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Back to School Advice
Posted on August 8, 2013, by GAPMP
11 Tips for Back to School
Kim Chester, Bartow County Schools Parent Mentor
For some, this summer flew by all too quickly, but for others, the weeks seemed like years. Whichever is true for you , the fact remains that it’s time to gear up for another school year! The three words, “Back to School”, have always created a certain amount of anxiety within me. Even though I am a certified teacher, I still get the jitters. This anxiety was increased when I entered a new world of education as the parent of a child with special needs. Even though I am very careful to never let my children see my concerns, a flood of worries overtakes my brain until I get a hold of myself and begin to prepare. Here are some tips I’ve learned over the years as a parent and educator.
1. Talk about school often in a casual and positive manner. Talk about your child’s favorite people, activities, or events that occur at school. We often look through last year’s yearbook or photos taken throughout the year. This is a good time to review old social stories and write new ones if necessary. Positive and casual is key! If a parent expresses negativity, (even if it’s warranted), the child almost always adopts the same feelings. This is counterproductive for the entire team. This is a new school year! It’s the perfect time to be positive and expect great things. Try leaving the past in the past and look forward to the future. As a teacher myself, I know that teachers WANT to make your life or your child’s school life as pleasant as possible.
2. Take your child Back to School shopping. This will help get them involved and provide opportunities to choose favorites, such as book bags, color of calculator, and type of pencils. My daughter loves the girly mechanical pencils and teenage book bags for sure! She can’t wait to show off her new items even though we often have plenty left over from the previous year.
3. Gradually add in more structure. Begin getting your children up, getting dressed, eating meals and going to bed as though it was a school day. This is one of the hardest for me! I want to stay on summer schedule as long as possible!
4. Practice and discuss school behaviors at home. For younger students, it is helpful to model how to line up, share toys, and follow directions. For older students, it is helpful to practice communicating with peers and how to respond to teachers’ requests. Social stories can be helpful as well. We often role play behaviors at home allowing my daughter to “teach” us how certain tasks are done at school.
5. Visit the school prior to open house to acquaint or reacquaint your child to the surroundings. Point out landmarks that your child can locate when the halls are filled with students. It may be helpful to take pictures or make a map. When we transitioned to the middle school, we asked a few older students to meet us once a week for a few weeks to walk the halls, tell stories, and help my daughter transition to this new school. It was the highlight of her week! This gave her an opportunity to meet and casually talk to the administrators during a “less busy” time of year.
6. Get to know the principal and assistant principal, especially if your child struggles with disruptive behaviors. A positive relationship and general understanding of your child can help in difficult situations. Through the years, my daughter’s principals and assistant principals have been some of her biggest advocates, because they know her and they know that we support them!
7. Make a personal connection to the team of educators and therapists that will be working with your child. This can be done through a letter, short video, photo album, or a meeting. With limited pre-service time for our teachers, it is often easier to leave meeting as a last resort. When introducing the team to your child, include likes, dislikes, strengths, struggles, medical concerns, physical limitations, and anything that will be pertinent for them to know and understand prior to working with your child. My daughter has speech and behavior challenges. Each year, I explain how to quickly connect to her and what some of her behaviors are communicating. For the teachers who took it to heart, there were fewer episodes. Through the years, many teachers have told me it was very helpful in developing an understanding and connection to her right away! The key to this is BRIEF! Teachers are SO busy and are given very little time to prepare for the new year, so out of respect…Keep it brief and to the point!
8. Review your child’s IEP. Refresh your memory on the goals the team set forth last year. If appropriate, teach your child to know what accommodations are outlined in the IEP and encourage them to respectfully advocate for themselves. Some schools give teachers an IEP at a glance, which includes goals, accommodations, medical concerns, etc. Teachers are responsible to follow IEPs, but it is helpful if they have a condensed version of what is expected prior to the first day. Your child’s IEP is one of many IEPs that the teacher is responsible to follow.
9. Ask your child’s case manager the best point of contact and method of contact in case you have concerns. This varies by school and certainly varies once students enter middle and high school. Typically, teachers prefer to be contacted by email. This allows them to gather any needed information and then respond during their planning time or after school.
10. Get your paperwork organized! Parent Rights, memos, emails, forms, etc, then consider getting it all organized in a notebook. When a parent walks into a meeting with everything organized, it communicates loudly that she or he is a prepared and is an “on top of things” parent.
11. Help your child get organized. Organizers, such as planners, can be very helpful to our students if they know how to use them. Being organized must often be explicitly taught and practiced. Some schools are now allowing technology from home, so many middle and high school students are benefiting from the various apps that aid in organization. When students use the tools you provide for organization, reinforce this behavior until it becomes intrinsic. Also, discuss where things coming home from school will be kept and where your child will put their homework and items that need to be returned to the teacher will go.
As we begin this year, my thoughts are for my children, their teachers, and their friends! There are certain to be good times and not so good times, but I am confident we’ll make it through with our eyes focused on what is best and appropriate for preparing our children for a productive future! I sincerely hope your child’s school year is the best ever!