Moving House and Schools
As the new year swings around again I am reminded that it is now two years since we decided to leave the only town our children had ever called home, and move across to the other side of the country. In the middle of a pandemic. I know, what were we thinking?
But for us it was the right thing to do at the right time for our family. I am often asked about moving home or schools by followers and I wrote about it in my third book ON THE GO but I’ve never put it up on the website so as the anniversary of the big move passes by once again I thought I’d pop it here in case it helps anyone who is also considering it or is in the middle of a big life change like we once were in 2020.
So firstly how did we decide? Well, when we as a young fresh-faced child-free couple moved from London to the north-west back in 2012 it was for work reasons and it was all quite a fun adventure, especially for me as someone who considered anywhere above the Watford Gap Services as ‘up north’. I was given a load of woolly goodies by family and friends who thought it was akin to moving to the arctic and off I went to live with my boyfriend and start a new career in teaching.
But at the back of our heads we always thought we would probably move back down south eventually when the timing was right. But it just never was. We settled so happily into life up north. We rented a flat, then bought a lovely little house in a village. We had Ewan. We then moved house again to another town, then had Flo. The kids grew up. I made friends at baby groups, NCT and swimming classes. The kids started school. We were having a lovely time.
For a long time it was just us. No family support as mine were all back down south and my husband’s family were scattered around the world. No-one to pop in for a baby cuddle when I just needed five minutes for a shower. No family babysitters when me and my husband wanted to go out for a meal. We travelled up and down the M6 as often as we could, as did my family. We tried lots of ways to make sure the kids knew who their grandparents were and had a big role in their lives. But video calls are just never quite the same.
In 2020, like many others my husband started working from home and as my “work” (dicking about online) can be done anywhere we started talking about whether we might make a move back south. It was now or never. By this time Grandad (my husband’s dad) had retired and moved to be near to us which was amazing and so he was a big part of our lives. We knew if we did move south we would want him to come too. So we asked him, and as he had no ties in the north-west he said he would go wherever we did. Yes I am aware of how incredible this is and how lucky we are!
After that, we wrote a list of pros and cons, we talked about all the elements of our lives that would change and we asked the kids about it. We chatted casually over dinner or during lockdown walks - what did they think about moving nearer to their Nanna and Pops and Uncle? How would they feel about moving house? Leaving their school? We talked to them a lot about how WE felt about it. Yes we would be sad to leave and we would miss lots of things, but also we were exploring the ideas of being nearer to people we loved and all the advantages that would bring. We made no promises and made it clear we were just thinking and their opinions were valued too. For them, it mostly seemed to hinge on whether or not they would be able to have a treehouse if we moved…!
Eventually the people trumped it all. It doesn’t really matter about houses or towns or schools. What matters most is the people you love and we had the chance to make it so that lots of those we loved would be in the same town together for an important period in our lives. We couldn’t miss that opportunity.
We decided to move. It would mean leaving the north west of the UK to relocate to the south east. It would mean finding a new house and a new school on the other side of the country and leaving behind everything the kids had known. Time to make plans…
We went and viewed loads of houses one weekend in July and luckily for us had an offer accepted on the one we liked the most. It took months for the sale to go through - everyone blamed it on covid - but that meant a lot of uncertainty for us and the children. As it was, Florence was due to start school in the September. I toyed with the idea of not sending her, after all we had done months of homeschooling maybe I could keep her home with me rather than starting her at a school she might have a leave a few weeks later? But in the end I decided to let her go - mostly because she said she wanted to. And I’m glad because we didn’t end up moving until December so she got in a whole first term, which she absolutely loved and built up her confidence massively.
As the admin went into overdrive and the move got closer we talked about it more often with the children, explaining what would happen and again asking them how they felt. We took them on a viewing of the new house when we were south on a visit. When we were a few weeks away from moving I bought them both a scrapbook to take into school. I printed off photos I had on my phone from nativities and first days and dug out achievement certificates and stuck them in the first few pages, then I asked the teachers if they wouldn’t mind letting the kids in each of their classes write or draw something in them as a memory keepsake. The school really went above and beyond and on their final day both kids came out of school smiling with a scrapbook filled to bursting with gorgeous photos, messages and drawings. They still treasure those books.
We did nice things with our friends up north on those final days and said our ‘ta ta for now’s (we knew we’d be back to visit and we have been) then off we went. Of course there were tears galore. It was the house I’d raised our babies in, the one we took Florence home to and became a foursome in. It was the house that started Five Minute Mum. It was the one we stayed in over lockdown, safe and sound. It had been the happiest of homes. But it was time to go.
My top tip here is if you possibly can afford it, pay for a packing service from a removals company. It was the best thing we did as it meant we could live as usual right up until the move date and they put it all into boxes over 2 days while I took the kids to my parents house. When we arrived it was time to unpack and here are the some of the games the kids played while we unpacked:
1. Rolling over bubble wrap - with bare feet, with scooters, with toy cars, anything at all. Lay it out everywhere.
2. Screwing up packing paper into balls and throw them into empty box targets. You can write scores on the boxes for a bit of maths it you like., or make it competitive.
3. and of course, we played our Box games which can be found HERE!
(if you have a baby and are moving then I have high chair games to keep them busy in my On The Go book from my friend @beckys_treasure_baskets)
Next up it was the school move.
In England you can only apply for a school place one you have exchanged on the sale. I’m not sure how it works for rental. But basically once you apply to a school and are offered a place you have to start your child within 2 weeks, so it’s very last minute. I couldn’t plan what school my children would be at because I didn’t know for sure - this government website tells you more. I called the school offices of the schools I liked that were in our catchment and asked what places they had available and I also called the Local Authority to check on the procedure to apply for a place. It is different for different areas so my advice is get onto the website for the area you are moving into about a month before and get as familiar as you can with the process and the schools you might want to send your child too. If I could have done I would have gone and had a look around the schools and met the Headteachers but we weren’t able to, I just had to take what I was offered and hope it would be OK. But school offices will be able to assist you, so give them a ring as soon as you have decided to move. You can also go on the Ofsted website to see what the latest report is on any schools you are looking into for an independent review, or join a local facebook page and ask the thoughts of parents who’s children are currently in those schools.
Once we had exchanged, I applied to the school I wanted the children to go to knowing there was space because I had called the school the week before, and they let me know very quickly that we had places - phew! But as soon as we had confirmation we went into two months of another lockdown! It was incredibly strange introducing the kids to their new classmates and teachers and school online. I had to try and get to grips with a new system of doing work and trying to get passwords and things set up. Oh and did I mention I was on deadline for my second book Time For School too? Of course!
But once I knew the school they were going to, here is what I did to prepare me and the kids:
1. Get yourself onto the school website. Read as much as you can and show the kids any videos or photos on there of the school or their classes and teachers. Get them as familiar as you can and get yourself onto the email list so you get sent the newsletters etc.
2. Get uniform ordered. It can take months for new uniform. I went onto the school Facebook page and asked where people bought second hand uniform and a parent from the PTA got back to me, so I had a few jumpers for the kids on their first days.
3. Go and see the school. I took the kids on a bike ride and a walk up to the school gates - showing them the route we would take each day. It was a nice way to chat about any worries they had and helpful for them to be familiar even if only with the entrance.
4. Email the teachers. Introduce your child, tell them a bit about them and ask if there is anything you need support with. Flo was very nervous so I told the teacher and we did a video call the day before she first went in and then the teacher set us up on another video call with another little girl from her class. It just so happened they lived around the corner and they walked in together hand in hand on that first day. They are still best friends now.
5. Read books about feelings - here is a great one we like. Then you can help discuss feeling nervous or excited and what we can do to help with those feelings. It is a completely natural response so the more we understand that the better.
Some children start a school knowing they will move when a place becomes available at another school that is better suited to the family - closer to home or in line with religious beliefs etc. For us this wasn’t the case but I have worked in schools where this has happened so don’t feel alone if this is something you have to do. Many people find this is the case moving in the middle of a school year.
The children went in on that first day. Full of nerves and excitement of course, but not nearly as much as me and their dad. We had taken them out of a FANTASTIC school that we loved up north - what if this was the mistake of a life time? On that first day Ewan came out and said this school was better because the pizza at lunch was bigger and that was that. They were in and they were happy.
Now I can’t speak for every child here. I have worked in schools where it’s taken some children a few weeks to settle in. I have worked with families before who’s children were finding school life tricky and we have put things in place to support. But in terms of my two, it was me who found it harder than them. They took to it immediately, like ducks to water. I sometimes wondered if they had even realised we had moved?! The just slid back into school life, eating hot dinners, making friends, learning things they are always eager to tell me on the walk home. We made a big fuss of them that first week - a dinner in Pizza Express and lots of praise for showing so much courage. They didn’t flinch once. They just cracked on, living in the present and taking it as it was. The school was nice, the people were nice, the food was nice - it’s all good. And nothing has changed since.
I’d like to think it was all the chatting and preparation we had done before but quite honestly my children are confident little people and I think it’s partly just who they are. For me, it was hard. New parents to meet, everyone still in masks and collecting in single file. Not knowing where to go or what to say, who the teachers or TA’s were, what was expected of me on the apps and feedback. It felt daunting and like I was back to square one. Luckily I met a lovely group and now have lots of familiar faces on the playground to say hello to, but it really takes time so as a parent don’t worry or panic if it feel uncomfortable for a little while - it’ll come. What has helped me the most is volunteering at the school or attending events whenever I could. That’s a great way to get to know people and the PTA is always a great place to start. But certainly I wish I’d worried less about the kids!
So there it is, my thoughts and experiences of moving house and schools. Like I said before, this is just us and everyone will have their own feelings and concerns around a big life event like this. Do what you can to prepare and know that your best is good enough and if it becomes incredibly hard reach out for support.
There are things we still miss about the north-west often and it will always have a very special place in our hearts, but when I have all the family over for Sunday lunch on a last minute whim, gathering bits and bobs out the fridge to cobble together dinner for us all, and everyone is playing and laughing around me as I cook and my husband makes drinks, it is the best feeling in the world and I know it was totally worth it.