Don’t panic, plan the transition back to school.
The countdown is on to first day back to school. Emotions are mixed, particularly for first timers starting their school career and those who don’t easily transition to all things new. Over the years, I have gathered many and varied parent pro tips for easing on back to school. Here are some of them for your consideration:
1. Get school on the radar
There may be value in a slow, steady and subtle approach to getting school back on the agenda. This can work for students who are anxious about starting school or returning to school. Start with driving past the school and commenting that school will be starting soon. Perhaps work up to stopping for a walk around or even a play in the playground with a snack. Fingers crossed that the school grounds are easily accessible. Take a few photos or video on your smart phone to share with family and friends or to build a quick little social story about going to school. When feasible and if appropriate ‘pop in’ for a speedy visit to build familiarity. One little boy told his mum that he needed to remember what school smelt like, a quick visit helped this.
2. Soften clothes
The first days of school is not the time to be negotiating getting dressed under time pressure into new crunchy unfamiliar clothes. Get the new gear out, cut the tags off, name them and get them through the wash, many times. It may even help to have the school clothes visible in washing piles, in the bed room in order to build visual familiarity of what lies in the days ahead.
3. School shoes
If new shoes are needed, get those weeks ahead and wear them in. I know families that buy several sizes up so that they are visually similar and familiar. Try and get the shoes worn as much as possible so they are softened up and familiar. Stick to Velcro fasteners, elastic laces or whatever it takes to help with independence. Name them and for those still learning, mark them with symbols for left and right feet.
4. Sort the sleep routine
The routine sometimes goes out the window during the holidays. Later nights, sleep ins, browsing meals, daytime naps and um er … and that’s just the grown-ups. Returning to the school routine the night before may be a bit of a stretch, so start working towards the school sleep routine at least a week prior, better still two weeks prior. This time frame will help you work in increments, bringing back the bed time back to its usual time in ten minutes or so increments. And when you’re ready, set the alarm clock for the school day time. This one may come as a bit of a shock, but once again helps the transition back to the term time routine.
5. Revisit the breakfast routine
If breakfast has become a browsy brunch, this may be a tough habit to beat on day one of school. As with the sleep, start to work towards to the familiar routine over a series of days. I recall one mum who introduced the entire school morning routine, one week prior to school starting. This was complete with making lunches, children selecting their fruit and snacks, filling water bottles and packing lunch boxes. The last steps of bags, car and school were then easy to add on the first day back.
6. Plan ahead for the after school routine
Many children have busy weekly schedules. We tend to forget to plan the transition into these activities. So, a little like the move back to school, start the conversation, drive past the venues, perhaps write a short social story, count down the days until … As appropriate visit the pool where the swimming lessons are held, race the track for Little Athletics, do some drawings for music and dance teachers and therapists. Perhaps phone or video call them to say “Hi”. Some children do really well with calendars, others find the anticipation anxiety producing. You know what works best.
7. Get the school gear ready
Dig out the school gear, check it over, clean it up and think out what may need to be replaced. The list may include bag, lunch box, water bottle, sun hat, sports gear, pens, pencils, erasers, sunblock and more. For some students it can be hard to transition to new gear. I suggest that you purchased items early, have them around the house, used and named. Name everything. Favourite character sticky paper contact may personalise the work books and assist the child with finding them quickly in the school book pile. Add their name in BIG letters across the top to help fast finding. Get started with the new pencils, sharpeners, scissors and pencil case, break them all in at home, again with the view of being totally familiar and confident with the tools required.
8. Check in with the therapy team
Often therapists start back during the weeks before school starts. There may be value in a couple of sessions to pick up the threads and promote general readiness for the new school year. Your child’s therapy team may have extra ideas to help you ease on back into the school program.
9. A play date with classmates
Even if you don’t have the class lists a play-date with a school friend will get the conversation going and may carry over to the first days back at school.
10 Write up an all about my child document
For the start of the year consider writing up a summary about your child. I urge you to keep it brief, positive and practical. List your child’s skills, talents, interests along with suggestions for that works best for them in the classroom. Include names and contact details for the therapy and medical team. End with a positive invitation for the new teacher to join the team and that you are looking forward to working with them in the year ahead. You may wish to read last year’s blog too.
To wrap up, “don’t panic, plan”. Start with the parent pro tips that best suit you and perhaps the ones that feel most achievable. Certainly the tips related to re storing routine are for me vital but may take a mind shift from holiday to term time mode. So lean in and plan ahead for a smooth transition and perhaps a little me time at home once they are back at school.