By Jennifer Pinarski
At 8 years old, my son Isaac is darn handy with a tape gun. His nearly-5-year-old sister Gillian is, too. It’s not because we’re crafty (believe me, we’re not!), but because we move a lot. Though our first family move was the farthest, it was the easiest: our children hadn’t started school. While moving at any time in your life is difficult, I’ve learned the hard way that moving with school-age kids presents a unique set of challenges. From restarting school routines to settling into new digs, here is how to make the transition to a new home and school go smoothly.
Take them house-hunting
Ottawa mom Lyndsey Smith believes it is important to include children in the house-hunting process. Last summer, when they moved from Winnipeg to Ottawa, 2-year-old Elliot and 6-year-old Hannah accompanied them on the search for the perfect home.
“Hannah had visions of what her room would be like, and trusts her instincts. When we were looking at houses, she only liked two houses — the same two we chose as our favourites. When we walked into the room that would eventually be hers, she said, ‘It's exactly as I envisioned!’ "
While her children’s paint choices aren’t what Smith would choose on her own—vibrant shades of blue, pink and purple—she suggests parents to let kids decorate their rooms to help them feel at home and give them a measure of control in the decision-making process.
Tip: Set up your children’s rooms first, giving them a safe and fun place to play while you finish unpacking.
Anticipate anxiety triggers
“Transitions don’t come easy for a lot of children. As an Early Childhood Educator, I continually look for ways to help children find comfort in their classrooms,” says Peterborough, Ont., kindergarten ECE Jennifer Crigger. “I remind parents to put themselves in the child’s shoes for a moment. What would help you feel safe or comfortable at a new job?” Thinking ahead and knowing what sorts of situations your child might find unsettling can help make the transition into a new classroom easier.
Tip: Schedule a meeting with your child’s new teacher to discuss any special needs your child may have. “Communication is key,” advises Smith. “We made sure to explain to Hannah’s teacher that we had only moved a month previously from out of province.”
Get to know the community before you move
Before her family moved to Oakland, Calif., Carla Birnberg, mom to 7-year-old Emma, familiarized herself with the community. “I looked at the school’s website and registered Emma for after-school activities she enjoys,” she says. Birnberg suggests networking online with moms, and setting up play dates immediately after your move.
Tip: Register your children in their new school prior to their first day. “This gives them an opportunity to manage anxious feelings about getting lost, not knowing where to play or who they can reach out to for assistance,” says Crigger.
Keep in touch with friends back home
It’s easy to get caught up in unpacking, leaving friends “back home” feeling forgotten. Though technology makes keeping in touch easy, don’t overlook the art of letter writing. “This is the part I've failed at so far,” Smith admits. “Hannah has written some letters, but we haven't done it often enough.”
Tip: Prepare a letter-writing kit with fun paper, envelopes and stamps. If your relocation involves a long-distance road trip, mail postcards during the journey.
Even the most organized and attentive parents will have a bumpy ride for the first few weeks as kids adjust to their new school and routine. “It will take time for some children to find their own path at a new school. It doesn't mean that the things that the professionals are trying are wrong or right, it just means that they need to keep trying until something fits” says Crigger. “Each child is unique and deserves the time and effort it takes to help them find their own groove.”
Nuts and bolts
Keep a separate file handy, containing the information and documents you will need when registering your children at their new school. These include: