Returning to School

It is helpful to consider school re-entry as an ongoing process, not as a single event. Each stage may require different skills, tasks, and information sharing. Ongoing open communication between the parent, child, and school is key to a child receiving adequate support. School re-entry can begin, stop, and resume at any point throughout recovery. It is common for children who have been injured or who have visible differences to need help with school at certain times. These include when starting school (daycare, pre-school, or kindergarten), returning to school after an injury or hospital stay, moving from one grade to another, or changing schools.

The return to school process can be affected by many things, including the needs of your child, the severity and location of their injury, the presence of visible differences, and the age of your child. Other factors, such as social support, personality, coping behaviors, family resources, and previous experiences with school, can also have a significant impact on the process. There are things you can do throughout your child’s recovery to help ease their transition back to school. It is helpful to think of the process in stages. Click on each stage below for advice on what you can do to help.

After the Injury

Here is a list of steps you can take soon after your child’s injury to prepare for their eventual return to school.

  • Contact the school and inform them of the injury. This enables them to begin preparing for your child’s return to school.
  • Notify your child’s and their siblings’ educators and school counselors that an upsetting event has happened.
  • Keep educators and school counselors informed throughout the recovery period.
  • Provide timely and accurate information about your child's situation. You can state simple facts:
    • My child was burned
    • They are in the hospital or being seen in the clinic
    • It is estimated that my child will be out of school for (state the amount of time estimated by medical staff)
    • I will keep you updated on their progress
  • Share information with the school about:
    • Privacy concerns of your child and family, including visitation wishes or rules
    • Information that both you and your child approve can be told to other students
    • If there is specific information that should only be shared with school staff
    • Establish who will give and receive ongoing information
  • Encourage your child's teacher to review the REACH website for information and resources. There is a section to specifically assist school personnel.
  • Work with the school to help your child keep up with assignments and activities.
  • As soon as your child is physically ready, get their classroom assignments to bring home or take to the hospital.
  • Arrange various ways for your child to remain connected to classmates, such as: social networking sites, teleconferences, having them send cards, planned visits, etc.
  • Consider using Care Pages or other similar free patient blogs to keep family, friends, and school peers updated.

The length of treatment and/or hospitalization can vary. The longer it is, the more important it is to maintain contact with the school.  

In the Hospital  

If your child is hospitalized, there are additional things you can do to help their return to school. Some hospitals have school assistance programs. With your permission, your child's educators and the hospital teacher can coordinate school lessons. Ask your child’s medical care team for information on school resources available in the hospital. To view an example of the University of Michigan Hospital School, click here.

There will be times when a child is too sick or busy with medical procedures to do school work. However, it should be started early in a child’s hospital stay and encouraged throughout recovery. Be sure that school activities are included in your child's daily schedule at the hospital. Doing school work is a way to provide a sense of normal routine while in the hospital. It is also an opportunity to discuss your child’s thoughts and feelings about returning to school. These discussions will help prepare your child for school return, identify potential issues, and allow time to find solutions.  

Give updates to the school on your child's recovery and suggested means of communication with peers. Providing accurate information throughout your child’s recovery can help to prevent or correct rumors. Consider keeping a health care binder and include information received or shared with your child’s school and medical team. Remember, you can always seek assistance from hospital and school staff in preparation for your child’s return to school.  Watch for signs that your child may need school re-entry help, these may include:

  • Has expressed fears or concerns about school
  • Has had extended hospitalization or time away from school
  • Has visible changes in appearance
  • Has altered physical or functional abilities
  • Continues with ongoing treatment

Going home

Returning home from the hospital is an important milestone in the recovery process and should be a time of celebration; it can also be stressful for all family members. Children unable to physically tolerate a full day of school might need a period of homebound education or partial school days. The medical team will help you determine when your child is ready to return to school. If your school requires it, ask the medical team to complete a medical clearance form for your child's to return to school and keep a copy in your care binder. If your child’s medical condition changes, you may need to ask the medical team to complete an updated form for the school.

Encourage your child to invite a friend to visit at home before returning to school. Ask your child if they wish to visit the school or their teachers before returning to school. These visits can help your child learn what has been happening at school, and gives them the opportunity to share their experiences since the injury.

Returning to School, Initial Steps

Returning to school is an important milestone in a child’s recovery process. The time between going home and returning to school is typically a few days to a week. For some it can take weeks or months. Here is a list of things to keep in mind when your child is ready to return to school:

  • Keep the school informed of the target date for your child’s return
  • If your child tires easily, consider having them initially return for half days until they build up their strength
  • Frequent follow-up visits and physical therapy appointments may need to be accommodated as a part of the return to school plan. Children may be able to complete their physical therapy activities at school
  • Inform school personnel of special care or treatment routines that need to be incorporated at school
  • It is important that you ask your child how they feel about returning to school
  • Make a list of questions and concerns that you and your child have for the school and medical team. The school re-entry process should address these concerns.
  • Parents, children, and siblings may have a variety of questions or concerns, such as:
    • Will my child physically be able to manage the demands of school?
    • Will the school be able to take care of our needs?
    • How will the other children respond?
    • Will I be picked on by other students?
    • What if we don’t feel ready?
  • Remember, you are not alone in this process. Many parents have assisted their children to successfully return to school.
  • Watch a brief video of one mother's description of helping her child
  • Ask to speak with a parent from a survivor support program (e.g. SOAR)
  • Consider using a re-entry educational intervention to assist your child’s return. It is important to ask your child how they want to participate.
  • A short classroom visit 1–2 days before returning to school can help your child get reacquainted. This short visit may provide a more gradual and relaxed return than an immediate full-day of classes.

Returning to School, Ongoing Considerations

The first few days and weeks of returning to school are a period of adjustment. Parents, school personnel, and child need to assess the success of the transition back to school. It is important to share this assessment with each other, to focus on what is working and to identify any issues that still need to be addressed. Speak frequently with your child's educators to make sure known issues are being addressed. Discuss how siblings of the injured child are handling the return to school.

Even if a child appears to be doing well, maintain ongoing open communication. This is key to a child feeling like they can ask for help. Set up parent-teacher or parent-counselor conferences as needed. Evaluate if any special needs or medical accommodations that were initially put into place are still working effectively. Once you have successfully helped your child return to school you have learned important skills you may use again. You may need to re-initiate the school re-entry process when future changes occur, such as:

  • Starting the school year (new grade, different teachers or peers)
  • Moving to a new school or district
  • When a substitute teacher enters the classroom

Refer to the “Changing Schools” module for additional information

Depending on the age of your child, there are special considerations to keep in mind when facilitating their school re-entry process. Click on your child's age range below for more information. Since every child is different, you may find it helpful to review the advice for other ages as well.

Children 2-6 Years Old

If a child was injured at a young age, they may not enter a day care, pre-school, or kindergarten for several years. Reading the information in this module now will help you prepare for when your child is old enough to start school. Injuries or prolonged hospitalization at a young age may contribute to developmental delays in: motor skills, speech, behavior, emotional reactions, hearing, etc. Consider the need for early intervention programs (e.g. “Early On”) provided through local health departments.

If your child is in day care, pre-school, or kindergarten, be sure to discuss the re-entry process with staff. Starting or returning to day care can be managed in the same way as a return to school. Make sure to share with day care and school staff the specific words that you and your child use to describe their injury and appearance. Children of this age often use special or simple words.

Children 7-11 Years Old

As a child grows older, the school environment places greater physical, social, and psychological demands on them. Children must learn to deal with larger classrooms of peers with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Body image issues can start to surface at this age. Children who have previously adjusted well at school may need extra support or help at this time.

Your child may benefit from social skills or problem-solving training. Ask your school or local community agency for resources. As children become involved in extra-curricular activities, consider engaging the coaches and group leaders in the school re-entry process. It is important to specifically talk with your child about any concerns they have with:

  • Peer interaction
  • Classroom or extra-curricular activity participation such as sports, scouts, clubs, or special events

Teens 12-17 Years Old

Students in middle, junior, and high school often have multiple teachers for classes throughout the day. The school re-entry process may need to include multiple school personnel who may be located at different sites. If your child has physical limitations, any assistance needed to move between classes or buildings needs to be taken into consideration.

Young Adults 18 Years and Older

A serious injury can cause a young adult to become dependent on their parents during recovery. Encourage your young adult to grow more independent in the re-integration process. Expect that your young adult will encounter new challenges as they enter the workforce or an advanced educational system. You can support and help your young adult, while also encouraging independence by:

  • Helping them to anticipate changes in their school or work environment
  • Participating in ongoing discussions
  • Being positive and supportive
  • Providing advice when your young adult asks