Back to school. Three words that evoke dread in most kids and many more parents. While there were some definite ups, my son's introduction to school life a couple years ago was a fairly rocky one. So in an attempt to make this year's transition smoother, I'm determined to get a head start.
Whether it's your child's first or fifth school year, a little prep goes a long way. In that spirit, here are some tips to help a child with special needs -- or even just an anxious or shy child -- ease into the school routine:
1. Since most teachers are in class the week before school starts, liaise with the secretary or principal and schedule a quick tour and "meet and greet" with the new teacher. It shouldn't take long, but even a 10-minute visit will greatly reduce your child's anxiety -- and maybe even the teacher's, too -- when the first day rolls around. Not only will the teacher have a chance to meet your child without the distractions of other students and curriculum, you the parent land a rare opportunity to briefly (briefly being the operative word) highlight your child's strengths as well as some specific goals for the year ahead. A photo of both the classroom and the new teacher will also help build familiarity before the big day.
2. At this point, prepare to hand over a one-page profile. Keep it simple, limited to a few bullet points (so the teacher won't hate you) about your child's learning style and any special interests. Once lessons are underway, the overwhelmed teacher may be glad to have a "cheat sheet" to refer to and a head start on getting to know your unique child. Also worth making photocopies for other teachers and support staff who will work with your child in the year ahead, i.e. gym, music, art, etc.
3. During the quiet summer months, take your child to the school grounds to play on the slide or to casually kick around a soccer ball. Exploring the play equipment without swarms of children can help build confidence and reduce anxiety, particularly if your child has motor challenges. Imagine walking into a party or conference where you've never met anyone. Just walking around and knowing where the washrooms are ahead of time can help ease the jitters. Ditto for the bus stop if your child will be taking the bus.
4. If possible, obtain a school calendar and class timetable from the teacher, and post it at home where your child can see it. Review it together before school starts. Let your child practice packing/carrying/unloading. Letting them pick and pack their own supplies in advance -- it will get them more excited about using them!
5. Summer is all about sleeping in and relaxing, I get it. For us parents, too! But bear in mind that a tired child is more likely to be be a frazzled and overwhelmed child. Gradually turn back your child's body clock by pushing bedtime forward by five to 10 minutes each week leading up to Labour Day. You may also want to start limiting screen time and factoring in short writing/math exercises to wake up the brain so that homework doesn't come as such a cruel shock. It still will.
A version of this post previously appeared on YummyMummyClub.ca.
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