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Student Mobility: Helping Children Cope With a Moving Experience


"Moving scares you at first; it might even make you sad. All your friends are in one place, and you're in another. I was scared when I moved. I worried if I would even make new friends and if anyone would like me. " Those are the words of eighth grader Jenne Terre, but they sum up the feelings and experiences of many children who move each year. Whether it is across town or across the country, moving can be very stressful. Moving can greatly affect a child's concentration and behavior in school, and children may have trouble articulating their feelings. But teachers can help alleviate some of the stress that surrounds an impending move.

Recent statistics reveal that --

Twenty-three percent of children who moved frequently repeated a grade compared with 12 percent of children who never or infrequently moved.

Approximately one-fifth of all Americans will move every year. (U.S. Census Bureau)

"Kids often move emotionally before they move physically," said Susan Titterton, a guidance counselor at Morristown (Vermont) Elementary School, in a recent issue of The Responsive Classroom, published by the Northeast Foundation for Children. "It's very common for negative behavior to escalate when a child knows he'll be moving. It almost seems like the child wants to get the other kids and the teacher mad at him so it'll be easier to leave."

During the past ten years, many teachers have experienced increases in the number of children who moved, and frequently those moves can be heart wrenching.

"My dad is in the Coast Guard, and I move about every two years," said freckle-faced sixth grader Katie Hadley. "I make new friends, and then two years later [I] move. I have moved six different times. The worst thing about moving is leaving your best friend. It's very emotional. Even though you know you will make new friends, it's never the same."


Though teachers have little control over a child's move, there is much they can do to help that child, as well as the other students in the class, cope. "A child's leaving suddenly with no explanation can be extremely frightening for the other children," said Chip Wood, a Responsive Classroom consultant. "Depending on their age, they could believe that they, too, could suddenly be snatched away with no explanation. Other children worry that there was something they did to make the child leave."

A recent issue of The Responsive Classroom offered a list of possible ways for schools to help children who move and their classmates, including these suggestions:

  • Confronted with a child's sudden move, school personnel could ask that the child be allowed to go to his or her classroom to say good-bye. A good-bye is important for a sense of closure, both for the child and for the other children in the classroom.

  • Before a child leaves, teachers could encourage classmates who have moved to share their experiences and explain what it feels like to be in a new school.

  • A teacher who knows in advance that a child is moving could ask the child to list questions she or he may have about the new school. The teacher could then call the school to get answers to the questions.

  • A teacher could set up a dramatic-play area where younger children can play-act packing and moving, putting toys into boxes, and having the area totally clear of familiar toys to make that experience less scary when it really happens.

  • A class could throw a party at the end of the last day for a child who is moving. At the party, each child in the class could say one thing he or she will miss or one thing he or she appreciates about the child who is leaving.

  • A class could give a child who is moving a going-away gift. A nice remembrance is a good-bye book with photos of classmates and notes from them. Or children can draw pictures of themselves and use talk bubbles in which to say a farewell to their classmate. A card, an autograph book, a T-shirt signed by each classmate, or an address book with the address of everyone in the class are other gifts the class could give a child who is moving.

  • A teacher could send letters from a child's classmates to the child's new school to greet the child when she or he gets there.

  • To make the experience less frightening, a teacher could read to the class (or have them read) books about children who are moving. A few books that deal with moving are Joy Berry's About Change and Moving, Bernard Waber's Ira Says Good-Bye, and for children in grades K through 2, Elizabeth Lee O'Donnell's Maggie Doesn't Want to Move.

In addition, a different type of book, available in both Spanish and English, is Beverly Roman's Let's Make a Move! (See "Additional Resources" for more information.) Targeted to grades 2 through 5, it is a coloring activity book geared to children who are moving as well as those who are being left behind. The activity book aims to help children feel like they have some control over a difficult situation; it will help them understand that many people move and that they themselves did not do anything wrong to bring it about.


Moving affects not only the child who is moving but also his or her close friends. Providing an opportunity for students to share their experiences with moving can benefit both the mover and the students who will stay behind.

"This summer my best friend moved away," sixth grader Candace Douglas told Education World. "We'd been best friends for four years. We were really close. Then one day I called her, and she told me she was moving to Texas. A few weeks later, she moved. It was really hard for me at first because a lot of things in my room reminded me of her. I was also sad at school because every time we had to work with a partner, it reminded me of everything we had done together at school."

"Some of my close friends are but distant memories," said eighth grader Andrew Reich. "I lost touch with them. I now regret our growing apart. I realize how important friends are. I wish I had told them how important they were to me."

Perhaps more important than throwing a party for or presenting a gift to a child who is leaving is giving the child's classmates an opportunity to express their feelings. Teachers can encourage students to tell their classmate that she or he was valued and will be missed. It also helps students left behind if teachers continue to talk about the child after he or she has moved and acknowledge that the sense of loss does not go away with the physical leaving. Telephone calls, letters, faxes, and e-mails are wonderful tools to help children stay in touch with classmates who have moved to a new school.

"The first time a best friend moved was the hardest," said eighth grader Erin Radigan. "I didn't get her address so I haven't spoken to her since, but I learned from my mistakes. The next time a best friend moved away, we both wanted to remember each other forever, so I gave her something of mine, and she gave me something of hers. Both things were very personal so that we would both keep memories no matter where we go. Now we write to each other and call each other and are still best friends. But the things that mean the most to both of us are the things we gave each other on the last day we ever saw each other."

Some students might prefer to share their feelings in writing, as in this poem by eighth grader Lauren Trimble:

Suddenly you turn around and everything you know is different
All of your friends are far away
        and you are forced to start over --
a new school, a new place, and new people
         The whole world feels like it's
         spinning around you
But you don't give up
         you stand up and start again
         Some may say that you live in the past
         But your memories are exactly what kept you going
         So let them think whatever they want
         because sometimes living in the past
         is better than remembering today.


  • "When Children Move Away" This article, which appeared in the Spring 1988 issue of The Responsive Classroom, offers some excellent advice on how teachers can help children who move. Refer to the Web site for information about how you can receive a free subscription to The Responsive Classroom newsletter.

  • Moving to a New School Published by the National Association of Elementary School Principals, this article offers some excellent advice to parents on how to select a school in a new community. A laundry list of questions is provided for parents to think about and to ask.

  • Let's Make a Move! The activity books highlighted in the above article were written by Beverly D. Roman and published by BR Anchor Publishing. The books can be ordered through the company's Web site, by e-mail, or by phone.

  • Children's Moving Kit Mayflower Transit provides a free moving kit for children, featuring games, stories, stickers, and helpful hints to get children involved in the move. It also provides a move planner for adults!

  • Student Mobility Project The state of California is conducting a study on student mobility. Check this site for a description of the study.

Article by Glori Chaika
Education World®
Copyright © 1999 Education World