Pros & cons of mid-year moves

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  February 10, 2012 06:00 AM

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Dear Barbara,

Our family will be moving some time in the next year or year and a half, and we are trying to figure out the timing. I'd like your advice on how traumatic a mid-year school change would be for our 4-year-old son, as opposed to one during the summer. He just turned 4, and is in a private 3-day-a week preschool now, where he's doing well. He's smart but naturally cautious and self-conscious, and our main worries about him are social, as he's slow to warm up to new friends and situations. His current preschool teacher says he's been starting to initiate interactions with other kids lately, though, which we've been thrilled to hear.

He will start kindergarten next year, and we're debating 3 different scenarios; a) to move this summer and have him start a new school in September (it would be a little difficult to do the move this soon for financial reasons, and it may entail actually moving twice, though the second move would be within the same town); b) to stay where we are, have him start a new school year in a new class at either his current private school or at the local public school, and then move mid-year (this second option would entail starting out with my husband having a 45 minute commute); or c) waiting another full year in our current location, then moving the summer after his first year of kindergarten (but with Daddy having a long commute all year).

So I guess my question is: will changing schools be easier or harder as he gets older? Is a mid-year school change likely to be as traumatic for him as it was for me when my family moved when I was in 3rd grade? (I was shy, too, and it was very hard). Would you judge that a longer commute for Daddy would be as hard as changing schools?
Thanks so much for any advice!

From: Carriefran, Boston


Dear Carriefran,

I'd definitely rule out option A, moving twice. One move in one year is enough of a challenge for any family. I'd also rule out option C, a year-long long commute for dad. If dad is grumpy and exhausted and perhaps not even home half the time, that will impact the family negatively and cumulatively because it will be going on for so long.

That leaves B, moving mid-year. Moving gets harder the older kids get. Third grade -- the year when you moved -- is harder than kindergarten. Sixth grade is harder than third, and moving in high school is the pits. Or not. These are general guidelines but: it depends on the child. Some kids are more adaptable than others. I don't know your son. You do.

Here's the other thing. Back in the day, the consensus was that a summer move was easier on a child. It gave them the chance to finish the old and then they had all summer to make friends and settle in and join a new grade at its beginning. There's still some wisdom to that. But consider this: These days, most kids have programmed summer activities: t-ball camp one week, arts & crafts camp the next. It's not as if there will be neighborhood kids hanging around to greet a new kid on the block. So what happens? The new kid ends up in a strange house (because that's how it feels to a kid: strange, not new) in a strange neighborhood in a strange town where there is nothing to do and no playmates.

Kids today are used to structure. Revised thinking says it is easier on an elementary school child to move mid-year because you are plucking him out of one structure (his old school) and plopping into another one (his new school). There's an adjustment period, sure, but he knows in general about how the classroom works, about its routines and activities. It's familiar, and that turns out to be a source of comfort that can make the adjustment easier than moving in the summer.

Of course, you want to do the litany of activities that make a move easier: Take photos of his old classroom, teacher and friends; arrange playdates for after the switch (at the old and new school) and certainly ask the new school for help in his adjustment. Many schools assign a buddy to new students. If he's sad about leaving the old school, validate those feelings ("I know, you'll miss your friends.") as opposed to dismissing them ("Don't be silly, you'll make new friends!").

I'd love to see comments about readers' experiences with this!

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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3 comments so far...
  1. I'm just commenting that for the majority of people, a 45-minute commute is pretty normal. Just something to consider.

    Posted by just cause February 10, 12 10:17 AM
  1. I'd answer this, Carriefran, but I can't get over that 45 minutes is considered to be an onerous commute. I used to commute 1:45 minutes each way back in the day. A 45-minute commute would have been a blessing and just enough time to transition from work to home mode and vice versa. Some folks are more fortunate than they perhaps know.

    As for the timing of the move, we moved in the summer before our son started kindergarten. We were able to arrange a playdate with local kids before school started, but it didn't make that much difference. In our town, there are many sections of kindergarten classes, which meant that most of the kids did not know many of their classmates, even if they'd lived here all their lives. So just about everyone was "the new kid" and everyone formed new friendships on day one. I think it would be tougher on the child to move midyear, but like so many things in childhood, he will survive and perhaps even thrive on the challenge.

    I have, like you Carriefran, tried to make my kids' lives easier than mine was, but sometimes I do wonder if they would be better served to have a few more emotional challenges. Some of the toughest experiences are the best lessons and can teach us just how resilient and strong we really are. Good things to learn in childhood before we're faced with the really difficult events of adulthood.

    Posted by SandEE February 11, 12 11:06 AM
  1. I am from South Africa. We moved last year April to a new province (state) due to financial reasons. We have been living with my mom and dad for a year now. When I say we, refer to me, my wife and our 7 and 4 year old boys.

    My 7 year old has battled to make friends and he now has a best friend again (girl this time). He is in grade 2.

    My 4 year old has also battled to make new friends and his creche (preschool) he was in (for 3 months) was terrible, we moved him to a new creche and he bloomed. Made friends, loves his teachers, etc.

    My problem is that my wife has taken a excellent rewarding job about 5 hours drive from where we are now. The boys miss her very much as we see her about 1 week a month.

    I dont have a job and am spending lot of time with them. I just want to know what type of influence it will have on them moving away from their friends, grandpa and grandma and all their familiar surroundings.

    My 7 year told me a few days ago if I want to move to his mother with the 4 year old, i must, he will stay with his grandparents.

    Do you think a mid year move is good?

    please help me

    Posted by Etienne May 29, 12 02:26 AM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I'm just commenting that for the majority of people, a 45-minute commute is pretty normal. Just something to consider.

    Posted by just cause February 10, 12 10:17 AM
  1. I'd answer this, Carriefran, but I can't get over that 45 minutes is considered to be an onerous commute. I used to commute 1:45 minutes each way back in the day. A 45-minute commute would have been a blessing and just enough time to transition from work to home mode and vice versa. Some folks are more fortunate than they perhaps know.

    As for the timing of the move, we moved in the summer before our son started kindergarten. We were able to arrange a playdate with local kids before school started, but it didn't make that much difference. In our town, there are many sections of kindergarten classes, which meant that most of the kids did not know many of their classmates, even if they'd lived here all their lives. So just about everyone was "the new kid" and everyone formed new friendships on day one. I think it would be tougher on the child to move midyear, but like so many things in childhood, he will survive and perhaps even thrive on the challenge.

    I have, like you Carriefran, tried to make my kids' lives easier than mine was, but sometimes I do wonder if they would be better served to have a few more emotional challenges. Some of the toughest experiences are the best lessons and can teach us just how resilient and strong we really are. Good things to learn in childhood before we're faced with the really difficult events of adulthood.

    Posted by SandEE February 11, 12 11:06 AM
  1. I am from South Africa. We moved last year April to a new province (state) due to financial reasons. We have been living with my mom and dad for a year now. When I say we, refer to me, my wife and our 7 and 4 year old boys.

    My 7 year old has battled to make friends and he now has a best friend again (girl this time). He is in grade 2.

    My 4 year old has also battled to make new friends and his creche (preschool) he was in (for 3 months) was terrible, we moved him to a new creche and he bloomed. Made friends, loves his teachers, etc.

    My problem is that my wife has taken a excellent rewarding job about 5 hours drive from where we are now. The boys miss her very much as we see her about 1 week a month.

    I dont have a job and am spending lot of time with them. I just want to know what type of influence it will have on them moving away from their friends, grandpa and grandma and all their familiar surroundings.

    My 7 year told me a few days ago if I want to move to his mother with the 4 year old, i must, he will stay with his grandparents.

    Do you think a mid year move is good?

    please help me

    Posted by Etienne May 29, 12 02:26 AM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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