Preparing Kids for a Move in the Middle of a School Year

Last week, I was surprised to learn that one of my daughter’s friends from preschool was moving out-of-state. It reminded me of our family’s transition just one year ago when we moved from Denver to Chicago.

I was devastated to leave Colorado, a place where I wanted to live the remainder of my life and raise my children. But, my husband accepted a position at a Chicago hospital; an opportunity we couldn’t resist.

One of my immediate concerns when we decided to move was my daughter. Many people said to me that she was only three and wouldn’t remember. But, these people did not know my daughter who remembers absolutely everything, and they didn’t know how she reacted when we moved from Boston to Denver when she was one and a half-years old.

Before we moved into our Denver home, we briefly stayed with my in-laws. My daughter’s entire routine changed and her toys were on a moving van somewhere between our old and new home. Very quickly, my daughter began to refuse to eat and we ended up in the pediatrician’s office discussing options to ensure she was getting enough nutrition. The physician told us that not eating was her control mechanism.

Before leaving for Chicago, I wanted to adequately prepare my daughter for another move. Not only would she be leaving her home, but also her wonderful preschool, friends, paternal grandparents, an aunt, uncle and two cousins who adored her.

Very early in the process, I started talking with my daughter about moving to Chicago. I also spoke with her teachers at school who wanted to help with the transition, both for my daughter and her classmates. They strongly felt that the children deserved to understand and become comfortable with my daughter leaving for a new city and that they would no longer be in school together.

A few of the lovely and effective tactics her teachers employed included:

– Placing a large map in the classroom, and with a string and two pins, creating a line from Denver to Chicago. The teachers discussed with the children my daughter’s move and described how she was traveling from one destination to another.

– Creating a book with each classmate’s photo and a wish that they had for my daughter in her new city. The messages, like they hoped that she could go to the zoo in Chicago and that they wanted to visit someday, were super cute and my daughter loved paging through the book and seeing her friends’ photos and having me read the wishes to her.

– Showing the kids iconic pictures of downtown Chicago.

– Hosting a going away party in the classroom during which the kids played games and ate a cookie cake I brought with a message in icing that thanked the class.

Outside of school, I set up final playdates with friends and her cousins. Throughout the process, my daughter became more and more excited about the move and telling anyone and everyone that she was moving to Chicago.

Of course, it wasn’t all entirely smooth. The night before my daughter’s last day of school she came down with an upper respiratory illness and fever, and she missed her last day.

In reality, this was harder for me than for her. When I stopped by the school to pick up her bin with extra clothes and last pieces of artwork, I began to choke up and tears started rapidly rolling down my cheeks. I very rarely cry, so I was shocked at my reaction. Luckily, the teachers and children were not in the room, so I could take a few moments to look around the classroom that I would never see again and take a mental picture. I then ran out of the school so no one would see the bumbling, emotional mess I had become.

One year later, my daughter is thriving in a new school and has made new friends. We still talk about Denver and every once in a while she says she misses her old bedroom, her cousins and certain friends. But, she’s happy and has adjusted well to her new life.