You know it is officially back to school season when the grill in my backyard has been cool to the touch for days and I’ve had my yearly medical exam (PPD titer and all!). I hope it has been smooth sailing for you and your little ones as classes begin. If it hasn’t been, this is what I always try to keep in mind, for all people, big and small:
It is best to join forces with your child and prepare for the year by making sure you cover what I like to call the 3 S’s.
Make sure everything in your child’s work/play space at home is organized and equipped. Play continues to be an important part of learning even when school is in session so take this time to go through toys and arts and crafts supplies and weed out things that are broken or no longer developmentally appropriate for your child. Make sure there is a spacious and uncluttered work space stocked with all of the supplies your child will need to complete homework and school projects. It is also a good idea to keep a space near the work area for a visual schedule to help foster independence during homework time. Lastly, designate a spot near the entrance of your home where your child’s backpack, important papers and your keys can go each afternoon. The last thing you want is to add undue stress to your morning routine and risk missing the beginning of class.
We all know that with this population transitions can be especially difficult. First, take care of as much as you can the night before. Pack bags, sign paperwork, pack lunches, and pick out clothing. Also, don’t think that a a parent you are the only one responsible for this prep work. Incorporate as many of these things into your child’s evening routine as you can. Having your child participate will foster independence and build confidence. Again, visual schedules and token economies help facilitate independence and provide motivation respectively. Structure benefits children so it is good to develop a general school year routine and stick to it as much as possible. Predictability is helpful when it comes to transitions but also remember to build in components that have some element of change to them so that you can facilitate flexibility. One part of the schedule that shouldn’t change is the sleep schedule. Keep it as consistent as possible, even on the weekends. I suggest building a calming activity into the schedule before bedtime and using a timer to help with the transition to bed.
Sometimes, people find it surprising when I suggest preparation for social interactions but there are a lot of creative ways to help children familiarize themselves with conversational topics, common games and salient information about their peers and teachers. I encourage all of the families I work with to print photographs of family outings or events that can be used as visual prompts for conversational topics. Especially good are things that happened over the weekend. If the picture book is reviewed Sunday evening they will be fully prepared to talk about what they did over the weekend. Additionally, you can find out what schoolyard games are popular with your child’s peer group and practice them at home with siblings or playdates. If it is an athletic game you might also spend time with your child making a book about the rules that can be reviewed periodically. Lastly, I like to construct a “friend journal” with a child at the beginning of each school year. You might need to enlist teachers or other parents to help with this but it is such a useful tool that it is worth the extra effort. Start by obtaining photos of each classmate and pasting them individually into different sections of the journal. On a daily basis you can help your child fill in something they have learned about their peers. This could range anywhere from favorite cartoon or tv show to their age or their family members names.
Going back to school can be a fun and exciting time. With a little preparation and creativity maybe it will be the best school year yet!