Dear Dr. Shore,
We are planning to move to another community in a couple of months and our children will be attending a new school district. What can we do to ease their transition to a new school?
Your concern is well-placed. A change in schools can be as stressful for children, just as a change in jobs and communities is for their parents. For many children, their school is the center of not only their educational life, but of their social and recreational life as well. While moving to a new community holds the promise of something new and different, school-age children often are more worried than excited. Their jitters are natural and should be expected. You will not be able to completely put your child's fears to rest by soothing words of reassurance. The following are some steps that you can take, however, to smooth out the bumps your children might experience.
Try to move before the start of school. Parents don't always have control of the timing of the move, but the school transition is considerably easier for children if they begin the school year in their new school. Other children new to the school also will be starting at the beginning of the year.
Visit the new school. Try to arrange a visit to the school with your children even before they are scheduled to begin. You'll want to find out about school hours, lunch policy, bus arrangements, and the school calendar, but most importantly, you'll want to know about program options, especially if any of your children have special needs. Ask if you can have a brief tour of the school. While walking around, make note of other students' dress, so you can help your children dress in a way that helps them fit in.
Review school records before they are sent. Make sure your children's records are accurate, complete, and current. It might help if teachers from the previous school can send the new teachers a description of your children's strengths and weaknesses, as well as skills covered. If your child is in a special education program, arrange for the Individualized Education Program (IEP) document and evaluation reports to be sent before your child enrolls, so there's minimal delay beginning in the new school.
Help your child meet other children. Your children will feel more comfortable going to a new school if they know at least one other student in their class. If you move during the summer, find out the names of children who live nearby and are the same age as your children. Put aside social inhibition and try to arrange some play dates so your children can meet those children. The social connections will be important in your child's overall adjustment to school.