Preparing Your Child To Return To School Or Early Learning

Preparing Your Child To Return To School Or Early Learning

It is understandable to feel anxious about your child returning to school or early learning after cancer treatment. However, most parents find that the return to their education setting goes a lot more smoothly than expected.


Key points about preparing your child to return to school or early learning

  • it is a good idea to arrange a meeting with your child's school or early learning centre before they return
  • meeting with the principal, your child's teachers and other key staff will give you the chance to create a plan for your child's successful return to their education setting and to raise any concerns you might have 
  • there are often simple, practical steps that can be taken to help your child settle back into school or early learning

How should I prepare for my child's return to school and early learning after their cancer treatment?

It is a good idea to arrange a meeting with your child's school or early learning centre before they return.

Meeting with the principal, your child's teachers and other key staff will give you the chance to create a plan for your child to successfully return to their education setting and raise any concerns you might have.

You can also ask a support person who you feel comfortable with to join you at the meeting. This could be a Child Cancer Foundation family support coordinator, a Leukaemia & Blood Cancer support services coordinator or one of your child's nurses. If your child has been at a regional health school, then a teacher may also be able to attend.

You can also discuss any allowances or special arrangements that your child may need. There are often simple, practical steps that can help your child settle back into their school or early learning centre.

Examples include being able to leave class early to avoid the rush or being able to have resting time in class.

What is individualised planning and how can it help my child?

An Individual Education Plan (IEP) or an Individual Plan (IP) is a plan that shows how a school or early learning centre may adapt the education programme to meet the strengths and needs of your child. 

Catering for the diversity of learning in education settings is what teachers do every day. It is important to remember that only some students with learning support needs will need a specific IEP or IP. 

If appropriate, your child's teachers will work with you to develop a plan that takes into account your child's:

  • learning strengths and needs
  • aspirations
  • interests
  • culture, language and identity

An IEP or IP will record your child's achievements, their goals, what support they may need and what success might look like. These plans are a 'living' document that teachers and whānau can regularly update to reflect your child's ongoing development.

How will my child transition from a regional health school after their cancer treatment?

If your child has been in a regional health school, their teachers will help your child to transition back to their regular education setting. If your child has been going to their regular school part-time while recovering, a community regional health school teacher will oversee their IEP.

Why should I choose a key contact person at my child's school or early learning centre?

"I was a bit anxious about him being teased – a couple of kids mentioned it but that was about it" - Christina, Noah's mum.

It is a good idea to agree on one key contact person at your child's school or early learning centre to liaise with you and your whānau.

This could be the principal, your child’s main teacher, their syndicate leader or their favourite teacher.

Having one key contact person will help ensure clear communication while your child settles back into school.

Do I need to share my child's medical information with the school or early learning centre?

It's a good idea to provide the school or early learning facility with information about your child's illness and treatment.

This should include:

  • any ongoing treatment they will receive
  • possible physical and emotional side effects
  • what your child knows about the illness
  • any medication they need and when they should take it
  • a rough schedule of any upcoming treatment, procedures or tests which may result in your child being away from school

Cancer Child Foundation has created a checklist of things for educators to consider when a student with cancer is returning to school. It may also be useful to whānau. Read the checklist

How can I help my child avoid getting sick after cancer treatment?

Having been through the shock of diagnosis and treatment, it is understandable that you may be nervous about your child getting sick again.

As chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, measles and chickenpox can be very dangerous to children going through (or who have had) cancer. See Measles and chickenpox in children with low resistance to infection.

See also advice for childhood cancer and bone marrow transplant patients during Covid-19.

"It's a good idea to get to know your school's receptionist. They are the ones that hear from parents about the different diseases that are going around that might be harmful" - Christina, Noah's mum.

It is vital that staff at your child's school or early learning centre know that they need to let you know straight away if there are any outbreaks. If you have children at different schools, then it is important those schools know this as well.

You can let your school know that there is a letter to inform other parents about your child's cancer diagnosis on this website.

How can I prepare for questions about cancer from other children at my child's school or early learning centre?

Sometimes other children will have questions they want to ask a child returning from cancer treatment.

Frequently asked questions include "what happened to your hair?" and "can I catch cancer?".

It can be a good idea to talk with your child about the sorts of questions they might be asked and discuss what information they are comfortable sharing.

Encourage your child to answer questions in a straightforward way. Children are naturally curious and will want to hear about your child's experiences. After a few days, the probing questions and stares usually stop and children and most teens will return to their previous chat.

Let your child's teacher know that there are some suggested answers to Common questions kids ask about cancer on this website

Should I get my child's friends together before my child returns to school or early learning?

If possible, it's a good idea for your child to get together with friends before returning to school. Together they can develop a plan for the first few days back at their school or early learning centre.

You might find it helpful to ask other parents from your child's school if they can help support you as your child returns to school/early learning. They may be able to offer practical help like picking up a sibling if needed or simply by providing emotional support.

Talk to your school about giving a friend special privileges to help your child. They could leave class early to accompany your child to the next class, take the elevator with your child or go to lunch with them before the rush.

Organising for friends to support and stay with your child in the early days will help them to manage any teasing or silly comments.

How well will my child adjust to school or early learning after cancer treatment?

Most children will adjust well to school or early learning after returning. However, cancer and its treatments can cause emotional, physical and thinking and learning (cognitive) changes which may affect your child at school.

Some treatments can affect your child's thinking skills.

Problems can include:

  • trouble paying attention
  • difficulty understanding and remembering visual information
  • problems writing quickly or accurately
  • trouble keeping up with new material
  • difficulty with maths problems, columns, or graphs
  • problems planning and organising
  • difficulty copying from a whiteboard

It is important to talk with your healthcare team and school about setting realistic expectations for your child's learning and achievements.

This will help avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your child as they adjust to their school environment. But it's important to balance this with giving your child enough encouragement so they can reach their potential.

You can also discuss what extra support may be available from the school for your child.

See: How late effects from cancer treatment can affect your child's learning and development.

See more information for educators

See more information for whānau


The pages in the childhood cancer and education section of this website have been developed in collaboration with the National Child Cancer Network (NZ), and the Ministry of Education. Content has been approved by the National Child Cancer Network (NZ).

This page last reviewed 21 April 2022.

Call Healthline on 0800 611 116 any time of the day or night for free health advice when you need it