Psychologists create top-ten lists in much the same way as the remainder of us rate our favorite movies or create an iTunes playlist. One of the more startling top-ten lists that psychologists have produced is the top ten list of childhood stressors.
Starting new at school is one of the most emotionally fraught times in a child’s life. During those first moments in kindergarten stress hormones are at an all time high. The reason: the need to belong is a paramount drive and our nervous system is programmed to ensure that we secure our place in our social group. The socially adroit child upon entering kindgergarten scans rapidly for a smiling face, then walks over and engages with this potential new friend. All being well, they will seal the bond by joining the friendly other in play.
Starting new remains stressful all the way up the grades. And the older the new student, the harder it is to find a place in often tightly-knit peer groups. Too often the resullt is that great kids become social isolates, both excluding themselves and being excluded by their peers in a self-perpetuating cycle. And the more isolated a student, the greater their risk of failiure not only academically, but in their adult lives too.
Here are our top five suggestions for ensuring that new students do not fall through the cracks.
1. Assign buddy families to new student families in which you connect existing families to new families (ideally you do this before the new students join but it’s not too late)
2. Assign a student buddy to your new students.
3. Writing assignment. Ask everyone to write a letter to a visitor from outer space. The ten most important things that a visitor should know about this school. Read out your favorites. Get the class to vote on the best.
4. Invite all new students to a hot chocolate meeting with the Principal and school counselor. Start in September and continue monthly through to January That’s too much of a time commitment? The reason for continuing to meet through the fall and early winter is that we forget about the new students and they sink in to isolation and depression.
5. Take time at the start of the year for whole class activities that help students get to know each other. Here are some of our favorites.
- Stand in a circle. Ask each student says their name in turn. Then go round the group again and everyone says that student’s name. And so on.
- Hitting a beach ball in the air. (Your local drug store will often carry these through the summer.) The aim is to keep the ball in the air. Everyone calls out the name of the kid who is hitting the ball in the air
- Meet and Greet. Students walk round the room shaking everyone’s hands at speed, saying who you are. The game only finishes when everyone has shaken the hand of all the other students in the room
- Stand in a circle. The first student says their name and their favorite food. The next student repeats that student’s name and favorite food and then they reveal their name and favorite food. And so on. (It gets harder the further you are around the circle.)
- Ask your students to form a line, oldest to youngest. The rule: no-one can say a word while they do this. Then ask everyone to reveal their ages starting at the youngest end of the line.
- French telephone. Instruct students to stand in a circle and put your right hand on the shoulder of the person to your right. Now move to another part of the circle, but keep your eyes on the person who was on your right. You will need to go round the circle and check that everyone still remembers who was who was on their right. There are only two rules. One: remember to keep your eyes on your assigned student at all times. The second is to imitate exactly any movement or sound that this student makes. If they move, imitate their movements exactly. This often manifests in a wave of activity followed by silence. Often your students will not be able to stop laughing. It often becomes a class favorite.