Moving to Canada to restart your life isn’t easy, especially if you have children. In addition to your own transition, you also need to figure out how to best prepare your kids for the new life ahead. As newcomer parents, you’ll need to help your children adapt to their new school and community smoothly, find a family doctor, and ensure that they find the right balance between Canadian culture and their own.
In this article, we outline key resources and tips to help you prepare your kids for life in Canada. We spoke with Alexandria Onyedika, a newcomer parent, who moved to Quebec, Canada from Nigeria with her three children in 2012. She shares some valuable lessons she learned during her journey of moving to Canada with children that may help your children adjust more easily to their new school, community and home.
In this article:
- Financial support for raising children in Canada
- Sending your child to school in Canada
- Adapting to the Canadian School System
- Daycare and after school care
- Finding a doctor in Canada
- Helping your children adapt to life in Canada
The Canada child benefit (CCB)
Raising kids can be costly in Canada. The Government of Canada helps parents offset some of those costs with the Canada child benefit (CCB). This financial benefit is a tax-free monthly payment given to eligible families with children who are under the age of 18.
Who is eligible for the CCB?
You must meet all of the following criteria to be eligible to receive the CCB:
- You live with a child who is under 18 years of age
- You are a resident of Canada for tax purposes
- You or your spouse or common-law partner are any one of the following:
- A Canadian citizen.
- A permanent resident (PR) of Canada.
- A temporary resident who has lived in Canada for the previous 18 months and who has a valid permit in the 19th month other than the one that states “does not confer status” or “does not confer temporary resident status.”
- An Indigenous person.
- A protected person.
How to apply for the CCB
You can apply for the Canada child benefit when you arrive in Canada. The person who is primarily responsible for the care and upbringing of the child should complete the application (this is presumed to be the female parent). However, if the other parent is the primary caregiver, then both parents should apply along with a signed letter from the female parent stating that the other parent is the one primarily responsible for the care and upbringing of the child. In the case of same-sex parents, only one parent has to apply for the children.
To apply, you will have to provide the following:
- A completed and signed RC66SCH, Status in Canada/Statement of Income
- A completed RC66, Canada Child Benefits Application
- Child’s proof of birth
You can mail your application to a tax centre and expect to begin receiving payments within 11 weeks.
If your child is born in Canada, you may be able to register for the CCB at the same time as you are registering the birth of your child.
How much can you receive for the CCB?
The maximum CCB you can receive is $6,833 CAD per year for each child under the age of six, and $5,765 CAD for each child between the ages of six and 17. The actual amount you receive is determined based on:
- the number of children in your care
- the age of your children
- your marital status
- your family income
If you share custody of your child with the other parent, then the benefit is calculated for each parent, and each receives 50 per cent of what they would have received if they had full custody.
Some provinces offer additional financial support to eligible families raising children. The provincial eligibility criteria and application process may be different. You can find more information on provincial child benefit programs on the government’s website.
“Before coming to Canada, it’s a good idea to research the different school options and admission requirements in the province where you’ll live,” says Alexandria. “In my case, I discovered after moving to Montreal, that my oldest son, who was attending grade one in Nigeria, wouldn’t be eligible to enrol in the first grade in Quebec because he was too young based on the province’s birth date cut off.”
“We needed to provide evidence that he’d already completed kindergarten and had started grade one, so they made an exception for him,” explains Alexandria. “We didn’t want him to have to repeat classes he’d already attended, so it took a little back and forth to avoid that setback.” She recommends doing your research in advance, so you don’t miss any of the documents required for school admission.
Choosing the right school for your children in Canada
Canada has several different school systems to choose from, therefore your first step should be to determine which school system is the best fit for your child. Public schools provide free education across all provinces and territories, making them the most popular choice. Within the public school system, you may also have the option of French immersion or Catholic schools. Publicly funded Catholic education is only offered in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the territories. Canada also has independent or private schools that charge tuition fees.
In most provinces, the age of your child by December 31 of the school year is what determines their grade level. Elementary (primary) school includes kindergarten to grade eight, and secondary (high) school includes grade nine to grade 12. However, there may be slight differences between the provinces.
Your child can start attending school at the age of five, however attendance is not legally mandatory until grade one. Some provinces also offer pre-kindergarten (also called junior kindergarten) for four-year-olds.
How to register your child for school
Publicly funded schools are managed by school boards. School boards manage many schools in a region, and it is through a board that you will register your child for school. You will need certain documents when the time comes to register. These may include:
- A birth certificate
- Proof of guardianship or custody
- Proof of residence
- Record of immunizations
- Report cards
- A Baptism certificate (for Catholic schools).
The school year in Canada starts in late August or early September and ends in June, with classes occurring Monday to Friday. If your family arrives in Canada partway through the school year, you should contact the local school board as soon as possible to enrol your child.
“The community plays an important role in helping your child adapt to school in Canada,” says Alexandria. “As newcomer parents, it’s so important to find a good community and to enrol your children in community activities and programs that will help make the integration seamless.” Here are some tips for making the most of your new community to help with your kid’s transition:
Get active in the community
When you first move to Canada, your children will likely miss their friends and family back home. However, kids are likely to make friends quickly when they’re out in the community. When Alexandria and her family settled in Montreal, they lived near a park. “Proximity to a park is key,” says Alexandria. “Because in summer your children want to go outside to play with their friends. Kids are very innocent and they don’t know any differences. They just play!”
Most schools in Canada also offer a range of activities and sports outside of regular school hours, run by volunteers and teachers. This is a great opportunity for your kids, no matter what age, to be a part of the school community. Keep in mind, there are typically more options for older children and teens. Spending time playing in the company of other children will also help your kids adapt to social norms, pick up language skills, and embrace diversity from an early age.
Look for school resources
Be sure to look into any additional resources available in the school or community to help newcomer children adjust to their school. Some schools have settlement workers, and there may be community organisations that offer free homework assistance or tutoring.
Work on language skills
When children enrol in a Canadian school for the first time, the school or school board may assess their academic skills to determine if they are placed in the right level and to decide whether they need language classes in English or French.
Although Alexandria’s family did not face the English language barrier (English is the official language of Nigeria), she has helped many newcomer families struggling to learn the language.
“Kids pick up the language fast,” says Alexandria, “They easily learn in school.” If English or French isn’t your first language, you may also be able to improve your language skills by helping your children practise at home. “In addition to speaking your native language so your children don’t forget their roots, practice English as much as your native language at home.” She also suggests watching English movies with subtitles as a great tactic to improve fluency. Canada also offers several free English as a second language resources for newcomers, which can be valuable for both parents and children.
If your children are young and haven’t yet fully mastered their native language, you can also check if your local school board offers international language classes. The Toronto School Board, for instance, offers classes in over 50 foreign languages for students in kindergarten to grade eight.
Instil confidence in your kids
Starting a new school can be scary for any child, and even more so if the school is in a new country with a new language. That’s why Alexandria says it’s important for parents to instil confidence in their children to ensure they understand “every kid is important.” Canadian classrooms are typically diverse, and it might take your child some time to get used to being around children who look different or speak other languages. This can be a great time to educate your kids on cultural diversity, help them adapt to cultural differences, and embrace diversity.
“My children didn’t struggle because they’ve always known ‘you are who you are and you are important,” says Alexandria. “Fill them with positive words and positive energy.”
When selecting a school, it’s important to consider daycare and after school care if both parents will be working. While there are many possibilities for daycare available across Canada, it can get complicated when one child attends school and another does not.
Most schools in Canada provide bus transportation for students who don’t live close enough to walk to school. Many also offer onsite childcare after the school day ends. However, bear in mind that sometimes available spots are limited, and you may have to get on a wait list, or find an alternative.
Here are some points to consider when choosing a school for your children:
- Is there an after school care program?
- How close is the school to your home?
- Will your child be eligible to take a school bus?
- What are the bus routes?
- Is daycare available close to the school?
Canada has universal healthcare, so most services provided by a doctor are at no cost to Canadian citizens and permanent residents. Many Canadians rely on a family doctor (also called a general practitioner) for medical visits for all members of the family.
Having a family doctor is particularly important for children because they need yearly checkups. Most children in Canada receive ongoing healthcare from a family doctor who can then refer them to a paediatrician, if necessary.
Whether you choose a family doctor or a paediatrician, you’ll likely be placed on a waiting list. Therefore, you should begin your search as soon as you arrive in Canada. In addition, be sure to apply for a provincial health insurance card for every member of your family. These must be presented at the doctor’s office to receive medical services at no charge.
Some provinces have a wait period before you can qualify for provincial health insurance. Research the eligibility criteria for getting a health card in your province before you arrive in Canada, and if there’s a wait period, apply for private health insurance to ensure you’re covered during that time.
Kids missing family and friends left behind
It’s normal for your children to miss their friends and family back home. However, thanks to today’s technology, keeping in touch with family and friends is easier than ever. Regular video calls, or email and social media for older kids, can help your children maintain connections with loved ones they’ve left behind.
“Phone calls are very important,” says Alexandria whose kids were one, three and five years old when they moved to Canada. “We would call and say hi to their nanny who we had back home, or to my parents and those are very great moments that the kids remember.” Encourage your children to talk to their old friends as they transition into their new life, so they don’t feel alienated in their new environment. Staying in touch with your family back home also gives your kids a chance to communicate in their native language and stay connected to their roots.
Activities to help kids adapt to Canadian society
One of the best ways to learn how your family can get involved in the local community is simply to ask questions.
“The more information you have, the better,” says Alexandria, who remembers discovering public libraries offered free movies, video games and books for borrowing. “It was such an eye opener! It’s paramount that you find out what is out there. Ask questions and be part of the community, because that is also how you get exposed to more things.”
Involving your kids in sports and activities provides ideal opportunities to make friends. “We registered for free sports programs when we arrived, which introduced our children to the amazing sports culture in Canada and they’ve embraced it since then,” says Alexandria.
Local community centres are a great place to look for recreation and sports facilities, such as swimming pools, running tracks, and hobby classes. Alexandria also recommends the Leisure Access Program, which is provided in many cities, that offers families one year of free or discounted access to local programs and activities. Kid Sport Canada is an agency that helps families with limited financial means expose their children to sports by providing grants to help cover the costs of registration and equipment.
Dress for the weather
If you’re coming from a country with a warm climate, then your first winter in Canada may require some preparation. Canadian winters can be extremely cold and snowy and it’s important that your children dress appropriately for the winter season. That being said, the cold doesn’t mean your kids will be stuck indoors, and there are several winter activities that your children can enjoy and learn as they adapt to their new life in Canada.
If you’re moving to Canada as a family with kids, your children’s schooling, health, and integration into Canadian society will likely be at the top of your mind. From managing the costs of raising children to helping them learn a new language, there’s a lot of ground you’ll need to cover during your initial years in Canada. This resource offers tips and guidance to help you and your children settle and adapt to life in Canada.