My husband and I love the area that I grew up in, and have always talked about moving back. But now that our eldest has entered elementary school, the thought of having him switch schools tugs at my heartstrings. Is it really that bad? Or can a kid handle it much easier than we think? Although we’re currently not going anywhere, many parents do have to move, or place their child in a new school for a variety of reasons. If this is you make sure to read on because Breezy Mama turned to Jennifer Little, Ph.D of Parents Teach Kids for advice on how to handle the transition.
For these questions, please keep in mind that we are talking kindergarten through 5th grade. I imagine that once we get into Junior High and High School, the advice would change. Am I correct on that?
Not really – still the same process of change. The older students would be more independent and that usually means they would find more ways of getting into trouble on their own, as they might be more gullible when meeting potential friends in the neighborhood. Some may have a greater difficulty shifting to the new friends (confidence issues) and letting go of the old ones. For both of these reasons, it is good to move while school is still in session, at least by the last two weeks of the school year. For high school students, grades can be managed without final exams in most schools when parents notify teachers of the impending changes.
When a child has to switch schools, it’s either for educational purposes (i.e. switching to a better school) or because of a move. Do we prepare our children the same way?
When a child is moving because of parental needs (job, home buying, etc.), the child is usually aware as much family discussion tends to happen. Children are concerned because their friends are made in the neighborhood (and hopefully that translates to the school, but children in urban areas are bused to school, so they have two sets of friends) and they don’t want to lose their friends. Children need to be reassured that they will make new friends and (might be able to) retain the old ones, although the old ones usually will disappear from lack of physical contact. If possible, it is helpful for the children to visit their new school before their move, so they can meet the new teacher and some students.
When it is for an educational purpose (either a better school or a school to better meet the child’s learning needs), there is a different preparation. Usually, again, there is family discussion surrounding the move, especially if it is for a better school which also may involve a new home (see above). When the child’s needs are not being met at the school and a special school is needed, simple explanations about having a school where (s)he is understood better, can learn better, etc., is the best preparation. Again, a school visit to prepare for the new campus is recommended to allay emotional stress.
Unfortunately, many children must move “cold turkey” into the new school. Many people believe that the end of the school year is the “best” time to move, because the school year won’t be disrupted. For K-5 students, the best time to move is during the school year so they can immediately meet new friends beyond those in the immediate new neighborhood.
When is the best time to tell our child(ren) that they will be going to a new school? Right before the move? Or should we give them months (if we know that soon) of advance notice?
There are pros and cons to both approaches. Children need security, and massive changes do not make for security. Most children know when something is afoot, as parents have conversations and the routines are different in the home. It is more honest for parents to tell children as soon as they know for sure they will be moving, and let the children become prepared along with the parents.
Besides visiting the new school, is there anything else we can do to help get the child ready?
Children will want to have some contact with their old friends, if only for a short while. Set up a pen-pal relationship (email is great for this) or even a Facebook account for the family. When the child sees (s)he’s not “losing” the old friends, the child tends to relax a bit. If the parents can visit the school, they may be able to video the school grounds and the new teacher in his/her classroom (not other children as parental permission would be required) so the child can see where (s)he will be going to school and see that it is similar to where (s)he currently attends.
For those that are moving cross country, how can parents find other kids in the new school to introduce their child too?
This happens automatically when the child enrolls and enters the new classroom. If the parents are moving during the summer, it will be a long time occurring, so finding neighborhood organized sports, recreation, summer (day) camp, etc., are the best options. If there is anyone at the local school, they will know of places/activities available. If the parents move in July (when most schools are closed and no one is around as it is administrators’ vacation time), many churches can be resources for information, if only to refer to some families in their congregation. Newspapers and telephone books (especially in smaller towns or rural areas) may have some listings of appropriate activities and/or organizations to contact.
Any advice for the actual first day at the new school?
Go to school with the child if possible and pick him/her up after school. Many children (especially urban) must ride a bus and parents cannot go along. In that case, the parent should introduce the child and him/herself to the driver. It is a good idea for the child to carry his/her home address and phone number until (s)he knows it (tape it to the jacket or sew it into a pocket). It is amazing how easily little ones can get lost in just an hour; if no one knows him/her, there is good reason for many folks to worry.
Do you recommend meeting with the new teacher before/after the child starts school?
Yes. The teacher needs to know you and the child, the child’s strengths and weaknesses, and establishing communications as soon as possible will eliminate a lot of inaccurate information that may be relayed when the child is the only conduit.
If a child has to ride the bus at the new school (whereas before it was parent drop-off/pick-up), how can they be prepared for this? It seems like such a big step to get on and off the bus by themselves. . .
See above answers. It’s much more difficult if the child must make a bus transfer (as may happen in urban areas); in this case, either drilling the child with home contact information and/or labeling the young child with name, address and phone number contact is critical.
For those children that are close with their current teacher, should parents try to maintain that relationship via emails, pen pal letters, etc?
Yes. When I had a new student enroll in my class (he was deaf and had attended a school with a classroom for the deaf), he had a hard time adjusting. His old teacher sent him emails to me and mailed cards from his old classmates. I videotaped our school with him conducting the tour (signing) and we mailed it to the old classroom. It made his transition much easier.
About Jennifer Little, Ph.D:Jennifer Little earned her Master’s degree in teaching learning and behavior disordered students and her Doctoral degree in Educational Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction. For over 40 years, Dr. Little has passionately helped learning-challenged students of all ages learn to the best of their ability. She has taught students, from preschool through graduate school, in 9 states. Dr. Little can be reached via phone at 541.551.1114. For more information, check out her website, Parents Teach Kids, www.parentsteachkids.com.