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Transitioning The Kids Into A New School 

One of the most significant challenges of moving when you have kids is transitioning the kids to a new school. Changing schools is not just for those moving on to a new city. In Hamilton, any move generally signals a change in school as your address determines what school you will attend and how you will get there.

Big changes can lead to big feelings (and not just for the little ones!) but we have the resources to help you navigate the school system in Hamilton. And while it is stressful, the fear of transition shouldn’t hold you back from buying a home in a new city or school catchment area.

Here are some tips on how to choose a new school, get your child ready for the transition, and create a seamless experience for the whole family. It turns out your mom was right – if you want to have fun later, then you need to do your homework now.

Finding Your New School 

For most parents, researching schools is a major part of the home-buying process. The HWDSB and HWDCSB sites have School Locator tools for you to search by address to determine your catchment area. Note: catchment areas will vary by grade level and programming. You can also search by school to see their specific boundaries. Please remember that catchment boundaries can and do change as the city’s demographics shift. If you require a specific school, then contact the board directly to get the most up-to-date information. 

Here is what you can expect to see using our listing at 266 Bold Street in the Kirkendall neighbourhood: 

(Image source: https://www.hwdsb.on.ca/find/)

(Image source: (source: https://www.hwcdsb.ca/schoollocator/)

What if your top pick is not the home school for your dream home? You may be able to apply to a school outside of your catchment area. Remember, children living within the catchment area will get first priority. If there is additional space available, then the school may open up enrollment for a limited number of kids whose home address is outside the catchment. This can be risky for families with multiple children if the school closes enrollment to out-of-catchment students. Out-of-catchment kids will not have to leave but their younger siblings will not be given a spot. Parents will have to make the difficult decision to remove their older kiddo from the school they love or take on the headaches of having their little ones in two different schools. This has recently happened in Hamilton in a few elementary schools located in neighbourhoods attractive to young families.

The HWDSB Welcome Centre has extensive resources for families new to Hamilton. 

While it is true that in Hamilton, your home school is tied to your address, it doesn’t necessarily make this school your only choice. You can instead choose to place your kids in Montessori or a private school.

When you have your new address, take some time to visit both main school boards, and if you’re considering private school, research the options available nearby. When it comes to private school and Montessori options, prices vary wildly, so it’s worth looking at various schools to see which ones best fit your needs and budget.


You’ll need to register at your new school, so make sure you have your Proof of Address documents, your child’s birth certificate, vaccine report, and any other paperwork your school requests. Enrollment forms are available on the HWDSB and HWDCSB sites.

Getting To School 

Your transportation options will depend on the age of your child and the distance from your home to their school. Options include walking, busing provided by the board, HSR buses, and driving. 

Here are the minimum distance requirements to qualify for school busing for children inside Hamilton’s Urban Boundary

  • JK-SK – greater than 1.2 km  
  • Grades 1 to 8 – greater than 1.6 km  
  • Secondary School – greater than 3.2 km 
  • Students who live outside the Urban Boundary are eligible for busing if the walking distance to school exceeds .8 km. 

There are other determining factors including access to sidewalks and proximity to major roads so check the Hamilton Wentworth Student Transportation site for the most up-to-date information. 

You may decide to drive your child to school. Please be aware of parking and stopping regulations around your child’s school as traffic enforcement officers regularly patrol these areas to ensure the safety of the kids and the community. Tickets in these areas are hefty. 

New School Routines

Visit the School In Advance

If possible, arrange to have your kids visit the school well in advance of the move day. Having a sense of what to expect can help relieve some anxiety, and can give you the opportunity to talk through the things that are making them most nervous.

Try to spend some time at your local playground. We guarantee that you will meet other kids and parents who will soon be a part of your new community. Your kiddos will appreciate seeing familiar faces on the first day of school. 

Practice The Route to School

If kids are walking you need to know where the crosswalks are located, and if they have crossing guards, or if they will need to cross unassisted. If kids are riding their bikes, they need to know where they should be locking their bikes.

Some schools have racks for the whole school population in one place, and others are based on the door they enter or grade. If they are going to be taking transit, make a note of the stops they need to know, including the HSR numbers so they can check wait times and be at the stop on time. Kids under 12 ride for free with a Presto card. Students aged 13 to 18 qualify for a discounted fare with a Presto card and student ID. 

And, if you’re driving, school drop-off zones, one-way streets, no-turn areas, and parking can all throw you for a loop – and tickets in school zones come with hefty fines. A few dry runs can make all the difference in those first few days of chaos.

Find Out How The School Communicates With Parents

Some schools use email newsletters, some Twitter, and some use Slack or other apps. Others just have announcements in the school and rely on kids and word of mouth at the schoolyard. Find out how your teacher, your school, and your parent council gets the word out to parents. Getting it all sorted out right away helps you get used to new routines more quickly.

The HWSDB uses a Parent Portal for most communication including reporting absences, tardies, etc. Online schooling is delivered via Microsoft Teams. 

Get The School Calendar

The school boards will post their annual calendars well in advance of the new school year. This is where you find start dates, end dates, holidays, PA days, etc. Check it out early so you don’t end up surprised and scrambling for childcare.

Pro-Tip: the school calendar will include important dates for enrollment in kindergarten, French Immersion programming, and specialized programs at Secondary School 

Your new school’s yearly calendar gives you a birds-eye view of important days, the big events like winter and spring concerts, and any other mainstay school traditions.

Try and find the weekly, monthly, and annual calendars for your child. The weekly calendar will help you figure out when to send gym clothes, instruments, etc., and also if any tests or quizzes happen on the regular.

The Monthly calendar will let you know about upcoming spirit days, pizza lunches, and evening events like movie nights and concerts.

Join Your School’s Online Community

Most schools maintain Facebook groups to share news and events with the parents in the school community. This can be a great way to meet other parents and learn a bit more about your new community. 

Determine The Expectations For Parents

From snacks to playdoh lists to classroom time, school trip volunteers, and calls for baked goods, there is always some expectation for parents to be involved in school life if they can. Parents who want to volunteer within the school or assist with field trips are required to provide a recent Vulnerable Sector background check from Hamilton Police Services. The wait time can be long (up to 8 weeks) so get on it if you want to get involved in your school.

The best way to avoid the request for cupcakes at 8 PM the night before the class bake sale is to find out what kinds of help are needed so you can sign up for the ones you want to do (and so you don’t get voluntold for the ones you don’t).

If you work during school hours, ask if there are tasks that aren’t on the list that you can offer to do, rather than using vacation time to serve pizza lunch – for instance, adding auction items to an online auction site or creating posters for an event.

Roll With It

A transition to a new school can be tough. There will be good days and bad days, and meltdowns will come out of nowhere. Just hang in there. Things will get easier in time.

And remember, school is often the easiest way for many parents, especially those with young kiddos, to make friends in your new community.


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