In part two of our series, Ridge Zeller Therapy’s Lauren Trader, M.S., CCC-SLP, provides specific examples that you can implement in your home for helping your children to get back into a comfortable school routine!
Back to School
These three words may fill you with a myriad of feelings: excitement, joy, apprehension, dread. One thing is certain: it can be hard to get back into a school routine after summer break. Here are some specific ideas to hopefully make the transition back to school a little less stressful.
First, Let’s Talk!
Have conversations with your child or children about the beginning of the school year. Talk about differences between summer expectations and school-year expectations, including earlier bedtimes, packing lunches, and so on. Sometimes the transition can go more smoothly by simply giving your child enough time to process the changes in routines, and to discuss expectations. Give them an opportunity to ask questions about the upcoming school year.
Next, Create a Schedule!
I do this in my household. Everyone is trying to get ready and get out the door in the morning, so we don’t always have the time (or patience) to repeat instructions every few minutes. Our mornings run so much more smoothly when we create and visibly post a schedule. We all get out the door, usually with everything we need, and on time! Here is an example of what I use. It’s excellent practice for children who are able to read and follow 1-2 step directions, and of course, you can simplify the wording. You can even change every step to a 1-step direction!
Getting Ready for School
- Get dressed
- Eat breakfast
- Clean up after breakfast (i.e. milk put away, bowl and spoon in dishwasher)
- Brush teeth
- Do hair
- Put on deodorant
- Fill water bottle
- Make sure you have lunch, water, homework in your backpack
- Leave house by 7:30AM
With younger children or pre-readers, you could also use pictures instead of words! For example, you could start with a picture of clothes as the cue to get dressed, followed by a picture of a bowl and spoon as the cue for eating breakfast, and then a picture of a toothbrush and toothpaste as the cue to brush teeth; you get the idea. Here’s an example of the same schedule as above, but with pictures:
Then, Practice! Practice! Practice!
A week or two before the school year starts, you can begin following “school night bedtimes” and “school day wake up” times. I usually start inching my kiddos’ sleep closer and closer to the school year schedule two weeks before the beginning of the year. It seems to help them reset their sleep habits and grow accustomed to getting up and moving in the morning.
Specifically, have the kids wake up around when they normally would for school and plan to leave the house when you would leave for school. Now, you won’t actually be going to school because it’s still summer, but you can go to the grocery store, park, car wash, etc. Keep in mind, it should be somewhere that opens early enough to match the time you would usually leave the house for school.
This is wonderful, low risk practice because if your kids are running behind or forgetting something, you don’t really need to be to the store, let’s say, by 8:00 am. But it gives you a clear idea of where your mornings may hit a snag once it really is time to go back to school. You and your children can come up with ideas of how to get ready in a timely manner. Maybe this means waking up a little earlier or packing lunches at night before bed instead of in the morning. Children can also lay out their clothes before bedtime so that there is no “clothing dilemma” in the morning. Perhaps showers/baths happen before bed instead of in the morning… or maybe vice versa! A shower may be just what your child needs to wake them up in the morning!
These are all valuable things to consider and practice before the school year begins. Try to work out all the foreseeable kinks ahead of time.
Last, Review School and Teacher Changes in Advance!
Your child will likely have a new teacher every year. If your school holds a “Meet the Teacher Night” prior to the beginning of the year, consider attending. This will help your child and you become familiar with the teacher and his/her expectations for the year. The teacher may let you know how much homework to expect, what supplies are needed, etc. This information may help ease some nervousness or anxieties about the unknown of a new school year and new teacher.
Meeting the teacher prior to being back in the school allows students to show up on the first day feeling prepared, not only with their supplies but also in the knowledge that they know what to expect! If your child is changing schools, it might be helpful to drive to the school and show them where they will enter the building. Again, “Meet the Teacher Night” (if they have it) would be a perfect way to familiarize your child with his or her new school and new teacher.
What if my Child has Special Needs?
If your child has an IEP, you may want to reach out to their teacher in advance or when school begins, and let them know about your child’s unique needs. It is likely that the school has all your student’s files if you are a returning student. If you are a new student, make sure you give the files directly to the school to ensure delivery, or ask who you can give a copy to.
On Meet the Teacher Night, try to meet the Speech Therapist, Special Education Teacher, Occupational Therapist and anyone else who will be working with your child. This isn’t the night to expect long one-on-one conversations with teachers and special educators, but it is a great time to briefly introduce yourself and your child. While your child’s service providers (SLPS, OTs, Special Education Teachers, etc.) will almost certainly not have their schedules set up for the year, they can tell you what services typically look like, when students are pulled (i.e. during which subjects or specials), and answer basic questions about services.
Hopefully some of these ideas are useful to you and your family. Give them a try and see if your “back to school” transition goes a bit more smoothly this year! Remember, it is never too late to implement these tips. If the school year has already begun, you can still alter your child’s sleep schedule, create and print a picture/word schedule to help your child stay on track, practice getting up in the morning (on weekends) and meet with teachers/special educators to make sure everyone is on the same page.
If you’re interested in more tips for adjusting to the Back to School routine, click here to read part one of our series.