Moving in the middle of the school year does not always have to be like the opening act of a cliché movie in which someone with a letterman jacket dumps lunch on the new kid.
While summers are often seen as the ideal time for families to move, circumstances may arise that make a mid-school year relocation unavoidable. But here’s the good news: Many say that being the new kid is actually easiest when the transfer takes place after school has begun.
A Blessing in Disguise
One teacher and mother said that kids fare better when they start school after day one. “They get to feel special, and that is a very worthwhile experience for anyone, particularly a child in a new environment.”
In addition, mid-year moves don’t afford a lot of time for worrying. A student may be concerned about starting a new school and not knowing anyone. “The fear of the unknown is so much greater for kids than what actually happens,” said one teacher. Summer breeds opportunities for kids in a new town to stress about the change. And the bigger the fear of the situation is, the bigger the situation becomes. For this reason, a mid-year move may happen so quickly that a child doesn’t have much time to nurture anxiety.
From a school administration’s standpoint, however, new students are most easily absorbed at the beginning of the year, when everything is new for everyone. This saves schools from having to extend an individual effort to integrate specific students. “It’s definitely easier. You’d rather not switch all the cubbies and re-do the class lists,” said one teacher. New students blend in so well at the beginning of the year that “as a teacher, you almost don’t know who is new,” offered one educator.
How to Prepare
When families have even the slightest inkling that they may be moving, the smartest thing to do is research schools in the prospective town. If you need help, you can use Noodle’s K–12 search engine, which enables you apply a range of criteria to identify schools in your area.
Moving is a gigantic hassle, so organize the documents you need ahead of time. Get medical records, particularly immunization records and any necessary letters from doctors, that your child will need to participate in regular activities. Sometimes schools have stringent vaccine requirements, so try to get your child up-to-date at your current medical office.
Make copies of birth certificates. Get school transcripts. Don’t pack these in a special box that you leave with the movers. These should go with you, either on the plane or in the car. Schools can send records, but ensure that you have copies of everything.
Helping Kids Mentally Prepare
As for talking with your kids about an impending move, a word of advice: Do not think aloud. Tell your kids when you are certain the move is on, and after you have planned some special going-away events that will help your children say goodbye to their current home and anticipate their new one.
If you feel stress and anxiety, it’s better to keep those to yourself. Tell your child that your family has a new opportunity, and make her feel part of this exciting chapter in your lives. A good beginning somewhere else is helped with a good goodbye.
Although it is probably a hectic moment, make time for your kids to have fun. Let them have sleepovers — or go downtown, and make a day of it. Enlist the help of your current school, too. Talk with the teachers and administrators, and tell them that you will be moving. Ask if you can do anything to help your child say goodbye. One child, whose family moved away in March, had a first-grade son who was given a book with letters written by kids in his class.
“It was one of the nicest things we have ever received. My son used to curl up with this book from his old classmates and feel so good,” said the mother. “It made us all feel good.” The book stayed on the coffee table for months.
The New School
As for your new town, find the best school in the most convenient place for your family, and do your home search accordingly. Once you find a good school, call to arrange a tour (if nearby) and get registration documents.
Some coveted schools are very rigid about the registration requirements. One mother wanted to register her daughter for what was considered to be the best elementary school in town, and although she had a letter from the bank that spelled out her home ownership, the school secretary would not let her register without two bills from the new address. Some coveted schools are very rigid about registration forms, as well. Make sure you comply exactly with their requests. If you have questions, call the administrators in advance so you can prepare accordingly.
If your child’s birthday is near the cut-off date for the school, you will have to decide in which grade to enroll her. Some parents use the opportunity to have their child go back a grade, particularly for mid-year moves. “We didn’t want him stressed about school or being the youngest in his grade,” said one parent, who had her son repeat kindergarten at his new school.
Other parents, whose children are at the cut-off or even beyond it, just proceed with their children’s current grade levels. My own daughter was two months past the cut-off date for her grade when we moved, but we didn’t want her to have to repeat kindergarten. She made such great strides in reading the year before that we felt we couldn’t ask her to re-do a grade.
There are no absolutes about this process. It is an individual choice, and parents should make it based upon what works best for their child. When you tour the prospective new school, look for kids who seem to be of your child’s age and maturity level.
When your child starts at the new school, see what works best when it comes to helping her assimilate.
“Some kids feel better with a special helper, and other kids want to be in the shuffle and don’t want any extra attention,” noted one teacher. Ask the new teacher about whom your child seems to be playing with, and set up one-on-one play dates outside of school hours. Ask the other parents what activities their children do, and register your child for them. Some towns are really sporty, and others have a lot of clubs. There might be a park that parents go to regularly at certain times.
Moving is a great opportunity for children to grow. While it is difficult to be new, it is also exciting. Have confidence that your children will make new friends and enjoy their new home.