One of the most significant challenges of moving when you have kids is transitioning the kids to a new school. In Toronto, with schools tied to addresses, a move generally signals a change in school. And while it is stressful, that transition shouldn’t hold you back from buying a home in a new school district. In fact, you and your kids may end up liking their new school better.
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.
Choosing Your New School
For most parents, researching schools is a big part of the home buying process. You can search school catchment areas on the TDSB website or check out our handy interactive school map which includes the scores from the Fraser Institute.
While it is true that in Toronto, your home school is tied to your address, it doesn’t necessarily make this school your only choice. Just like when you first enrolled your kids, you can choose to place your kids in the Toronto District School Board, Toronto Catholic District School Board or in Montessori or 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.
In addition to home schools, TDSB offers a wide variety of alternative schools that you can apply to attend at no extra cost. Many have a lottery system that happens in January/February, so if there are schools you are considering, it’s important to pay attention to Open House and application dates.
If you are already changing schools, this is an excellent time to apply for these alternative curriculum schools, so your kids only have to change once.
Many Toronto schools offer optional enrollment – so there may be an option to keep your kids in the same school if you can manage the transportation complications of having kids out of the district. You need to apply for this option.
Schools open or close their optional enrollment based on the projected student population numbers for the following year, so you may want to speak to your principal ASAP. A word of caution: a school can force you to move mid-year if they are alerted to your move, so tread lightly.
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.
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. Schools in Toronto vary greatly in terms of how they set up classrooms, move through the school between periods, have lunch etc. 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.
Practice The Route to School
Will your kids be walking with you or someone else? Riding their bikes? Taking transit? Being dropped off by car? No matter how they get there, they (and you) need to know all the little details.
If kids are walking you need to know where the cross-walks 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 TTC numbers so they can check wait times and be at the stop on time.
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.
If your child qualifies for bussing, make sure the bus company has set up your route number and pickup/ drop off times. Your school office assistant will be able to help you set up your online bus portal so you can report when your child won’t be on the bus and check for delays and cancellations online, and receive notifications.
Preparing Your Child For Their First Day
When you are new to a neighbourhood, it can be tough to walk into a new school when you don’t know anyone. Luckily, many schools have Facebook pages or groups for their parent council. Join the group and introduce yourself.
You may be able to find a family that lives nearby whose child would be willing to show your kids around over the first few days, so they know they have someone to wave at before school, eat lunch with and to make introductions to other kids. The Facebook group can also be a lifeline for what’s happening at school those first few weeks before you have the school communications. Often things like spirit days and pizza lunches are announced weeks before, and if you come into a school mid-year, your child will miss out (and new kids like to stick out as little as possible – which is hard when everyone else in school is wearing PJs).
Preparing Yourself For Their First Day
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.
Get The School Calendar
Try and find the weekly, monthly and annual calendar 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 upcoming spirit days, pizza lunches and evening events like movie nights and concerts.
The 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.
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.
The best way to avoid the request for cupcakes at 8PM 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.