August and September are typically months full of back-to-school preparations – from buying new supplies, to meeting this year’s teacher, to seeing if last year’s clothes still fit. Going back to school can be an exciting time, but for some children the transition can lead to added stress and anxiety about a new classroom, new teacher, and new classmates.
In 2020, we have another factor to consider when it comes to difficulty with the back-to-school transition: the global COVID-19 pandemic. In the spring, schools were forced to shut down, shifting students from in-classroom instruction to distanced, online learning at home. It’s safe to say that for all students, parents, and teachers this was a huge change to navigate through. For students with special needs like autism, they rely on structure and routine. This sudden interruption to their day-to-day “normal” was a huge obstacle to work through, and could have resulted in an expression of a variety of new or recurrent behaviors from these children.
Whether your child is headed back to the classroom or will continue with distanced learning this school year, we’d like to share some tips to ease the transition.
Keep a Routine
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been stay-at-home orders in place along with closed schools. With everyone in the house being home, it’s important to keep up with routines.
If your routine has laxed a bit since the end of the online school year, try to re-establish a routine before the start of the New Year. Set consistent times for your child to wake up, eat meals, and go to bed as they would during a school day.
If your child has been doing online schooling and will continue to do so, try to mimic a schedule similar to what they had last year and could possibly have going forward. Set aside a place in your home specifically designated for schoolwork to help separate “work time” from “home time”. Turn it into a craft project with a tri-fold poster board you can decorate with their name and other fun items in preparation for the school year. Writing down a schedule of meals, breaks, educational activities, and fun activities and going over it with your child can ease their anxiety about what to expect with their online learning schedule.
Practicing and maintaining these routines early on can help lessen any resistance from your child once school is in full swing, making things easier on them, you, and school staff.
Review and/or Adjust your IEP
As with the start of any school year, it’s important to review your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) and gather necessary paperwork. This may have been done with an aide or school staff member before the end of the previous year, however, things may still need updated.
Each school and district, if they have not already, should be working through how to develop and implement their model of distance education. As part of this, the schools should be reviewing IEPs to determine what needs to be updated or modified when it comes to special education support and services. Should you have suggestions or concerns regarding distance learning for your child, communicate with the school to see what adjustments and accommodations can be made.
With most things going virtual in 2020, if you don’t already have a digital copy of the IEP, it’s a good idea to make one so it’s easier to email over to school employees.
Having an updated IEP and distributing it to relevant school employees before the first day helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and prepared to educate your child to the best of their abilities.
Communicate with the School and Teacher
Along with communicating about your child’s IEP, communication with the school and teacher early and often can be beneficial. It’s important to express any concerns, divulge information, or have a “get to know you” chat to help the teacher be able to better understand your child’s needs, and to help your child feel more comfortable with the transition into the school year.
This communication doesn’t have to only be at the start of the year. It’s a good practice to keep in touch with the school and teacher throughout the year, especially if anything changes with your child or you have an area of concern.
Keep a communication log to track what has been discussed and any plans moving forward. There’s enough to juggle in life as is. Having all your communication records in one spot can make things a tad easier for busy parents.
Communicate with your Child
Being open, honest, and communicative with your child will set them up for success during the school year. A simple chat about the upcoming year and any changes – new teacher, new classmates, learning online – can help ease the transition. Try to discuss any expectations for in-classroom or online learning and behaviors and answer any questions they may have.
You can also participate in a fun, educational activity of creating a countdown to the first day of school. This could be something crafty like a paper-link chain where the loops represent the number of days and your child breaks off a loop each day. It could also be more simple, like a calendar format where your child places stickers on the first day of school and marks X’s each day.
While communicating about the upcoming year, remember to bring up the topic of inclusion. Now more than ever we need to come together and support each other. That begins by encouraging your child to have friendships with children that are different from themselves, whether it’s a different ability, race, or culture.
Participate in Online Events and Conferences
Check to see what events and activities your school district may be hosting before the first day. It’s beneficial for your child to attend “meet the teacher” conferences and take a tour of their school. Some schools may offer these events virtually, meaning you can still gear up for the school year from the safety of your own home. Even if your child will be learning from home, taking a virtual tour of the school can help them prepare for years ahead.
If your district doesn’t offer events like this, you can contact school administration to set up a meeting ahead of time on your own. Meet and greets can foster a smoother transition when the first day of school rolls around.
One key thing to keep in mind through the back-to-school transition is that your child’s teacher is transitioning as well. Life is a team sport right now. They have had to adapt to different learning practices just like your child has. Over the last few months we have experienced that we are all truly in this together.
W.A.G.S. 4 Kids hopes all the kids on our Family Tree have a great start to a school year that is filled with experiences, learning, adventure, and inclusion. If you are interested in having W.A.G.S. 4 Kids speak to your school about inclusion, service dog education, and our Kids Who Can! Youth Empowerment Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy learning!