Sometimes children feel anxious and confused about what is expected of them as they change grades at the beginning of a new school year. They may have heard stories from older children about the challenges of their next grade level, or they may have misinterpreted what they heard or saw at the end of the previous year as they experienced transition programs meant to resolve just the fear and misinformation that worries them.
Many families start preparing their children for the end of summer vacation and the beginning of school by taking their sons and daughters to 'back to school' sales for clothing, backpacks and other essentials.
Schools often post lists of materials appropriate to each grade level on their front doors or on school district web pages. Showing these to your child, and noting that a favorite teacher or two from previous years will be in nearby classrooms, can help put their minds at ease about their new teacher and classroom.
Putting aside school supplies in a special box or drawer and checking off a list of required or desired items can help create positive excitement over the day the items are put into use. Having a special pencil or other item that they will take to school after the first week, month, or 100 days can help take some of the focus off that first day.
Some parents give their children calendars that help them 'count down' to the start of school, with activities and goals listed for each day. It's important to include activities and goals for the first week or two after school starts, so children have evidence that life at home will remain stable and predictable.
It can be very helpful visiting school grounds so that children can become familiar with the buildings before the parking lots, sidewalks and aisles are crowded and noisy. Showing them where the school bus will drop them off and pick them up, and where to go if they need help from the office, can be interesting and empowering even for children who have attended the same school in previous years.
Sometimes a mainstream teacher has not had access to children's IEPs until a few weeks into the school year. This happens with veteran staff as well as newly hired teachers who spend the first week of school getting to know the children and making sure their students are familiar with routines and routes to all destinations.
Many accommodations that are necessary for a child with special needs are so helpful to all students that they are already available in each classroom. For instance, many teachers find it practical to make up signs for their doors saying where the class has gone when it's time for library, gym or assemblies.
This is helpful for students who have been away from the classroom for any reason, or have come to school late due to doctor or dentist appointments. Even three quarters through a school year, sometimes a student may forget the class is always at the library on Mondays at one o'clock.
Showing our children that plans are already made so they know where to go and what to do is reassuring to them. It is also helpful to show them different routes to the office, if they get separated from their class and don't know where to go. This happens occasionally to most students, and teachers often include that activity in their first week of classes.
Every family has their own traditions that mark the end of vacation time and the start of a new school year. While families of children with special needs may have additional and recurring tasks and preparation, it's good to remember that we can start new and better traditions at any time. Transitions and milestones that are acknowledged and celebrated by the whole family build better memories and improve the quality of life each of us enjoys.
Browse at local bookstores, your public library, or online retailers for books to read to children about the first day of school; they are available for teens as well as preschoolers. Read self-affirming books with your children, like Leo the Late Bloomer.
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