Ten Tools for the New School Year
It’s another new school year! Parents and children are nervous and excited as we enter with new and ever-changing COVID precautions. For some of us, it’s been 18 months since we’ve worn a backpack or been inside a school building. Many of our preschoolers and kindergartners have never entered a classroom.
Getting to school may look a lot different this year, with students either riding the bus with a mask, or getting dropped off at the front of the school, without the opportunity to be walked in.
Many kids will not be able to visit their classrooms or teachers prior to their first day.
Starting school after a pandemic disruption is something we’ve never experienced prior to COVID. We should acknowledge this difficult transition, and all the BIG feelings that go with this!
The new protocols may be out of our comfort zone, and overwhelming to our child. But we can get to a place of comfort and stability, even if it takes a little extra thought and time.
Check out the tools below. Using one or more of these tools may help your child overcome some of the stressors bubbling up as the school year approaches.
Go to the school grounds ahead of time to get used to the campus.
Do this, even if you can only access the outside. Play on the playground. Walk the path from the bus exit or carpool exit to the front door. Allowing them time and space to do this without the stimulation of other students and cars can be helpful.
Try on new school clothes and uniforms days prior to the first day- including any socks, belts, and shoes.
Wear the clothing for about 15 minutes to work out any kinks. Have them use the bathroom while wearing their clothes to make sure they can figure out new fasteners, belts, etc., in the comfort of your home.
Masks- (if wearing) have your child practice taking the mask off and putting it on, independently.
Practice using a lanyard if they have one, and what to do if a mask gets soiled or rips. Pack a small bag for dirty masks, and a small bag with extra clean masks. Make sure your child knows where these bags are.
*Bonus: If the school outfit is completely new, and the child is young, consider taking a picture of them in their uniform/school clothes, and/or mask. Put the picture up where they can see it each morning. This serves as a reminder to them that it is a school day, and that they are expected to dress a certain way for school.
Start the new sleep/wake up routine at least one week ahead of time.
Adjust by 15 minutes each day if you can. This will help their bodies get used to the structure of going to bed and waking up at a specific time.
If they are younger, define and discuss what they will do in class- arts and crafts, circle time, free choice, recess, snack, rest time, etc.
*Bonus: show pictures of the activities and teachers, read (age level) books about going to school, and/or watch shows that model going to school for the first time. (PBS Kids.org has nice shows and resources for younger kids, including the show “Daniel Tiger”)
If they are older, allow them time to look at their schedules a few days before school starts. Do this again the morning of their first day of school.
Have an extra schedule or two readily available for them in the house and backpack, that they can access when they want. This helps them feel more confident, organized, and in control.
*Bonus: Show them pictures of their teachers. You can usually ask a teacher to email you a picture, or find pictures on the school website.
Have your children participate in packing their snacks and lunch. This gives them a sense of control, and something to look forward to during the day.
*Bonus: consider putting in their lunch box: a laminated photo of your family, a photo of their lovey (if younger), or a quote or picture that will make them laugh (if older).
Discuss who they can go to if they need help during the school day. Be explicit about what teachers (ex: principal, guidance counselor) are available to them and where they are in the building. Under what circumstances can they ask for help or ask to leave the room?
Remind kids that it’s been awhile since we’ve interacted in a classroom.
It can be hard to socialize while wearing a mask or staying 3-6 feet apart. It’s more important than ever to use good body talk and “whole body listening” while talking to new friends, classmates, and teachers. This includes being an active listener, making eye contact, and facing our chests and feet towards the person speaking. More specifically, “Whole Body Listening” includes listening with our eyes, our ears, our mouths, our hearts, and our feet. See the methodology and organization, Social Thinking, on the website: https://jwww.socialthinking.com/Products/whole-body-listening-poster
I recommend the book, “Whole Body Listening Larry at School” from this website.
If possible, have them arrive at school on the early side for the first few days.
This allows them to orient themselves to the environment and be observers in their classrooms prior to a classroom full of students and structured teaching time.
Discuss strategies your kids can use when they are feeling nervous or overwhelmed.
(Ex: Deep breathing, counting to 10, distracting yourself with another thought, thinking of a place or activity you love). Remind your children that everyone (children and adults) may be feeling these same feelings at any time during the day.
Use a social story with younger kids, or kids who need additional help transitioning.
Read your social story throughout the day, and especially in the morning, and before bed. Children love seeing pictures of themselves, so be sure to add those when possible. Take the photos while on a tour at the school, or ask a teacher if they can provide photos for your social story through email. (Feel free to use my social story example below, and modify it for your needs.)
Carol Gray was the original creator of the real Social Story to help children with Autism transition and feel comfortable with novel situations. https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/ The example provided is an adaptation and is not a true Carol Gray Social Story.
Wishing your children a wonderful first week and a year of success!
Dr. Angie Lynch Fannon
Clinical Doctor of Occupational Therapy
Social Story Example-
You can make this by cutting photos and gluing them to paper, or by electronically inserting photos and text into a document and printing it out.
The content is what’s important.
Go to the school to take pictures and/or ask your teachers if they can take photos for you and send them electronically. Below is just an example. Modify it to fit the needs of your family.
Cover page- Photo of your child dressed in school clothes
Text: : It’s a school day!
Page 1- Photo of the child’s school, and/or your child with a backpack
Text: Today is a school day. I go to __________(name of school).
Page 2: Photo of the classroom with cubbies/lockers/desks.(Specific to your child)
Text: This is my classroom. I put my backpack and lunchbox in these cubbies. My cubby (or desk) says my name, “_____(your child’s name)”
Page 3: Photo/s of the teacher/s.
Text: These are my teachers. Their names are __________. They help me to play, learn, and keep me safe.
Page 4: Photos of any other teachers/nurses/guidance counselor/principal that your child will see often.
Text: These are more teachers and helpers. (Elaborate with names and what they do)
Page 5: Photos of a few classroom activities (bins, choice board, blocks, trains, notebook, computer,, etc)
Text: We can choose to play with blocks and trains during school. We also have circle time and listen to stories while sitting on the floor. (Write about what they will do in the school day, adding text about the photos)
Page 6: Photo of playground. Photo of desk or cafeteria where they will have lunch.
Text: This is where we have recess. This is where we have lunch.
Page 7: Photo of your child smiling.
Text: My school day is filled with fun and learning.
(Consider adding what time your child goes home, how they will get home, or who will pick them up)