Love it or hate it, the new school year is almost here. We have asked some of our team of therapists and parents for some top tips on making the most of the new year
Practice practice practice. There are lots of things you can have a go at before the first day, practice putting on and wearing a uniform, practice eating and packing a packed lunch or putting on PE kit. Practice walking or driving the route to school makes it feel familiar and less scary. Getting used to a good bedtime routine and school night routines and times, as well as what needs to happen when you get up so everyone can be out of the front door at the right time.
A fresh start – A new year is an opportunity for a fresh start, whatever battles you’ve had are in the past with last years teacher or a previous school, take this chance to leave them there. Start with the expectation that you and the teachers both just want the very best for your child, to enable your child to learn and try new things.
School routines – take time to go through the school day plan or timetable and help the child know what to expect each day. Make sure there is a timetable that your child can understand – with pictures or symbols. Include going to and from school and arriving on the timetable.
Get visual – Make it visual if possible, even for children who read well a visual timetable can be helpful. Visual prompts for new routines, packing bags etc. To help familiarise your child look on your school’s website, twitter or facebook page for pictures of the staff, the inside of the school and potential activities. Use a countdown visual calendar. Write / Draw ‘things to remember’ on a bookmark or keyring this can be routines or equipment such a PE kit, school uniform jumper, homework diary.
It is very important to make sure though that visual materials, however, contain only the most essential information – that they are clean and uncluttered, use sans serif fonts (like Tahoma, Arial and Verdana) as these are easier to read and use boxes, tables and clear spaces help information be more clear, with a logical order that is easy to follow.
Communicate with school – Find a way to talk with the teachers and other staff at your child’s school. Remember you are all on your child’s team. Establish friendly mutually supportive communication as early as possible. Find out which method works best for both parties, it could be a home to school link book, email or regular meetings. Be as honest as you can, inform the school of any anxieties, no matter how trivial they seem.
Help your child to become independent taking their own worries to the teacher, and support your child to do this. It is important to make sure you do this at an appropriate time and not try to squeeze in a tricky conversation 2 mins before a class begins. Calling ahead or going back later in the morning often works better for teachers who need to start the day in the right way with the whole class, and will usually be able to give you more time if you go in much earlier or later in the day.
Review your IEP, sensory plan, sensory strategies and play plan or EHC Plan with the teacher – take time to review EHC Plan and talk to the new teacher about it. Again make time to do this not just quickly before or after school. book a time to see the teachers involved.
Buying Uniform and School Clothes – Thinking about school clothes is important for transitions – trying on clothes and making a ” Getting Dressed for School Plan”, Using the word plan is important, as it links to being able to do things – haveing the idea or what to do, planning it and then doing it. OT’s call these three things the building blocks of praxis – our ability to do – ideation, planning and execution. Look for alternatives if tights, trousers, ties and shoes are hard to do up or don’t feel quite right.
Sensory Strategies and Fidgets to Focus can provide the necessary sensory input to help a child achieve a ‘just right’ level of alertness. Activities should be developed out of the child’s assessment, so providing the right input for your child at that moment in time. It is important to allow teachers permission to remove fidgets that stop helping a child to focus, and are distracting the whole class. Unusual pencil grips, heavy art pencils, velvet touchy feely pencils, a pipe cleaner and bendy rulers are all desk appropriate fidgets.
Good sitting posture is necessary for writing, reading and eating – How people sit is essential to allow the body and arms to be free for work at a table. Discuss the use of suitable seating like a Move and Sit Cushion or the Virco Zuma Chair with school, making sure feet can reach and are always firmly on the floor.
Get “heavy muscle work” early in the day – Walk to school or make time to run and play when you get there. Walking to school carrying your own school bag can make a big difference in young people starting the day in a good place. Getting to school early can mean having time to have a movement break in the playground or other indoor space on a rainy day. Ask school where you can do this on bad weather days.
Supporting your child after school – make sure your child can get some downtime after school, (making sure it’s not just screen time) to relax. Use afterschool and weekends as a time to do fun things including as much movement and heavy muscle work as is possible.
Do things together – DIY, shopping, gardening, craft and eating and cooking together offers children chances to plan and do. Helping with planning like when making dinner involves reading but non-readers can draw their steps to favourite recipes and put them in order or you can take pictures while making dinner with them and put them in order later.
The same is true for almost all things we have to do around the home and provide children with ways to reinforce school skills including cutting and pasting, making, measuring, counting, estimating volume and size.