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  • Preparing Your Children for Going Back to School – Tips for Parents By Dr. Christine Powell

    Another summer break is in the books for families across the United States. As teachers head back into their classrooms to prepare for students, many parents also contemplate the start of the school year. Here are eight tips from me, a veteran special education teacher with experience working with students in kindergarten through college. I added a few TIPS to help your child, someone you may know, or even yourself with Executive Functioning skills. 


    1. Make the Countdown to School Visual 

    While the mention of school might elicit a groan in older children, younger students will enjoy using a calendar to count down the days before the start of the new school year. Help your children count the days (daily if possible) in the month leading up to the start. Have them cross off the days, and add some fun end-of-summer events to make the most of the end of summertime!


    TIP: Executive Function skill of Organization: Start family planning and use the calendar to keep track of family events. You can use different colored pens/markers for each family member, so it stays organized. It’s also a great time to teach kids how to use a calendar as a planner for school homework, assessments, and projects!


    2.  Get Routine Ready 

    A week or two before the start of school, it is a good idea to ease back into a routine in place of the summertime free-for-all. You can set specific times for meal times and bedtime and get into the habit of an earlier morning routine. The more you set a routine ahead of time, the easier the transition back to a school timetable. Plan with your family and discuss homework completion expectations, lights out, cell phone use, etc.  This is especially important for students in middle and high school. 


    3. Document the Big Event 

    Those first days back to school are filled with eager anticipation. You will want to capture some back-to-school memories. Here are a few ideas to discuss with your kids to see if they are on board or have other ideas to mark the occasion. 

    *Take a photo of your child & their new teacher. However, please ask first. Teachers are just as excited as their students. 

    *You could take one at the beginning and one at the end to see how much your child has grown and changed since the beginning of the school year!

    *To get in the mood for back to school, dress up in a school outfit and take some silly photos with your child. Some crafty parents make decorative signs with their child’s school year and age as a picture prop. If this might be you or something you want to try, don’t wait until the night before to get things ready- Plan. 


    TIP: Executive Function skill of Planning: Parents are a child’s most important teachers. Modeling for your children how to plan is an important part of teaching kids what planning looks like. We may intuitively know that planning is the ability to think about and successfully manage activities; however, children need to be taught this skill. Planning is a roadmap that guides us on how to complete a task before attempting to begin it. Now plan that photo op. 


    4. School Supply Extravaganza 

    Back-to-school time can get expensive, especially in times of inflation. With two kids in school, I try to save money whenever possible! One way to save money on back-to-school supplies is to stock up when items go on sale in late summer. Also, getting supplies early allows for increased choice and availability. Do an Amazon search for specials on notebooks, paper, and pens; look through local papers for deals, and pick up an extra box of Kleenex or hand sanitizer for your child’s classroom. 


    5.  Prepare for a Possible Virtual School Schedule and Routine

    The new normal in post-pandemic school culture is to be ready. With variants of COVID being identified, this school year may go virtual once against. Let us hope not, but note where your children would “attend school virtually.” Would that be at the dining room table or in a bedroom? Have a family discussion before the school year about Plan B and possible solutions for making the virtual school experience positive. We all hope we don’t have to resort to Plan B, but let’s prepare just the same. 


    TIP: Executive Function skill of Flexible Thinking: Flexible thinking enables us to anticipate and adapt well to changes. Think of ‘flexible thinking’ as a muscle that needs to be developed over time. A person with a well-developed flexible mentality turns potential problems into opportunities to invent viable solutions. Often students with ADHD and AUTISM have challenges due to Inflexible thinking or rigidity- this looks like being stuck or being able to do something only one way. Presenting options for school instruction helps them understand early on that learning can occur in different settings. 


    6.  Go Check It Out – Do a Drive By 

    Whether it is a new school, district, grade, or teacher, do a drive-by before the big day. Jump into the car with kids and rehearse the first day on the road. Walk the school route, or show your kids the bus route. If you are driving them, decide ahead of time where you will drop off at school and where you will pick them up. Come up with an emergency plan if you are not on time- You may want them to head back to the school office if you are over 20 minutes late. Or tell them to expect a text message and who will pick them up if something arises. Ensure you have the proper documentation if you are in a carpool or if another parent shares school drop-off/pick-up responsibilities. 


    TIP: Executive Function skill of Working Memory.  Help your child input emergency contacts into their phones. Use an agreed-upon emoji to identify an emergency contact in their contact list.  👌👥🪢 Review and rehearse as necessary for your child. 


    7.  Whatcha Wearing? 

    Whether your child’s school has a dress code, school uniforms, or free choice, iron out the first few school days’ clothes choices ahead of time. Having a heated discussion in the morning about what to wear or the inability to locate a uniform shirt or sock can wreak havoc on a well-planned morning routine. Decrease the stress in anxious teens by reminding them the night before and discussing expectations for getting ready. 

    Check the district or school website for dress code information, and review it with your child ahead of time to end teenagers running for their closets with no time to spare in the mornings. 

    While kids might have to follow a dress code, there are still some ways they can show their personalities and creativity with their clothing choices. Learn how to help kids develop their style with clothing. 


    TIP: Executive Function skill of Task Initiation – Task initiation refers to the ability to immediately start a designated task. These tasks include waking up and getting ready for the day, starting homework, and cleaning the house. The habit that most people identify with task initiation struggles is procrastination or the avoidance of working on a specific task. Front-load this task by having your child set out their clothes that evening before. 


    8.  Reach Out to the School or Teacher 

    If you have questions before the first day of school, reach out via email to your child’s teacher or school. Teachers have a lot of emails to sift through when they first return to school, but reaching out before the start will put you on their radar. In the 19 years I have been a teacher; I appreciate a parent’s warning if their child is anxious, has a special challenge, or needs a check-in. Contact the teacher a week or so before school starts to answer your questions or share information. Please be aware that traditionally teachers are off for the summer and may not check emails until a week or two before school starts. If you have a question that needs to be answered sooner, you might be able to get in contact with the school’s principal during the summer hours. 


    I hope these tips will be helpful as you plan for a successful transition Back to School. I have used these with my own family and share them with you because they have worked for us to ease into the back-to-school season. Best of luck this school year, and I hope you get off to a great start. 

    Do you have any back-to-school tips to share? Leave a comment below!