The return to school is often a blur of school shoe fittings, uniform ironing, lunchbox prep, school bag packing and managing your child’s worries associated with new classrooms and teachers. It can all be quite chaotic as you prepare them for the first day back, but what about the rest of the school year?
Setting your child up for a successful school year relies on more than just getting them out the door on time for the first day. There are several things you can do to help your child feel confident in their approach to school and maintain that positive attitude as the year rolls on.
In this blog we look at ways you can communicate with your child to help them feel more confident in their approach to success, and how to support their needs while they are at school and when they get home.
What Does School Success Look Like for Your Child?
To ensure your child feels as though they can succeed at school you need to communicate what school success might look like for them.
The word success tends to have academic connotations to it. But success means something different to every child. For one child, it might mean not crying in the morning before school. For another, it might mean finishing their worksheet in 20 minutes instead of an hour. When we think of children with speech and language challenges, success might mean being able to participate in class and answer questions or communicate their needs.
Understanding your child’s strengths and challenges is the first step to helping them determine what success might look like. We recommend talking with your child and supporting them in their areas of interest. Try thinking of things in terms of global development (physical, mental, emotional and social development) rather than just academic achievement. This can help your child feel more confident, feel like they are achieving and, in turn, encourage them to keep trying.
How to Create an Environment for a Successful School Year
Setting your child up for a successful school year is mostly about the foundations we lay early in the year. If your child is prepared, understands what success looks like, has access to materials and equipment to help them succeed and can anticipate daily tasks and expectations; chances are they are going to head into their school days feeling more confident, and we know confidence can breed success.
When it comes to laying this foundation or creating an environment for school success, we have pulled together the following tips:
Prepare for School Days
Preparation is key when it comes to succeeding in any aspect of our lives. If children feel prepared for their day including understanding what their various routines look like and what might be expected of them throughout the day, they will be able to approach school more confidently. Some of the ways you can help your child prepare for school days may include:
- Creating visual schedules to help your child navigate certain tasks and routines. These visual schedules might include step by step instructions on what they need to do in the morning to prepare for school ie. visual images of tasks like eating breakfast, packing bag, getting dressed, brushing teeth etc. Each of these steps can be broken into smaller tasks to help them navigate each task and complete with confidence.
- Creating daily, weekly and / or monthly schedules that are clearly displayed to hep your child understand what each day may include. These schedules can be displayed on the fridge or a pin board and include images or graphics that indicate school days, after school activities, break days, special events etc.
- Establishing a school zone at home which might include special spots for bags, equipment, and perhaps even a homework station that includes all the items they will require to complete tasks. This will help your child understand where everything is, and even help you feel more organised.
- Ensuring your child has a ‘safe zone’ when they return home from school. This is a place where they know they can relax and unwind if need be, without additional distractions or questions. Many children, particularly Autistic children or those with language, communication and attention challenges may find the school day overwhelming and need time to decompress when they come home. A ‘safe zone’ where your child feels they can escape the pressures of the day may be just what they need to self-regulate and ensure they can participate in that evening’s activities.
Our friends at ADHD Done Differently have some great tips on what to do to prepare your kids for school, particularly those with attention challenges.
Practice Practical School Skills
If your child has just started school, or even if they are familiar with the school environment, practicing what we call practical school skills can help them build their confidence. These skills may include opening and closing containers, shoelace tying, dressing and self-care tasks like toileting, literacy skills (reading and writing), fine motor skills like cutting and pasting and even social and play skills.
Taking time to play and join with your child in activities like Lego building or craft can be perfect opportunities to help them practice some of the practical school skills. For example, if your child would like to play a board game, help them understand the rules and manage feelings of disappointment if they lose. You could also plan a craft activity for your child that both interests them and incorporates some of the skills they need to practice. These skills might include turn-taking, literacy skills or scissor use and during this craft activity you can incorporate step by step instructions and offer encouragement so they feel like they have achieved.
When practicing any skills with your child try and incorporate fun and what interests them. When you do this, their level of engagement will increase which, in turn, helps them achieve and feel more confident when it comes to tackling these tasks without your assistance.
Communicate with Your Child’s Teacher
As Speech Pathologists, we are big believers in the benefits of clear communication. To help you understand what is happening beyond the school gate and what your child might need in the classroom, communication with your child’s teacher is essential.
To help you establish clear communication with your child’s teacher, we recommend:
- Establishing contact with your child’s teacher as early as possible. This might be a phone conversation, Zoom catch up or even face to face meeting (whatever works for both you and the teacher). The idea of this early communication is to help your child’s teacher understand what they might require to succeed in the school environment including any additional support requirements that might help your child communicate and participate.
- Being clear and concise with your communication materials. Many teachers appreciate brief information related to your child’s interests and challenges, but make sure that whatever you provide is, in fact, brief. Teachers do not have the time to wade through pages of information, so consider creating a one-page document that includes some notes about your child’s strengths, areas of difficulties and some suggested activities or initiatives that can help your child succeed in the classroom.
- Leading with the positives. It is always beneficial to acknowledge the good things your child’s teacher or school is doing to support their learning.
Help Your Child Manage Feelings of Anxiety
Most children will feel anxious at some point when it comes to entering or re-entering the school environment. This anxiety is often related to the ‘unknown’ and all the ‘what if’s’ they might ask. To help your child manage these feelings, talk to them about what is bothering them and lead with questions they already know the answer to.
For example, your child might be anxious about their new teacher and you could ask: “How did you feel last year when you met your teacher for the first time? Weren’t they really funny?”
This will help your child focus on a positive experience, and by acknowledging this experience, your child may gain a sense of: “It is ok if I don’t know exactly what is going to happen. I know that in the past I have been ok.”
Ensure Your Child Has Access to Support and Equipment
We all require a bit of support, equipment and even adjustments to help us succeed, and that is the same for children. If we think about those with speech and language challenges, they may require a variety of supports, equipment and adjustments to help them participate in class and gain that all-important sense of achievement.
When talking with your child’s teacher assess what support and adjustments are possible within the school setting and offer any additional equipment or advice to ensure implementation of same. If your child is working with a Speech Pathologist, OT or Psychologist, a school visit from one or all might be just what your child and teacher needs to create the right environment for a successful school year.
During school visits our Speech Pathologists assess the classroom and how a child participates in their class. We work closely with the teacher and any support staff to ensure they understand what your child might need to ‘access’ the curriculum and achieve. This might include assistance with how tasks are presented (i.e. implementing visuals), introducing assistive technology (i.e. AAC device) or alternate communication systems (i.e.. sign language) and ensuring there are staff and teachers available who understand how to utilise these resources.
When it comes down to it, your child spends a lot of time at school so you want this to be a place where they feel comfortable, where they can achieve and succeed. But if your child experiences challenges in this environment, it can take a bit of groundwork to set them up for a successful school year.
With the support of your teacher, school staff and your Speech Pathologist, your child can participate in academic activities, enjoy social interactions in the playground and grow within the school environment.