Last month my family moved from Canada to Las Vegas, Nevada. It was a big move for a lot of reasons, most notably because my 12 and nine-year-old daughters would be changing schools mid-year.
There’s no shortage of “back to school” advice available every September but finding help and recommendations for a mid-year transition is much tougher. And for us, a new city, country, curriculum and (gasp!) uniforms, have made for a very challenging few weeks and a lot of tears (theirs and mine). The process of transitioning, settling and acclimating is still ongoing but here’s what we’ve learned so far about switching schools mid-year:
Meet with the new teacher(s) as soon as possible. With or without your child, try to make time to tell the new teacher about your child, her strengths, weaknesses and interests, how she learns, and how she’s feeling about the move. Find out about after school clubs and teams your child might want to join, as well as what his classmates are into and what games they play at recess.
Gather as much information as you can about your child’s current curriculum. Find out what she’s already learned and what’s coming up. Even across grade levels not everything is learned in the same order. Your child may find herself plopped into the middle of a unit on fractions without ever having studied them. Knowing what she has and hasn’t done will help the new teacher accommodate and settle her.
Before you leave the old school, get copies of everything. Report cards and tests will help, as will a short letter, written teacher-to-teacher, about your child’s academic and social needs and capabilities. Ask your new teacher what else might be useful in helping him understand where your child is at.
Read the new school policies. Don’t assume all schools have the same rules. At our new school, even leashed dogs are strictly forbidden on school property, but nut products are welcome, which is the complete opposite of what we’re used to. The colour of undershirts and outerwear is also strictly prescribed, which I wouldn’t have known (nor envisioned in my wildest nightmares) without reading the school’s policies and rules (for the first time ever). Remember most kids don’t want to stand out, especially for making a mistake.
Ask the teacher to assign your child a welcome buddy. Most teachers will do this without being asked, bless them. A welcome buddy ensures she has someone to sit with at lunch and play with at recess. Her buddy will also have important kid-specific knowledge, such as which bathrooms are the least gross and why Mrs. Kerplopple wears track pants every day.
Stay in touch with the old school. In with the new doesn’t have to mean out with the old. Try to maintain contact with your child’s former teacher and friends to give him a familiar touchstone for comfort amid all the changes he’s experiencing. But if this means excluding new friends, you may have to re-evaluate to make sure he’s making time for new ones too.
Get involved at the new school. Yup, this means you mom and dad. If you’re able, find a way to volunteer or attend parent-school association meetings. My youngest loves seeing me around the halls (if only to ask if she can leave early or have a piece of gum). Getting to know the staff, faculty and other parents, as well as the ins and outs of how the place runs, is helping us both adapt and feel more comfortable in a new environment.
Get kids excited about their new place and space. Lucky for us, everything is new. And unfortunately for us, everything is new. Even though my kids were excited about the move none of us realized how challenging it would actually be. What helps us get through the tough times is discovering fun things about our new home, such as hiking in the mountains or a finding a great place for fro-yo. What happens at home often sets the tone for what happens at school, whether you’re moving or not, so try your best to maintain some order and stability amid the chaos of a move (not easy, I know), and to discover new things that will help kids feel more positive about the move in general.
Remember, this period of transition will likely and hopefully not last forever. Before you know it you’ll be settled into new routines and a new home, enjoying new friends and new experiences. It won’t be easy, but with a little creativity and a lot of patience, you’ll get there.