Summer holidays are almost at an end here in Spain, and a whole new bunch of kids are going to be starting high school. This means changing schools. Last year when Kayla did the ‘Big Move’ (from ‘primaria’ to ‘secondaria’), I saw how stressful the whole situation was. We all know that this can be both an exciting and scary time for any child, add to that the fact that there’s a little bit of a language issue (mostly for Mom 🙂 ), and it’s easy to see why I decided to share with you a few tips that I found made our lives a whole lot easier when Kayla changed schools.
Here are a few things to keep in mind (or do in advance) to help this transition:
Do your research. Even before you actually move, once you know which school your child will be attending, gather information online. Nowadays, many (if not most) school districts, schools, and even teachers have their own websites, so check these out too. Here you are likely to find things like summer reading lists, photos of activities from the school year, links to online learning resources, and a calendar of upcoming events. Sharing this information with your children may make them less anxious and perhaps even a bit excited about what’s ahead.There may also be a benefit to moving over the summer. Doing so allows your kids to finish their current school year with their friends and say goodbye to teachers along with everyone else. Overall, it may be less disruptive (both academically and socially) for everyone, compared to moving during the school year.
Make contact. When you know what school your kids will be attending, before school begins, make an appointment to speak with the principal. Get a tour of the school and ask a lot of questions. For example, we went to Kayla’s new school a couple of months ago for an interview and we ended up coming home with so much information! We got details on extramural activities, extra language courses, found out how the lunchroom works etc etc… In fact, she has already decided her 2 extra languages are going to be French and Russian, and is super excited about learning to play the guitar! If your kids are used to being involved in organized activities, or love being on a sports team or in the choir, giving them this information will help them look forward and allow both you both to prepare. Also, if your child has special needs, such as a learning disability or food allergy, work with the new school as far in advance as possible to determine placement and to line up services and support.
Meet your neighbors. Introduce your kids to children living nearby. Depending on your parenting style, this can be as simple as saying ‘hi!’ when you and your child bump into other families at the communal pool, or as pro-active as popping in to your neighbors place to introduce yourself and arrange a visit. At the same time, explore other avenues to help your children make friends before school starts… why not check out the local area for kid clubs or other recreational facilities. For instance, there is a nautical club near to our new place offering kids courses in a bunch of things, from sailing to surfing, over the summer holidays… that is one thing we most definitely plan on looking into!
Keep your kids informed.Before school starts, take your children to their new school and show them around.Try to meet their teachers before the first day. Teachers are almost always preparing for the start of school the week before kids arrive, so this may be an ideal time. Some schools even have a Meet the Teacher Day a day or two before school officially starts, and this would also be a great time for your child to meet a few of the new class mates. Talk with the teacher privately and let them know about your child’s personality and share any possible concerns with the teacher for extra peace of mind. Teachers will often assign a “buddy” to a new student for the first few days to help them feel welcome and to make sure they feel comfortable navigating the school.
Get involved.Once school has started, get involved. Attend Back to School Night and teacher conferences. If you can, become a regular volunteer. This may help your child feel more secure in their new surroundings. Find out how your school communicates important information to parents and then be alert to those messages. Is it by automated phone message, e-mail blasts, electronically through systems such as WhatsApp, newsletters, snail-mail, or in your kids’ backpacks?
Address feelings. In spite of all you do, some children may still need some extended time to adjust. Be patient and allow your kids to talk about how they’re feeling. It’s okay to let them know that making new friends takes time. Maintain your family routines; if every Friday was movie night in your previous house, continue the tradition in your new home. You can even think of creating new ones… one thing we did was take advantage of the amazing view of the sea from our patio by buying a land and sky telescope.
Create Continuity. Show your children that they can maintain their old friendships through phone calls, letters, and email, and encourage visits with friends from the old school if at all possible.
Be positive. It is normal for both you and your child to be anxious about entering a new school, but if you have concerns, please don’t express them to your child. Express confidence and optimism about his/her ability to meet the new challenges.It may help them to hear about how you have dealt with these issues in the past and what you will be doing now to make the situation easier to deal with for yourself too.
Keep your child in the learning ‘groove’. Students can lose from one to three months of learning during the summer, so plan to keep your child engaged by encouraging reading, word games, math and nature activities. Simply cooking and baking with kids can also help develop or strengthen math, reading, and science skills.
Gather info about your new neighborhood and school. Check your mail for the publication of the annual calendar/directory. Keep it in an accessible place, as this is often a great place to find listings for clubs and societies in your area, special events or family-specific services such as tutoring or child-minding.
Make saying goodbye special. This is super important. Arranging a special visit, maybe a trip to the cinema or a small sleepover with best friends, you allow your child and their friends to deal with the situation in a more relaxed, pleasant way. This would be the perfect opportunity to explain that phone calls or email, and perhaps even visits, are still a great way to stay in touch. If you wanted to let your child get a best friend a small gift, something like an address book could be a nice idea, and older children will really enjoy filling in all of their (or yours) details.
To finish off… the thing that we need to keep in mind when moving, or starting at a new school, is that life is all about change and growth. Luckily, children are naturally better at this than we give them credit for! And with a little help from the adults in their lives, moving school, too can be a wonderful new experience!
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