or custodian.
  • Teach your child routines needed for the new school, such as where to wait for a ride home, where to go if the ride is late, or how to alert his teacher if something is wrong.
  • Address transportation, health, and cost issues in Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings.
  • Learn about school rules and your rights and responsibilities.
  • Celebrate your child’s growth and successes.


Information & Support

For Parents and Patients

Transition Tips for Parents of School Aged Children with Disabilities (PDF Document 488 KB)
This pamphlet developed by Shriners Hospital for Children, also called Stepping Up, provides information for parents on teaching a child to take care of personal needs; helping a child become more involved with her own health care; helping a child stay physically and emotionally healthy; helping a child become more independent; helping a child succeed in school; and resources and websites.

Center for Parent Information and Resources (DOE)
Parent centers in every state provide training to parents of children with disabilities and provide information about special education, transition to adulthood, health care, support groups, local conferences and other federal, state, and local services. This link has a search tool to help you find the parent center in your state; Department of Education, Office of Special Education.

State Education Contacts and Information
Contact the department of education in your state, or the adult ed, arts, child care, higher ed, humanities, libraries, PTA, special ed, tech-prep, vocational rehabilitation, vocational-technical, or other education office in your state.

Authors & Reviewers

Initial publication: July 2008; last update/revision: February 2013
Current Authors and Reviewers:
Contributing Authors: Tina Persels
Gina Pola-Money
Reviewer: Alfred N. Romeo, RN, PhD
Authoring history
2005: first version: Robin PrattCA; Barbara Ward, RN BSCA; Cheralyn CreerCA; Karen Ekker, RNCA; Carolyn Green, RNCA; Lynne Larsen-MillerCA; Elaine PollockCA; Kathryn PostCA; Helen PostCA; Lisa Samson-Fang, MDCA
AAuthor; CAContributing Author; SASenior Author; RReviewer