Adjusting to a New School

Decades of research suggest that moving schools is linked to lower academic performance. Most of this research is correlational - the more often kids change schools, the greater the toll on their academic ability. But recent research has underscored that moving schools is more complex than this statement makes it sound. Each child’s situation is different depending on why their family moved. Did they move in the summer or mid-year? How does the quality of the new school compare to that of the previous school?

In many cases, moving can be a positive change in a child's life. Moving closer to relatives, changing to a school better suited to their needs, or leaving a difficult peer group can all help kids in the long run. In the short term, there are things you can do to help ease the transition.

Try practicing social skills at home like asking to join a game or introducing yourself.

Social Capital

No matter what the circumstances of the move, one of the biggest concerns is the loss of “social capital”. Someone with social capital knows who to contact at the school when something goes wrong, they know the reputations of teachers, and they know how to handle the routines and expectations of their school’s community. Parents learn the ins and outs of their children’s school only to find themselves starting over when they move. This can be disorienting and frustrating. If this is you, then your kid’s new school probably has orientation events. They may be helpful, but one of the best sources of information will likely be other parents who know the ropes. You could reach out to another parent at the school to find out about their experience.

Kids lose social capital too. They have to start from scratch learning the norms of the new school, meeting new kids and adults, and figuring out who to go to when they need help. If this is their first time going through a transition like this, then they might need tips from their parents and teachers about how to make new friends. There are social “scripts” for situations like meeting new people, asking to join a game, or introducing yourself. These scripts are learned. It could help take the pressure off to practice at home or give them specific lines they can use in school.

Fresh start?

In one study, researchers interviewed parents who had recently moved and found that they often saw the move as an opportunity for a fresh start for their kids. However, if kids struggled with behavior or academically at their previous school, then they probably will in their new school too. The researchers also interviewed teachers who expressed concern that keeping information from the new school in order to get that “fresh start” could prevent kids from getting the support they need to start off on the right foot. That being said, if you’re worried about your kids behavior, social development, or academics, then make sure you communicate your concerns to the new school while also emphasizing your kid’s strengths.

Schwartz, A. E., Stiefel, L., & Cordes, S. A. (2017). Moving matters: The causal effect of moving schools on student performance. Education Finance and Policy.

Sorin, R. & Iloste, R. (2006). Moving schools: Antecedents, impact on students, and interventions. Australian Journal of Education, 50(3), 227-241.

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