Moving With Kids, Part II: Help Your Children Settle into Their New School
This is the second installment of a four part series on supporting young children during a family relocation. It provides resources for parents to ease their child's transition and set them up for success and happiness in their new city.
Relocation presents a challenge because parents are asked to make serious decisions about their child’s education at a time when many factors are changing. You’re searching for the perfect home, the perfect job and to top it all off, the perfect school. Once you’ve found the right education destination for your child, you’ll want to know how to help them adjust as quickly as possible.
Where do you start? Follow this three-step process to locate a school and help your child succeed in their new environment:
- Do Your Research
- Communicate the Right Information
- Support Your Child’s Transition
Step 1: The Research Stage
First up: It’s time to research. If you are already in the process of relocating, this may be an ongoing effort that you’ve already started. Parents usually make school district rating a high priority when they’re searching for homes to rent or buy, but in many cases, there are multiple schools to choose from within some districts. It may depend on which neighborhood you end up living in, or it may be up to the parent. There also may be a range of private schools you are considering within a reasonable driving or bussing distance.
The research stage is the most important because it’s the basis of your attendance decision. Depending on the answers to your questions and the data available, you’re going to make a choice once your research has concluded. Start by gathering information online, then visit the school to observe, then ask teachers and administrators the probing questions you still have.
Online Resources Are a Major Help
There is a wide range of online data available to seeking parents and prospective students. First, check the National Center for Education Statistics to view the teacher-student ratio for the school in question, along with other details like diversity of race and gender, as well as total enrollment numbers.
Next, get first-person reviews from parents and students who have actually attended the school by consulting Great Schools. Based on these reviews and the data available, the school gets a grade which can help you determine its achievements. Keep in mind that since these reviews come from individuals, they may be inaccurate or biased. Still, it’s worth checking a school's profile to learn about its perception, then you can make your own decision.
Take a Tour in Person
Once you’ve narrowed down a list of options, it’s time to visit each school in person. You can schedule a visit with the administrator’s office and potentially sit in on classes with your child’s prospective teachers.
Walking the halls and observing can give you an accurate feel for the attitude of the school and how you think your child would fit. Watch for the following characteristics:
- Students’ work displayed in classrooms, cheerful decorations
- Teachers keeping students engaged with questions and discussion
- Students interacting with teacher and administrators positively and confidently
- Students interacting with each other in a happy, playful and respectful manner
- Clean, stocked bathrooms
- Well-maintained facilities and grounds
When you feel like your child will be mentally stimulated, socially engaged and physically safe, you’ve found the right learning environment for them.
Question List for Teachers and Administrators
Once you’ve researched and observed, it’s time to speak directly with the education professionals who will be responsible for your child. The following question list is a good place to start:
1. What Is the Educational Philosophy of the School?
Every school has a central purpose that guides the direction of the staff and the curriculum. You should know what this philosophy is and identify with it personally. It should also be evident in how the staff operates.
2. Is Tutoring an Option?
Moving is tough on children – it’s normal for them to experience a drop in their grades. If this happens, the school should offer one-on-one help to keep them on track. Ask if tutoring is available.
3. What’s the Process of Handling Behavioral Problems?
A school’s disciplinary process shows how they handle conflict and can tell you the attitude of the principal and teachers in regards to bullying and other unwanted behavior. Make sure you agree with how the school goes about addressing issues in the student population.
4. What Is the Homework Policy?
How much homework will your child have? Are parents actively involved in the homework that is assigned?
5. What Extra-Curricular Programs Are Offered?
What does the school offer in terms of after-school activities? From sports to clubs, your child should be able to participate in a variety of groups with children who share the same interests, whether they like art or basketball.
6. Do the Logistics Match Your Schedule?
What time does school start in the mornings? What time are parents due for pick-up? Does the school offer before and after care? Make sure the logistics fit with your work schedule.
7. What Makes This School Different?
When compared to other schools in the area, what sets this school apart? Since you’re new to the area, you may not recognize the difference, but teachers and administrators should clearly know why your child will fit there as opposed to elsewhere.
8. How Are Teachers Supported?
Professional development is a key component to teacher support. Do teachers support each other and help each other solve problems? Ask administrators about teaching standards at the school as well.
Step 2: Gathering Records and Documents
Hopefully your research has helped you select the school that is the best fit for your child’s current progress and personality. Now it’s time to begin initiating the move. In order to enroll your child and completely inform the new administration about their education up to this point, make sure you get copies of the following 10 items from their current school:
1. Complete Educational History with Contact Information
Get a list of all schools your child has attended, along with the contact information for each one. This will enable the new school to contact prior administrations to locate any missing information they may need.
2. Transcripts and Report Cards
You will need your child’s transcripts for past years and report cards for each quarter. If you haven’t saved copies of these documents, the school office should have them on file.
3. Course Descriptions
When the new administration is setting up an educational plan for your child, having complete course descriptions of all of their past classes can help them determine if your child has already learned certain information, or if there are gaps that certain classes can fill.
4. Letters from Teachers
If your child has certain teachers at their current school who have spent a significant amount of time working with them, a brief letter from them may help the new school understand your child’s learning style, their strengths and the areas they need to work on.
5. Standardized Testing Results
Your child’s annual standardized test scores will help the new school see how they measure up to the students currently enrolled.
6. Selections of Completed Work
Samples of work your child has completed, such as essays and artwork, can help new teachers see their strengths and also where they should be challenged.
7. Extracurricular Activity Descriptions
Has your child participated in clubs and sports? Include a description of these activities and the new school can match them with extracurricular programs to match.
8. Immunization and Health Records
A complete copy of their immunization records is necessary for enrollment, along with a record of any special health needs.
9. Attendance Records
Attendance records are usually required for the new school’s assessment.
10. Disciplinary Records
Any disciplinary issues should be documented in full and a copy given to the new school.
Step 3: Support Successful Settling
Once you’ve selected a school and enrolled your child, the countdown to their first day begins. With elementary and middle school-aged children, it’s vital for the parent to do as much as they can to prepare them for success and encourage them to bond with new classmates and teachers in the first few months.
Visit the School with Your Child
To prepare your child for what to expect, it helps to not only describe what the school is like, but visit the school ahead of their first day. Introduce your child to their teachers. Walk through their daily schedule with them, showing them where the bathrooms are, where the lunchroom is and where their locker will be located.
When your child has a chance to talk with their new teachers and eye new friends, they’re less likely to be nervous on their first day, and more likely to be excited for the new experience.
Review School Transportation Route
If your child has to walk to a bus stop, go through their new routine with them before the first day arrives. Drive the bus route and explain the time and place they will be picked up and dropped off.
Facilitate Involvement and Social Activities
You could try hosting a get-together for all of the children in the neighborhood who will also be attending school with your child. Encourage them to join sports teams and get involved in the community. When your child begins to recognize friendly faces around the neighborhood and around town, they will be that much more comfortable in the new setting.
Kathryn Eade (@xcultural_tp), Cross Cultural Specialist at Thinking People, says making the transition a family affair helps. Active community involvement helped her, her husband and her children adjust from moving to Montreal from the UK.
“Both my children settled quickly into school, despite the fact it was in a language they had previously had no exposure to. We supported this by reading at home, watching French TV (at first my children didn’t realise you could get English TV) and having the radio on in the background. We even set our GPS in the car to French! My husband and I also took language lessons, so everyone was learning at the same time. We had many family discussions about how challenging and exhausting learning another language can be.
“As a family we got actively involved in the school. I volunteered for different events so I was present at school and a familiar face. We encouraged the children to take part in any extracurricular activities they showed an interest in, so they had an opportunity to meet other children outside of the (French) classroom.”
Make Communication a Priority
As your child adjusts to their new life, make sure to stay tuned in. Ask lots of questions about their new teachers and their new friends. Communicating frequently is how you’ll be able to sense if something isn’t right and if your child is struggling with the adjustment.
"Many expats have shared with me (and I've seen for myself when I went to school in London) that the educational process, and the experience of learning and teaching, can be quite different in other parts of the country and the world. Instead of resisting the differences, help your child understand these differences, and embrace them. Also, schedule a meeting to speak with their new teachers, to get to know them better, share your openness and enthusiasm, and ask for suggestions for helping your child acclimate."
Transitions Take Time
Remember that every child is different. Some may adjust quickly and some may take months to feel like they can be themselves. Encourage your child through the transition and be patient with them. Soon, their new school will feel less and less like a “new” school, and more and more like where they belong.
Like what you read? There's more where that came from! Click below to navigate to other chapters:
- Moving With Kids, Part I: Prepare Your Children Before the Move
- Moving With Kids, Part III: Help Your Children Make New Friends
- Moving With Kids, Part IV: What to Do If Your Child Is Not Adjusting to the Move
Are you relocating with young children?
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Breaking the News | Schools | Social Adjustment | Emotional Adjustment