It is hard to believe that January is almost at an end. It seems like only yesterday that the shops were advertising Boxing Day Sales. Now I am navigating through drink bottles, lunch boxes and book packs during my weekly grocery shop. But nonetheless, it is back to school time, and moving from the free fun of long summer days and into the classroom (and the structure that comes with it) can be challenging.
It’s always been one of my passions to support families through their transitions into the new school year. This year is even more significant as my husband and I see our eldest child head off to ‘Big School’ for the very first time. There are a range of emotions in our household – curiosity about new friends and teachers, excitement about new playgrounds and activities to explore, as well as a lot of nervousness surrounding the unknown, new structures and routines. Most importantly, we can see that once school starts, we are going to be ‘busy’.
Getting Organised for Back to School at Home
With an increase in activity, it can be useful to create some organisation on the home front. This can reduce stress, relieve pressure in the morning, ensure you stay up to date with paperwork, and, of course, help prepare your child for the day ahead. Furthermore, we know that children with speech and language delays can benefit from additional structure and routine to promote independence and reduce anxiety. To help you achieve a successful transition into the new school year, I have pulled together a few of my top back to school tips:
In the weeks leading up to starting or returning to school, incorporate a few ‘drive bys’ into your routine. This will assist your child in becoming familiar with the road trip, and help them identify the building. Talk about which door or gate you will go through, what path you might take and what room you will head towards. Even if your child is already familiar with the school setting, a simple reminder drive by can alleviate some anxiety about the impending return.
Adding a weekly schedule to your fridge is a great way to visually highlight the key events/activities for each day. This can be particularly useful for school aged children who need to keep track of weekly events such as sports day, library day, etc. Add a photo of where each person will be on each day, e.g. work, preschool, school to help your child process who will be at home, who may be taking them to school and who to expect at pick up. Also add any additional after school activities to the chart, such as soccer, music lessons, or OOSH.
Having this chart accessible and in a high-traffic area of the house allows your child to process this information in their own time, independently prepare for future events and reduce anxiety.
Place a calendar with a month to a page next to your weekly schedule (you may need to clear off your fridge magnet collection!). Highlight any special activities on the calendar such as birthdays, holidays, first day at school on the calendar. Take some time each day to count down to these special events, for example, “5 more days until school starts”. This can help your child to further prepare for the new routine, special days and other ‘longer term’ events.
Create clear ‘Before School’ and ‘After School’ routines. This may be as simple as ‘wake up; breakfast; brush teeth; get dressed; free time’, and can incorporate visuals. Not only can this support your child’s independence and self-help skills, it can be very useful in promoting smooth mornings and efficient house exits – a win-win situation for all involved.
Sleep is also very important for children starting or heading back to school, so you might like to consider creating a clear bedtime routine. This may involve a set of specific tasks like teeth, toilet, story etc, and timeframes that ensures your child is getting to bed at a reasonable time and is rested and ready for a busy school day.
Develop a bag tag system to support your child to independently pack their own school bag. This is a small collection of pictures that attach to your child’s school bag, like a keyring. Each picture represents an item that needs to be in their bag, e.g. hat, lunch box, water bottle, library bag. This can also promote self-help skills and ensures your child knows they are packed and ready for their day.
If space allows, set up a designated bag station in your home, preferably near the front entrance. This is an allocated area for your child’s school bag, hat, school shoes, reading folder and anything else they may need for school. Having everything in one place can help your child to quickly gather everything they need for school that day, and encourage independence.
Getting Organised for Back to School at School
While the efforts made at home will certainly help your child feel more confident about heading back to school and encourage them to be independent, we also need to look at what needs to happen at school to help your child transition into the classroom.
For students with speech and language delays, providing additional structure and supports within the classroom is important to promote participation and learning. Discussing the following with your child’s teacher can help maximise the desired outcomes of independence, engaged learning and confidence:
- Modifying class work and homework where appropriate
- Incorporating visual supports into the classroom, including a school weekly and daily schedule
- Introducing a ‘Core Vocabulary List’ for specific topics. This is a list of common words used within a school topic. If your child is studying ‘Workers in the Community’, some core vocabulary words may include policeman, fireman, nurse, emergency, and ambulance. Researching these words ahead of time with your child can assist their participation when they come to engage in these topics in class time.
- For students that participate in ‘News’ sharing, a template for organising thoughts and ideas may be useful.
At the end of the day, it is all about preparing your child as best as you can to beat the back to school blues, and ensure they ease into their school day routine with enthusiasm, rather than resistance. Do you have any tried and tested strategies for helping your child get back into the school routine?