Back to School Tips for Families

  • 10 Tips to Help Your Child Transition to School
    By Elizabeth Sautter, M.A. CCC-SLP

    The new school year is just around the corner. It’s an exciting time, but it can also be an anxious time for you and/or your child.

    Parents/caregivers play an important part in preparing the children for this important transition. Whether your child is going to a new school or just going from one grade to the next, he/she will have to navigate systems, learn rules and relate to new people.

    Children need your guidance and there are many things that you can do to help. Take the time, prepare in advance and make sure to have fun! Try not to overdo it or impose nervous feelings on your child. It’s important to know your child’s needs as well as strengths and limitations.

    Here are some tips and strategies that we share with the families that we support at Communication Works (CW):

    1. Read books related to your child’s grade level (see a few suggestions below) and discuss with him/her how they are feeling. Share some of your experiences and stories with them.
    2. Create a picture in your child’s mind of what they can expect at school. Visit the school if you can and set up an appointment so he/she can meet the teacher beforehand. Take pictures while you are visiting that you can look at later and obtain the daily schedule and classroom rules to review at home.
    3. Show your child where you will drop them off and pick them up and tell him or her when you will be there.
    4. Write a Social Story ™ (Carol Gray – see websites and sample below) with photos of the school to review at home. This will allow your child to understand the hidden rules and what is expected in new situations. This is an excellent tool – not only for those with autism but for all kids!
    5. Arrange play dates with the children who will be attending school with your child. Try to see if the play dates can take place on the school yard to create familiarity. If possible, practice some common recess games such as four square and kickball.
    6. Let your child be active in the preparation. They may want to help pick out their clothes and/or supplies. Provide choices for them so they can gain some control and ownership with the process. For example, “Do you want this backpack or that one?”
    7. Several days prior to the beginning of school, re-establish a structured routine. That might mean new bedtime and wake up hours. Post a calendar with the school schedule for the entire family to view. Discuss the new school morning and afternoon routine and write it out or create a photo schedule to help him/her to remember all of the steps. Practicing these routines could be helpful.
    8. Establish lines of communication with the principal and teachers. If your child has special needs, make sure the school is aware of how they can support him/her.  If there is an IEP, 504 Plan, reports or any other important information, make sure they have a copy prior to the start of school so that they can feel prepared and informed.
    9. Plan rituals that are fun and that create a sense of bonding. Try adding personal touches by sending a note and/or photo in your child’s lunch box. Ask the teacher if you can send their favorite “lovey” for the day to help them feel more comfortable.
    10. Most of all, remain calm. This will help your child to feel more secure and more confident.

    Resources used for this article:

    Rebecca Schwartz, Ph.D.,Licensed Clinical Psychologist
    National Association of School Psychologists
    National Association for the Education of Young Children

    Recommended children’s books:

    Kindergarten Rocks by Katie Davis

    Countdown to Kindergarten by Alison McGee

    Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
    Dowd, M. (2008)

    Kevin Knows the Rules: Introduces Classroom Rules to Kindergarten through Third Grade (2008)

    Whole Body Listening at School by Elizabeth Sautter and Kristen Wilson (2011)

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