Back to School for Students with Special Needs
While this post makes some references to IEPs and PECS, these tips can also be applied to students of all abilities. We consulted with some local special-needs teachers to create this list of tips to help your student start the year off positively.
Try to establish a bedtime and a bedtime routine for your child.
More than likely, your family may already have a routine down, but, if not, the weeks before school starts is a great time to establish or reestablish a routine. If your summer bedtime has been later, move bedtime up incrementally as you get closer to the start of the school year. That will alleviate any problems with an earlier bedtime.
… And a morning routine as well.
Sure, the bedtime routine is important, but so is getting up in the morning. Establishing how your mornings will go in the time before school starts will help smooth that transition into the school year. My oldest would meet the bus at 6.45 am! Since he got up at 6 am, we had to be up, dressed, and fed in 45 minutes; to manage my time and his, a routine was key. It kept both of us happy in that potentially stressful part of the day.
Drive your child by the school and talk about it with them.
This is especially true if this is the first time your child will be going to a new school or if they are going to school for the first time. My oldest will be going to a different school this year after spending several years at another school. He knows the route to his old school well so we will be driving to his new school several times over the next few weeks to get him used to the new surroundings.
Make back to school shopping a big event.
Getting kids excited about going to school for the first time or returning for a new school year can be tricky; they’ve been having fun with family and friends all summer. If you can make a day of the back-to-school shopping, it can help you build up the change as a positive. Let your children pick out a new lunchbox or backpack. Let them pick up the crayons or markers or other supplies they will be using at school and give them to the cashier at the register.
Additionally, make sure you send any necessary items in addition to school supplies when your child begins a new school year. If your child needs a PECS or other tool, make sure that goes with the crayons and markers.
Try to attend open house and meet your child’s new teacher.
Work schedules and extracurricular activities can make attending tricky, but meeting the teacher before school starts can go a long way to helping your child transition into the new year. It can also help you feel more assured about the persons your child will be spending so much time with!
Prep Your paperwork ahead of time
Check the school’s and teacher’s websites for important paperwork/information that needs to be turned in the first day/week of school. For school-age children, documents like IEPs are necessary to making sure that your child’s needs are met. Make sure that you know what information your child’s teacher and the school require before school starts or during that first week. If you are transitioning from preschool to elementary school, this is especially important.
Keep the line of communication open.
Your child is important to the teacher. The first few weeks of any school year is an adjustment period for both teachers and students. As your child’s teacher becomes familiar with you and your child, communication is key to establishing this important relationship. This is especially true if your child has communication challenges. Email, texts, or one-on-one conversations can help smooth the way into a fun and fruitful year.
Have good contact information.
Along with being open to communication, make sure your child’s teacher knows how to get a hold of you. If you have a change in the pick-up routine or an emergency arises, you will need to know how to contact your child’s teacher or the school and vice versa. Double-check that both have your most current contact information.
It’s always nice to take the teacher a special treat.
This is one of my favorite things to do as we start a new school year. My sons see their teachers for 180 days a year; I like to do a little something for them as they care for them while they are at school. It can be as simple or elaborate as you want to make it. (Do keep in mind rules about gifts for teachers; some systems as well as the State of Alabama have limits on gifts for teachers.)
It takes time for your child’s teacher to get to know your child and vice versa and for everyone to get their new routines down pat. Allow for some extra time when communicating with the teacher. Those first weeks are busy for everyone, but, once everything settles down, it will get easier.
Most importantly, know that your child is loved and being well taken care of.
As a former educator myself, I loved getting to know each of my students and watching their progress. Your child’s teacher feels the same way about the person you are sending to school each day. Teachers love getting to know and watching your child grow.
Read more posts about Education and Back to School topics on Rocket City Mom HERE.
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Jennifer Kelly grew up in the Birmingham area, but migrated to Huntsville for graduate school and put down roots after meeting her husband, Jamie. In addition to being a mom to her two boys, she is a tennis ninja, trivia nerd, freelance editor, and aspiring writer. You can visit her at The Sir Barton Project, a blog about her upcoming book.
Many thanks to Deana Aumalis and Taylor Dinges for their tips for this column!