My oldest son is almost nine and will be going into the third grade this year. He’s back with his teacher from last year for academics, but he gets a new teacher for homeroom. This change is both nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time as he will have more time in a regular classroom with neurotypical children his age. After a summer at home with me, though, both of us are ready to get back to school; he thrives at school and I’m ready to immerse myself in my other job as a writer.
With less than month before school is set to begin, I’m sure you’re like me and have already started thinking about supply lists and preparing your children – and yourself – for the routine of school days. For kids with special needs, this time of year can be challenging. Every child handles change differently, but a big change like this one can be daunting for both children with challenges and their parents. This month, I wanted to give you all some tips for getting your kids ready for a new school year. Though I focus mostly on special needs children, these tips are great for any family.
1. Provide summertime structure by easing into your school morning routine today.
It’s tempting to continue your lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer right up until the first day of school, but getting back into your school routine now will help make the transition from summer to school easier on everyone. You can start by moving bedtime back a few minutes each week. Add in some school-type activities, like reading or worksheets or crafts, into your day to remind your children of what they’ll be doing when they’re back in the classroom. We’ve got more tips here.
2. Examine your IEP or 504 plan.
This is a good time to make sure that all of the necessary accommodations are in place for your child and to ask questions if you have any. If you know who your child’s teacher will be, you can set up a time to talk about specific therapists or strategies for your child’s new year. You can also make sure that the appropriate transportation is in place, if this is part of your IEP as well. Read more here.
3. Go back-to-school shopping early.
I’m not a fan of crowds to begin with so I like to do my shopping as early in the weeks before school starts as I can. Since my oldest can become overwhelmed at any store if too many people are around, we will grab our lists and go in the morning before the stores become too crowded. He’s not one to care about the supply list so it’s easier to try to get him involved if we are shopping when fewer people are around.
4. Establish before- and after-school routines and post the schedule for the day in your home.
If your child responds to visuals or is a pre-reader, a visual schedule is a great tool to help with the transition from summertime to the new school year. I create two, one for before school and one for after, and we take care to go over it several times before the first day of school. The boys both know that we get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, and meet the bus in the morning. In the afternoons, it’s off the bus, outside time, snack, and a book before dinner. Posting the schedule helps me keep everyone on track during this chaotic time as we approach the first days of school.
5. Take your child to tour the school and meet your child’s new teachers and tell them about your child.
If your school has an open house, try to attend and show your child the hallways and classrooms that will become home for the next few months. If open house is too overwhelming, ask your child’s teacher and school whether or not you can set up a time to visit without the crowds. Even with my oldest returning to the same classroom for his academics, we’ll go to open house so he can see the changes his teacher made over the summer break. Last year, I also emailed her a picture and brief introduction to my son before he started school so she would know a little bit about who he was before he joined her class.
6. Start a new communication notebook.
We wrote this into my son’s IEP this year because we liked it so much. This notebook goes back and forth between my son’s teachers and myself. They let me know what his class will cover that week and I can ask questions or express concerns when necessary. Ask your child’s teacher beforehand about this; it might be a great tool to help you see what your child is doing and to interact with your child’s teacher and aides on a daily basis.
My boys and I have had fun this summer between swimming lessons and bouncy houses and visits with family. The school year, though, beckons and I know I’m not the only parent who is ready for another year to begin. Getting a special needs child ready for this change might seem like a challenge now, but the tips above are meant to help you tackle that challenge head on. Enjoy these last few days of sunshine and freedom as another summer comes to a close.
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.