10 things you must do to get ready for back to school

back to school

School transition can be a big deal. 2 weeks before school went back our daughter was crying herself to sleep because she missed her friends and wasn’t going to be in the same class as some of them. Anxiety around school expectations and the uncontrollable social interactions can also make transition back to school tricky.

When our autistic son first started school, he got told off in the first week and sent to the principal’s office. It was lunch time and he was waiting his turn for the swing in the playground. He was using his social smarts really well in not pushing in and waiting his turn. Finally, the swing was available because the other kids had run off. He hopped on and had his turn, only to get told off. Why? The bell had rung for end of lunch and he was meant to be back in the classroom. He wasn’t following the right rules for school at that time!

10 things to support transition back to school

Here’s 10 things to do to support transition back to school: 

1. Practice lunchboxes

When we’re at home, we don’t eat out of lunchboxes. Practicing opening, closing, unzipping, sipping, unscrewing is important to make sure kids have the skills they need to access their lunch and drink! Our kids also prefer cooked lunches at home like pasta, noodles or toasties. Eating a cold lunch at school is something that should be practiced if it’s different food to their preference. Go shopping together and try out some lunch foods to make sure it will get eaten. Try having a lunch schedule where the food Monday through to Friday is recorded. It make lunchboxes predictable for the kids, and easier to prepare in the morning for you. Monday might be cooked pasta, Tuesday a bread roll, Wednesday a baked potato, Thursday cooked noodles in a thermos and Friday homemade sausage rolls. More lunchbox ideas are here.

2. Talk about school rules

Schools often have lots of school rules – about what you can wear, how to style your hair, when to sit, run, be outside, eat, be inside. It can be super confusing, especially when those rules are different to home or kindy. Talk about school rules and why they are in place. Also talk about school bells and what to do when they ring (including if the bell is loud and causes sensory discomfort). Play pretend schools and practice putting hands up, holding thoughts, sitting on the rug and listening or wearing uniform.

3. Set up morning routines

There is almost nothing as stressful as the morning rush. Coming off holiday time when kids are sleeping in, lounging around in pajamas and generally being lazy (for good restorative reasons), the morning school rush comes as a shock. Avoid the transitional shock from holidays to school time by setting up a morning routine and practicing it in the weeks leading up to school.

The morning routine might involve waking up by a particular time, having breakfast, getting dressed and being ready to leave the house by a certain time. Visual schedules or checklists can help support kids through the morning routine. Timers can also be helpful (“alright, set a 10 minute timer and you need to be dressed by then”). Try to anticipate the barriers and alter the environment to avoid them. For us, it’s choice fatigue at breakfast time. We kick start with a preferred food (say, pretzels). Once some food is in their belly they are generally able to choose a cereal or toast for breakfast. Self care tasks is also a blocker for us. Selecting clothes and laying them out avoids our kids having to make big decisions or walk to their room to find clothes.

4. Set up after school routines

After school also needs routines. Talk through what kids need to do at the end of the day. Where and when will the kids will be picked up – which gate, where will you be, what time? Include a reminder lunch note if you think they’ll forget a different arrangement. The first couple of weeks of school kids are also tired from the transition. Don’t schedule after school activities or shopping trips. The hangry and tired feelings will only get in the way. Consider a snack box in the car on the way home, and having a 10 minute quiet time as soon as you’re in the door.

5. Practice learning

While kids are always learning, learning at school is often a little more structured. Practice reading picture books together on the rug. Have quiet reading time after lunch. Practice writing out their name. Try some sight word flash cards. Learn numbers 1-10 and recognising what those numbers look like in groups (like a 5 on a dice face – this is called subitising). Of course, if you don’t want to, don’t push it. Keep it fun and don’t compare with other kids. Most people learn to read and write confidently regardless of when they first learnt to read.

6. Do a school tour

Have a walk through of the school. Identify the classroom, where the closest toilets are, and what areas are available at break times. While transitions include school tours, if your kid is particular anxious this might help them plan out their movements in advance (and avoid toileting accidents).

7. Try on the uniform

Day one is not the right day to discover a sensory aversion to the fabric, tag or fastener on a uniform. Make sure the clothing and fabric is comfortable for your child and wash new uniforms a few times to make them soft. Also make sure kids can get their own shoes on and off, especially if you’ve bought lace up shoes. If kids can’t do up laces yet, choose velcro fastenings or try elastic laces that self-close (allowing slip on shoes). Also check that uniforms still fit – kids are notorious for growing over the summer holidays.

8. Set up watch reminders

If you’re using a tracker-style watch, set up any alarms to match the school day. For example, if you want to give alarm reminders to go to the toilet, set these for the end of recess and lunch times. Our daughter also has an end of the day alarm. It goes off when the end of school bell goes off, and reminds her to slow down and think about what needs to be packed in her bag to go home.

9. Problem solve in advance

While no one wants to be bullied, it does happen. There are helpful resources for parents on the Bullying No Way website. Many schools will teach the “High Five” steps to responding to bullying which include ignoring, talk friendly, walk away, talk firmly and report. Practicing listening, turn taking and how to compromise in play are also important social skills for in the yard and classroom.

school chat time

10. Take a deep breath

It’s probably more worrying for the parent than the child. Take a deep breath and don’t cast your anxiety onto your kid. Be positive, smile, be excited about the transition back to school. Talk about the highs and lows from the school day on the way home or at bedtime as part of debriefing. It’s going to be ok! Try these three question prompts to prepare for school going back – have a casual non-threatening side-by-side chat in the car, while walking around the block, or as part of a bedtime routine.

Keep in contact with school

An open partnership between school and home is important. If you’re not sure, ask the class teacher and keep open communication with them. There may be times when you need to advocate for your child. You know them best and what strategies work for them. Share these with the teacher. Likewise, if you’re working on something in therapy, share this with the teacher so they can reinforce it too.

Now have a nice cup of tea and relax. 🙂

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