We have officially hit August! As much as I want to cherish every last minute of summer, I know that I inevitably need to start thinking about school starting up again. ---
As much as my boys love school (and they do!) it is still a big transition time for them! Our summer days have been filled with later bedtimes, evenings at the swimming pool, lazy mornings at the house, and going on walks for ice cream. In just a few weeks though, it will be back to mornings waiting for the bus, structured days, and early bedtimes.
My boys will be entering 4th grade and 2nd grade this year, and since they started school at the age of 3, I have definitely learned ways to help make this transition back to school smoother for all of us! Now I'd love to pass on some of these tips and ideas for ways that you can start preparing for the start of another school year!
Create these for your child's new school/therapy team. This is something I love to do! This helps me know that anyone working with my child will have some of the basic information they need for a meaningful experience. Yes, IEP's are great at doing this as well! But sometimes, having a reference sheet on hand with some of the key points about your child gives new teachers/therapists/EA's that extra guidance on the spot. These sheets can be kept in your child's desk, in sub folders, in their files, etc. I also like to print off a smaller version to attach to the back of my boys' speech devices. That way I know they are always accessible to anyone coming in contact with my child.
I have two visual calendars up in my house (one for each of my boys) and this can be a great way to reduce anxiety when it comes to schedule changes. I print off photos of the school bus, the school building, and photos of our CI therapists. We set our calendars up one week at a time. This is extremely beneficial when it comes to big transitions because it offers a visual support that my boys can reference all week long. It's also something I can refer to during the week- "tomorrow we go back to school and the school bus will come", "on Wednesday we are going to see Mrs. Marie", etc.
Social stories have been a great tool that I have personally used when helping my children with new things/big changes. I have utilized iPad apps to create digital books and I have printed off hardcopies using actual photos. As an example, you could use a photo of your child's school, their classroom, their teacher, classmates that they might recognize, etc. Teachers are usually great about taking these photos for me or setting up a time where I can come in and take photos myself.
Adding New Vocabulary to Speech Devices
My children are both preverbal/nonverbal, and they use speech devices to communicate. Once I have found out who their teachers are going to be for the upcoming school year, I like to go in and add their photos and names to their devices (this could also work for a PECS binder). This way I can start having conversations with the boys about these new people and the boys can become familiar with their faces and names. We like to do this with our new CI therapists as well!
Touring the School
Many school districts, like ours, offer a 'Back to School' night where students can come in and drop off their supplies and meet their teacher. These events are great, but they also don't work well for kids like mine. The boys are too overwhelmed by all of the people and chaos of the event. I usually will contact our school team ahead of time and see if I can set up a different time to bring my child down to see their classroom and let them explore the new environment on their own. In my experience, staff have been extremely accommodating with this! Now that my children are older, they are familiar with the school building and it's not as important for them to get this tour. Therefore, I drop off supplies without the boys so that they aren't associating school with an overwhelming experience.
Practice The Routine
Focus on the back to school routine a week before school starts. As much as I would love to spend that last week of summer fitting in as much fun as we can, I know that it will only hurt us when that first day of school rolls around. I start transitioning the boys back to their school year bedtime/wake-up time about a week before school actually starts. I know we are usually in for a few rough bedtimes/early mornings, and I'd rather deal with those before school actually starts.
These are just a few ideas that we implement at our house to help make the back to school transition go smoother. The more we talk about school (or I talk to them about school), the more they are prepared for the start of it. With any big change or transition, no matter how much we prepare, there still might be some tough moments. However, overall I have seen these ideas and foreshadowing activities help my boys adjust much easier. Here's to another successful school year!
Written by: Megan H., a CI Parent