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6 Tips to Ease Your Military Kid Through Transition to a New School

You look over your PCS To-Do list and feel an immediate twinge of panic. There is SO much to do in so little time. Are you going to be able to find a new job in the new location? Are there any decent homes available? Are the cleaning fairies going to come help you sort through all this junk you’ve accumulated in the last three years!?

As the adults in the family, there is so much that goes on during a PCS that it is often easy to overlook, our children may be having just as much fear and anxiety about the move as we are.

While their worries look different than yours, moving to a new city, leaving behind best friends and having to start a new school are all highly intimidating thoughts running rampant in a child’s mind as they prepare for a PCS themselves.


Coming from a Montessori Education background, it is essential that we look at the WHOLE child when teaching them to be independent and how to cope with change and transition. But even in the midst of all the chaos, lists and chores that need to be done, there are still a few simple and easy things a parent can do to take care of the physical, emotional, social and cognitive components of each child, and help ease the transition of a PCS move.

Involve the children.
We are not talking about having them pack their own boxes, or deep-clean the fridge before out-processing (even though those things are still great!). Instead, think of a few simple things your children can feel like they have a say in. They can:

  • Offer where the last dinner in town can be
  • Plan their own good-bye party with their friends
  • Look through housing options with you and tell you their preferences
  • Start planning how they’d like to decorate their new room

Letting the children be a part of the moving process will not only help the child find closure, but also have something to look forward to.

Be positive.
It is easy to have your life revolve around a PCS, but chances are, the talk happening in your home is stressed or agitated. Instead, as the adult, focus on modeling positivity around the move. This could be as simple as:

  • Asking your spouse or other family members what they are looking forward to most during regular conversation
  • Inquire what you could do tomorrow to help your child get ready
  • Joke that it is the perfect time to de-clutter

These should be positive and encouraging conversations, not a time to nag or vent. Remember that you are modeling what kind of behavior and expectations you want from your children.

Talk about the move.
Sometimes, your child just needs to talk. During a moment where you can separate yourself from your own long list of things to accomplish, grab some cookies, relax on the couch and just chat with your child.

  • Ask them how they are feeling. See if they are nervous, scared or excited
  • Acknowledge these emotions and validate them. Let them know that their feelings are normal and ask them what you can do to help them
  • Be honest and share your feelings as well so that they see that everyone goes through those emotions

Sometimes, your child just needs to know that they are supported, that they have someone they can talk to and that what they are feeling is normal.

Research the new town.
Even for the most hesitant and resistant children, having them learn about their new home can get them excited for new opportunities. Think of the last time you planned a trip; as you read about the destination and the more pictures you saw, the more excited you became!

  • Bring a dose of history and culture into the mix and find out what the state is known or famous for. What sports teams are big and find out other unique and interesting information for the city and state that could spark interest
  • Research the new town together and come up with a list of places that they would like to see, explore or learn more about
  • Start collecting ideas of parks, museums, restaurants or concert halls to go to

Even in the midst of movers and in-processing, make it an absolute priority to follow through with at least one wish-list item within the first few weeks of arriving.


Look up the new school.
Transitioning to a new school is one of the hardest parts of a PCS move for a child. Preparing them BEFORE arrival can be the key to a successful transition.

  • Almost every school has a website or even Facebook page today. Look these up together and create buzz and excitement around what you see
  • With your supervision, have your child like and comment on photos and start engaging in that community before even stepping foot on the campus

Contact the new school.
Take researching the school a step further and have your child write a letter or email to the class(es) that they may be placed in.

  • Include a photo of your child doing something they love in their current town that they can share with new classmates
  • Encourage your child to write about what they enjoy doing outside of school, as well as what they look forward to at their new school.

Having your child know that the first time s/he steps into the classroom won’t be the first interaction with the group can help take the pressure off that first day.

Maintain ties with the past.
We live in a highly engaged world. This is when Facebook, Skype and What’sApp are all brilliant technologies!

  • Ask your child’s friend’s parents if they would be ok with an occasional Skype or FaceTime date. Schedule these and then follow through. Your child will love talking to their friends, just like you enjoy catching up with yours
  • If they are old enough, have phones and it is permissible in your family, have them maintain contact through texts. They can even have group chats with Apps like What’sApp, which can help keep them connected to their old gang

It is difficult leaving friends behind, but luckily in today’s day and age, we can still be in each other’s lives, despite the new distance.

One thing is sure: military children are resilient! They sometimes handle a move better than the adults in the family, and are experts in finding new friends and adapting to new locations. However, that doesn’t mean that it is always easy.

When approaching your next PCS, consider that your child may be going through a transition period themselves. Find ways to foster the whole child (mentally, emotionally, physically and socially) to help them develop coping mechanisms that they can internalize for any future and upcoming transitions and changes they may encounter in life.

Do you use any of these tips during PCS moves? Join us for a Facebook party to talk about it!

Blog Teaser Graphic back to school nmfa

You’re invited! Join us for another fast-paced evening of conversation and fun. We want to talk to you about your child’s education, and support you in helping make this the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER for your military child. Join us, and our panel of experts on October 15th, from 9-10 PM EST on Facebook. We’ll be ready to answer question on everything from supporting your child through transitions, getting your child’s school the funding it deserves, communicating with teachers, and even educating your child at home if you are considering homeschooling. Join us for a fast-paced hour of fun, support, and of course, PRIZES!

Posted by LeAnna Brown, an Elementary Certified teacher with a certification in Montessori Ages 6-12, with a background in Special Education. Now living in Germany, she helps military members learn how they can see the world and bring real-life education through travel to their families through her website, Economical Excursionists.

Homeschooling Your Kids Through Military Life Transitions

If there’s one thing to count on in the military lifestyle, it’s that military transitions never come at opportune times. Summer Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season is only a dream for some families, and sometimes even a summer PCS doesn’t actually mean moving during summer break from school. Deployments aren’t scheduled around holidays, birthdays, final exams, or the big elementary science fair. Even the every day work routine can be changed at any time.

As a military spouse, I can’t do anything to control the timing of deployments, PCS moves, or even job schedule changes. About twelve years ago, I discovered a way to make all those military transitions a bit easier for our family: homeschooling.


Homeschooling through a PCS
We were a little more than halfway through our first year of homeschooling when we received orders to move from Illinois to Virginia. Instead of worrying about how much time my daughter could afford to miss from school, or how she would be able to cope with a new school (especially a school in the midst of annual testing), I just packed up a box of school books to read and work on when we had time. She did a few assignments in the Temporary Lodging Facility (TLF) at our old base, and a few more while waiting for the moving truck to arrive at our new house.

In subsequent moves, we adjusted our homeschool schedule to work around the chaos of unpacking boxes and finding our way around a new location. When we arrived in Arizona, in August a few years ago, we found out students had already been in school for several weeks. We spent a few days house hunting, unpacked a few boxes of school books to use in the TLF, took a few days off to settle into a temporary apartment, and then took a whole week off when we finally moved into a house in October. We didn’t take as long of a fall break as our public school friends, but we managed to finish our required number of school days before the following summer rolled around.


Homeschooling through a Deployment
Just as I have no control over PCS orders, I also have no control over deployment orders. Since we couldn’t pick the day he left, I rearranged our lives to be as forgiving as possible during that stressful time. We spent the first weeks of the deployment reviewing math concepts instead of doing timed math facts drills, reading books together instead of writing research papers, and so on. There weren’t any huge projects to stress over or final exams that counted for 50% of the final grade in a class.

Months later, I rearranged our school schedule to accommodate the R&R trip that didn’t fall during a regular school break time. If the kids had been younger, we might have let them skip school for a week or two; my high school student would have been hopelessly behind in Physics or AP Calculus if she had missed that much class work. With our adjusted homeschool schedule none of the kids fell behind. Who says fall break can’t be in August, anyway?

Our school hours also changed significantly during the deployment. Since there was nobody telling us that school had to start exactly at 8:10 am, we often managed to squeeze in time to Skype with Dad before starting our schoolwork. Time zone changes from the states to the other side of the world often meant that the best times to connect with my husband would’ve been impossible if I had been trying to get three kids to three schools on time every morning.


Everyday Homeschooling
Even when my husband is home and we’ve unpacked most of the boxes from the last PCS, I still appreciate our homeschool flexibility. Schedule change? Maybe we’ll take that day off, too. Working swing shifts or nights? Maybe school needs to be at the library this week. TDY coming up? Maybe we’ll tag along.

There are so many things I cannot control as a military spouse. Many of those things are easier to handle because I’m not simultaneously trying to force unyielding school commitments into our crazy military life. There are many reasons why I homeschool my children — one of the biggest is that it helps reduce my military-spouse stress level to a manageable level.

Do you military kids who are homeschooled? Do you find it less stressful than regular school? Join us for a Facebook Party!

Blog Teaser Graphic back to school nmfa

You’re invited! Join us for another fast-paced evening of conversation and fun. We want to talk to you about your child’s education, and support you in helping make this the BEST SCHOOL YEAR EVER for your military child. Join us, and our panel of experts on October 15th, from 9-10 PM EST on Facebook. We’ll be ready to answer question on everything from supporting your child through transitions, getting your child’s school the funding it deserves, communicating with teachers, and even educating your child at home if you are considering homeschooling. Join us for a fast-paced hour of fun, support, and of course, PRIZES!

cristi schwambPosted by Crisit Schwamb, military spouse and blogger at Through the Calm and Through the Storm, Cristi  now shares homeschool product reviews, years-ago stories about their family, allergy-friendly recipes, and other random thoughts

5 Tips to Connect with LGBTQ in Your Military Community

My wife, Vanessa, is an Army veteran. When we met, she had already served and returned to civilian life, but she’s thinking of enlisting again, soon. And for me, I need information; I needed to know what my life would look like if my wife joins again. I googled my little heart out, but I saw little of what I was looking for.


I noticed there weren’t many blogs or voices from lesbians in the military, so I created a website and blog to create a positive place online for lesbian military spouses; a space I might need if I become a military spouse, too. I also wanted to create acceptance for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the military. Creating this space online was a way to honor my wife as a veteran, because when she did serve, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was still in effect. DADT made it hard for her to have a relationship and live her life the way she wanted. I’m thankful she was single when we met after she got out of the Army. It’s only been a few months since same-sex marriage was made legal, but not all LGBT military personnel may be publicly open about their personal lives. And that’s okay. 

What does same-sex marriage mean for your military family? Embracing change may be the simple answer. Today, more than 71,000 service members identify with the LGBT community, and it’s common to have an LGBT person serving military families. Same-sex marriage creates a chance for everyone to be proactive and treat families in military units or on bases with an open heart, regardless of their sexual orientation or self-identity. 

I’m passionate about writing, and I love that I can blog and create a positive place for LGBT military service members online. I want to use my voice to help military families see LGBT service members are people with families, too. It’s important to respect others and treat them as you want to be treated.

Here are 5 tips to get you engage and help you connect with LGBT within your military community:

1) Acknowledge everyone. Greet and introduce yourself to everyone in the room. When inviting people over, or to an event, use the term ‘spouse’ instead of wife, or husband, to be inclusive.

2) Be friendly and welcoming. This is an easy one: just be yourself. Ask questions about their life, and talk about yours. It’s always nice to feel welcomed and acknowledged, and who knows, you might make a friend in the process!

3) Be an ally. Invite co-workers, spouses, and significant others to events. Some LGBT military personnel join the military because their own families might not support them for being who they are. See if they need help with something, or just need a friend to talk to. Being an ally for someone who is LGBT is being someone who shows up and is tough, but gentle when needed.

4) Support equality and find common ground. The LGBT community is a great place to start! Educate yourself about the diversification of gender and sexuality so you can understand the range a person can identify as.

5) Be courageous and speak up. Learn what terms means within the LGBT community, and tell others who might not know. If someone starts a joke about being gay or transgender, let them know it’s offensive. Today, 7 in 10 Americans have close friends or relatives who are gay. By speaking against homophobia and transphobia, you support those in the LGBT community. You can make a huge impact on how others treat LGBT people in the future by engaging with others and talking about LGBT friends.


LGBT relationships are no different than straight relationships: two people in love with each other. The repeal of the DADT made it legal for any person, regardless of sexual orientation, to openly serve in the military. But LGBT families need continued support from straight allies. That’s why I think it’s important to be part of this open-minded, open-hearted movement within your military community. At the root of everything, we are all human beings with families, who love and want be loved.

The more you know about LGBT families the easier it will be for you to interact and introduce yourself within your military communities. It can be very intimidating or nerve racking being new to the military community as a military spouse whether you are in a straight relationship or same-sex relationship.

How have you connected with the LGBT community in your military life?

norine holguinPosted by Norine Holguin, creator of Lesbian Army Wife, and OMG Lesbian Army Wife Blog

Hybrid PCS Moving: 10 How-to Tips for Your Next Set of Orders

When Army Sergeant Major Paul Leckinger received a permanent change of station (PCS) for a move from Orlando, Fla. to Fort Hood, Texas, he opted to take on the challenge himself. “I had a two-bedroom apartment in Orlando, and it was easier for me to undertake a PPM than a full-blown PCS move,” he writes in an e-mail.


When you move within the United States, you can let the government handle your move, or plan a personally procured move (PPM). Previously called a DITY (for do it yourself) move, this choice might seem like deciding on a whim to get a root canal. Who even likes moving, right?

Actually, it’s not too shabby. If you apply and get approved for a PPM, you’ll receive 95 percent of what it would have cost it to move you. If you spend more, it’s on your dime. If you spend less, you get to keep whatever is leftover. Play your cards right with a hybrid move, and you could earn some pocket change and still not have to do any of the heavy lifting.

Hybrid moving takes advantage of the painlessness of a full-service move, for a fraction of the cost (around 30%). You’ll get a crew of movers to load/unload the vehicle or moving/shipping container. All you have to do is rent the moving truck/shipping container yourself. Here’s a step-by-step guide to a hybrid PPM:

Plan early. Once you receive your PCS orders, visit your Personal Property Shipping Center. From there, they can tell you exactly what moving costs the military will cover, and for what programs you are eligible. For instance, in many cases, the military will prepay moving allowances early in the process. Also, ask about a dislocation allowance, which may cover expenses not normally covered by other programs.

Sell furniture/have a garage sale, and donate what doesn’t sell. Not only could you make some money, but you also save money. The fewer things you have to move, the cheaper it is to move (small moving truck/shipping container and fewer moving hours).

Track your expenses. Receipts are important for reimbursements and also because many of the moving expenses that are not covered by the government are tax deductible.

Decide on a vehicle. Hybrid movers have a few options when it comes to how they are going to transport stuff. You can go with a traditional rental truck, a shipping container, or a freight truck that will rent out a portion of its space to you and others (transport options comparison chart). You’ll have to drive if you go the traditional moving truck route. But professional drivers usually haul the shipping containers and freight trucks to your final destination. Pick the option that is best for your family and you, and don’t forget to check out special offers. Many of these companies offer discounts to military.

Research your movers. This may be the most imperative part of planning a hybrid move. No one wants to get hoodwinked, and unfortunately many fly-by-night moving companies have given professionals in the business a bad rep. To avoid that, look for well-established, legitimate companies that have received good reviews from clients.“I recommend soldiers do what I did,” adds Leckinger, who found movers through the HireAHelper site. “Search everywhere and find a company or website that fits your family’s needs. I searched for movers who were licensed, insured, and bonded. This limited my available pool of movers significantly and cost just a little bit more, but I knew they were covered in case of an accident or damaged furniture.”

hybrid-moving-pcs-military-pinterestHave a plan for moving day. Most movers are paid by the hour. The more you can have done before they arrive, the smaller your bill will be. If you’re having them load and unload, which is usually the best use of their time, then you should have all the boxes packed, labeled, and ready to be put into the vehicle or container when the movers arrive. If friends and family are going to be pitching in, too, then give everyone a clear-cut job and make sure no one is getting in the way of the movers. Keep to a schedule and you’ll be rewarded at the very least with a more relaxed move.

Know your responsibilities. You are going to have to weigh your shipping container or truck before and after loading it with your stuff. Get all the specifics on making that happen. Also, learn about various laws. For instance, you might need to know the ordinances both in the town where you currently live and where you are moving for truck parking to avoid tickets and towing. Also, state laws regarding liability for accidents during a PPM move vary, so if you’re in an accident, you need to contact the legal office at the military installation closest to the accident site as soon as possible, according to Military.com. Figuring this all out beforehand is a big help.

Be efficient. The government grants those making a PPM move permissive travel time, so the quicker you get the move out of the way, the more time you’ll have for R&R. “I was able to work on my own schedule before, during and after the move,” writes Leckinger, who works in G3 Operations in the 310th Sustainment Command in Fort Hood. “So, I did everything at my convenience and was able to sightsee during my move without worry about deadlines.”

See! A move that turns into a vacation and can actually make you money is a far cry from that root canal!

Would you ever try a hybrid move? Tell us in the comments!

francescaGuest Post by Francesca Di Meglio, full-time freelance writer and editor who’s joined forces with the moving insiders at HireAHelper.com to spread her knowledge across the web, and is a major contributor to their Moving 101 project.

5 Ways to Savor “The Lull” of Military Life!


Over the past few years, military life has afforded our family many changes and calamities. We have survived a deployment, reintegration, and we moved across the country (again). We have closed up shop at one duty station and set up our lives in another new town. We have spoken countless goodbyes, unpacked all of our worldly possessions, and felt the sting of loneliness being new in unfamiliar, uncharted territory.

After one full year at our current assignment we have nested, settled, and established our lives in our professional, educational, religious, and social communities. And here we are now at what I call, The Lull.

A lull, as defined by Merriam Webster, is a “temporary calm, quiet, or stillness.” In military life, The Lull is a phase of time that can feel hard-fought and hard-won. Much of the time, life in the military demands that we live in fight-or-flight mode. For many of us, we almost forget how to live during the downtime; life without furious activity feels unfamiliar and awkward.

For the past handful of years, circumstances have conditioned my husband and me to function on little time together, a “B.L.U.F.” (Bottom Line Up Front) style of communication, and to be honest, a tendency toward a frenzied and often frazzled atmosphere in our home.

At our current assignment there are no deployments, few TDYs, and for once, my soldier has some pretty regular and predictable hours. Thankfully, there have been no late nights, no middle-of-the-night crises, no separations, no time in grueling training or study for school, and we have nothing else to unpack or organize.

I am finding myself at a loss with how to behave with all of this sacred family time. Instead of becoming hyper-vigilant about the next hard thing on the horizon, I’m choosing to focus this season on savoring The Lull. This rare period in our family’s op-tempo is a perfect time to refocus and refresh a few areas our lives.

Here are my 5 suggestions for savoring The Lull.

1. Make your marriage your mission
Just like any military mission, our marriages need a clear focus and goal. If having a dynamic relationship with your spouse has taken a hit during times of stress, now is the time to address it. During this respite, re-calibrate what matters in your relationship. Spend some intentional time together. Set aside time to really connect. Maybe that looks like a regular date night, going to a marriage conference or retreat, seeking professional counseling, or incorporating a nightly practice of sitting together and reflecting on the day’s blessings. However big or small, the investment in your relationship, as a couple, will help to establish patterns for defining your priorities.

2. Let your home be a place of rest
As a typically Type-A person, I tend to focus on making our home run on efficiency. With cleaning schedules, chore-charts for the kids, meal plans, and regular family budget-meetings, I can turn our home into a process-driven, tightly-run ship. As military spouses, there are times when that level of competence is a necessity. In certain seasons, resolute organization is the only way I stay mission ready. During The Lull, some of that compulsiveness should be traded for rest. Structure is good, but so is taking a breather. I want our home to be a haven of refreshment for my soldier, myself, and our children. We aim to savor meals around the table, have family game nights, enjoy the scenery our current duty station affords, and we especially enjoy quiet when can find it.

savor-the-lull--pinterest3. Let this be your time
During a deployment or PCS, you may not have the flexibility to focus on your own needs. Often, the needs of the military, your spouse, or family comes first. During The Lull, it is the perfect time to find your groove. Take up knitting or photography, learn a musical instrument, practice yoga, join a book club, get a part-time job, or enroll in a college course. If you find yourself in a situation where there’s a bit of a reprieve from the demands of the typical military hustle, use the time to fill up your own tank. None of us can run on fumes! As human beings, we aren’t built for long periods of physical, emotional, or mental stress. Take this time to make sure you are finding the stillness, rest, recreation, or relief you need.

4. Find community
John Donne once said, “No man is an island unto himself.” This adage is certainly true in military life. Were it not for unit wives, auxiliary ministry groups, social media, and real-life friends, I don’t know that I’d survive the madness of what our military duty asks of me. This is true during times of tension and strife, but this is also true during The Lull. It’s vital to our marriages and families to find connection with others. Invite the neighbors over for a barbecue, join a church, connect with others in your town who share hobbies or interests. It may feel natural to hunker down at home during a time of reprieve, but we all need a network of camaraderie. Go out and find your people!

5. Remember your “why’s”
Those of us in military service have dozens of varying reasons for our affiliations. To some, it’s a steady paycheck, a strict sense of patriotism and pride in our great nation, and to others it may even be a calling to protect and defend. There’s no better time than The Lull for you and your spouse to recall your motivations for serving. Call to mind why you got started, recollect your high times and victories, revive that sense of purpose, and determine your strengths for going forward, intentionally. It will be this sense of significance that will anchor and sustain you, your marriage, and your family when the going gets tough. Being principled in your convictions goes a long way in maintaining positivity and resolve.

The Lull doesn’t seem to come around often. But if, like me, you find yourself in the midst of some downtime and don’t quite know how to respond, savor it!

What do you do when you’re in The Lull? Share your thoughts with us!

claire-woodClaire Wood writes about her own struggles to make sense of military life at elizabethclairewood.com and she has recently released her faith-based book for military spouses, Mission Ready Marriage. She enjoys reading, early morning outdoor walks, trying out new recipes, and hosting friends and family in her home. Claire is married to Ryan, an Army Chaplain. They and their three children are stationed at Fort Gordon in Augusta, GA. 

Calling All Bloggers! Share Your Story on Branching Out!


It’s no secret—military families have collected their fair share of stories, experiences, and traditions throughout their military journeys. We know you’ve got plenty of tips, tricks, pictures, and laughable moments up your sleeve. That’s why we want you to be a guest blogger!

Our blog covers all areas of military life, including PCS moves, raising military kids, spouse employment, military marriage, and the tough stuff—like transition, being a caregiver, and even divorce.

Think you’ve got awesome blogging skills and want to share your journey with other military families? We’d love to hear from you!

What works:
Inspirational stories – we want readers to jump out of their seats because they were moved by your journey. Sharing personal stories, hardships, or humor can be just what someone needs to relate to you. Don’t be afraid to amaze and inspire!
Original content – We will not publish content that has already been published elsewhere on the web. We aim for authentic and unique content!
Well-written content –Your writing should reflect your individual voice! So if you feel excited, let us know! Had a hard time with a recent PCS? Express that in your writing. Great blog posts will grab the reader and keep their attention through awesome details!
Topics about military families or military life – We are 100% military family focused, so make sure your submission is, too! Are you a company looking to share a resource? Great! Use your original content to tie back to the military community, and keep in mind: our subject matter experts will review any resource prior to posting.
Sending your own photos – Pictures are the best! And we want to share yours! Make sure images are appropriate, clear, and don’t violate OPSEC or PERSEC.

What doesn’t work:
Incomplete, unedited articles – Always be sure to proof read your work before submitting it. If you’re unsure if something is well-written, have a friend or family member read over it and give their thoughts!
Inappropriate content – No profanity, graphic, obscene, explicit or racial comments will be accepted. Make sure you aren’t oversharing, or violating OPSEC or PERSEC! If you’re submitting photos, please be sure they are tasteful.
Advertisements – We don’t promote any business or organization we are not in direct partnership with, and we do not offer advertisements on our blog; however, we do have advertising opportunities through our mobile app, MyMilitaryLife. Please email App [at] MyMilitaryLife [dot] org. Please keep external links to a maximum 3 links.

How to Submit:
Email your completed article to Blog [at] MilitaryFamily [dot] org. Because Branching Out is 100% military family focused, we will review each submission to ensure it aligns with our content strategy. If it does, you’ll receive an email from us to let you know your article will be published. Please allow us some time to respond – our little fingers type as fast as possible!

Blog submissions must include:
First and last name
Contact email
Service affiliation and location
250-700 words per post
Headshot or clear photo of yourself

The Fine Print:
Sharing is caring – We want your original content, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share the link on your own website after we’ve published your submission! Share like crazy!
Editing and adapting – We reserve the right to edit and adapt your guest blog content as we see fit.

shannonPosted by Shannon Sebastian, Content Development Manager

Educating the Dandelion: Creating Stability in Education During a PCS

Girl-holding-flagDandelions.  Some people may see a weed, but I see resiliency.

Did you know that the dandelion is the unofficial official flower of the military child?  It’s crazy to think the puffy flower you picked in the backyard as a child represents our military kids, but it does.  I found a comparison of the two and it’s startling how similar they really are in definition.  According to an often-cited anonymous poem:

“The plant puts down roots almost anywhere, and it’s almost impossible to destroy. It’s an unpretentious plant, yet good looking. It’s a survivor in a broad range of climates. Military children bloom everywhere the winds carry them. They are hardy and upright. Their roots are strong, cultivated deeply in the culture of the military, planted swiftly and surely. They’re ready to fly in the breezes that take them to new adventures, new lands, and new friends.”

The description above would be even more fitting if dandelions had to receive an education, change grades, take new tests, learn new curriculum and change schools with every gust of wind. Although our dandelion kids are amazingly resilient, sturdy and strong, they face school transition and education inequities with every permanent change of station (PCS). It’s a mountain of emotion with every move.

There a few important facts to consider when you PCS with school-age children.

There are currently 2,000,000 military-connected children in America:

  • 1,381,584 are ages 4-18 years old.
  • 1,105,267 (over 80%) attend PK-12 public schools.
  • Every school district in the country has military-connected students.
  • Approximately 10-12% of military-connected students are served in special education programs.

Military families move an average of every two to three years, meaning that approximately 500,000 active duty military children change schools every year.

  • 517,734 children in preschool (ages 0-5)
  • 516,324 children in primary school (ages 6-14)
  • 186,883 children in high school or older (ages 15-22)

One change of duty station results in a number of cascading changes for a military child:

A change of address
A change of schools
A change in friends
A change in routines
A change in neighborhoods
A change in activities
A change in housing

This list is not complete by a long shot, particularly without the inclusion of a reference to educational continuity. Even many educators do not understand the educational continuity challenges that military-connected children face.

I have two children. My son has attended three public schools and he’s just eight years old. My daughter is seven and she’s moved five times in her short (and well-travelled) life. My kids are young little dandelions but they have already proven their sturdiness through multiple school changes. I recently had an experience that caused me to change the way I view school transitions resulting from a PCS. I no longer hope things will work out; rather, I ensure things will work out. I leave little to chance.

kids-at-schoolMy son is an atypical learner and has unique educational needs. He does not have an IEP or 504 plan, yet he can be a challenge for many teachers and would easily fall through the cracks in a large classroom. My son’s teachers, counselors and principal in our last assignment in Ohio showed great interest in his learning style and really supported his needs. My husband and I embraced their innovative recommendations, including a one-grade academic acceleration.

My son went through an extensive testing and interview process and we were to be assigned to the location for the next two years or more. His educators promised to continue to support him through elementary school, hand-picking his teachers and enrichment program placements. We pulled the trigger to accelerate him after careful and deliberate discussion. The school staff was extremely supportive – amazing, actually — and gave us the option to “undo” the acceleration if it didn’t work out. He would finish out the last few months of school year in the next higher grade.

Then the unexpected happened. We were notified that we had to move and received PCS orders after my son had completed eight weeks in his new grade. He was just getting through the bumpy part. Not only were we moving unexpectedly, but we were moving overseas, and doing so in less than two months.

“What have I done?” I said to my husband when he broke the news to me.

I was terrified. We were supposed to be in this location for at least two years. I trusted this school and now I had to take the leap of faith that the next school could provide the same exceptional level of support. Of course, there was no guarantee. My dandelion kids were being blown in a new direction and I could only worry where they would land.

I felt betrayed, even angry that this transient life we lead might negatively impact my children’s education. I was mad that I couldn’t see this coming; after all, I’m a seasoned military spouse of ten years. I was determined to make it right, to level the playing field for my children and others. It was me, not them, who signed up for this military life, and it was my job to advocate for their education.

A close friend who happens to be a school psychologist and a mother of two dandelion kids helped me create an education binder for my children – a tool to communicate my children’s educational needs and history. We began with my son’s educational binder. I filled the binder with all the information the school counselor needed to place him with the best teacher for him, enroll him in the right programs for him and implement the appropriate accommodations for him. This binder allowed his teacher to know my son even before he walked into her classroom. He was quickly enrolled and identified for enrichment programs and the school asked for occupational therapy evaluations within just a few weeks.

This transition was so much smoother than his previous experiences and I felt as if he was ready to learn on the first day of school. It was an amazing feeling and I credit the education binder; it neatly organized and presented who my child was as a student and conveyed his needs in a way counselors and teachers understood.

I’ve given this binder a special name that reflects my mission: the Operation Dandelion Kids (ODK) Education Binder. The binder does more than exhibit a transcript – it shares the child’s educational story and includes:

  • Work samples,
  • Report cards,
  • Standardized test scores,
  • Transcripts highlighting different curricula at different schools,
  • Teacher conference documentation,
  • Teacher-to-teacher communication,
  • Notes deployments and homecomings, and
  • A picture of my child so counselors and teachers can put a face with a name.

This binder is as professional as it is personal – it’s a military child’s educational life story.

Creating an education binder for your child will help you organize their records, advocate for their needs and communicate their educational story. I want my kids to embrace all the positives of being a new kid in school – the sense of adventure, feeling of excitement when making new friends, and innate enthusiasm for learning and joining new programs. I want to minimize the negative aspects of being the new kid: having to make new friends, learning a new school layout, and absorbing new curriculum. I want my kids to be ready to learn on day one–not lose six weeks to three months spinning their wheels in the wrong classroom while awaiting yet another new set of test results.

When their education falls into place so does their social life. When they are learning, they are thriving academically and socially. And when they are thriving, I can settle down too.

I know I’m not the only military-connected parent that experiences a wave of panic as PCS season draws near and I think of my children having to change schools again. We’re in this together and together as a military community we can help each other through these transitions, educate school personnel and support our little dandelions as they ride the winds of military life.

Visit FamiliesOnTheHomeFront.com to download your free ODK Education Binder and learn how Operation Dandelion Kids will help your child through school and life transitions. We offer parenting advice, school psychologist-approved recommendations and even school and PCS checklists.

Posted by Stacy Huisman, Air Force spouse and Managing Director for FamiliesOnTheHomefront.com