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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Tips on Tuesday: Back to School is Coming

Depending on where you live in the country, back to school is looming large or is still a few weeks off. I know I've written about this before, but I think it bears repeating each year. Back to school is one of the most exciting--and traumatic--times in a child's year. They are so excited to get back to friends and routine (even if they tell you school is boring), but the changes can be scary. There's a new teacher, new room, new rules. The start of school is a new set of challenges that they have to face head on.

Here are some things we've discovered to make the transition easier.
1. Sleep schedules - I don't know about you, but we're all staying up later and waking up later this summer. About two weeks out, we back up bedtime a half hour and then a week out we back it up another half hour so it's about the normal time. We also start making sure they are up closer to the normal wake up time. Some people have their children dressed by the 'start of school time', but we tend to allow jammie mornings the last bit before school starts.

2. Routine explanations - One of the biggest lessons we've learned from Nathan is the value in pre-explaining the routine and schedule. If he has it in his head, it makes the day go much better. While we don't know the exact schedule of the day, we spend time talking about before school, during school (subjects, special classes like PE, music and art; lunch and dismissal). We go over carpool arrangements and where to go after school. A good friend just shared some great social stories with me about school routines and schedules and the lunchroom in particular. If you want to see these, let me know.

3. Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day. While we can choose to eat breakfast at school--and we usually do--on the first day I've learned to feed them at home first, then go to school for breakfast. The lines are slower than normal on the first day and there were a couple times Andrew didn't get to eat on the first day. Now I feed them all and we go practice getting breakfast at school. It's also noisier than normal and crowded with parents joining their kids. Just make sure they get some fuel because they can't hop up for a snack whenever they want one.

4. Clothes, shoes, backpack prep - Each night (not just back to school night), I lay out clothes, shoes and fill backpacks. By doing everything the night before, my morning goes easier. We can hash out appropriate vs. non-appropriate clothing before bedtime and I can pack lunches and make sure homework is returned to backpacks. They sit in a row like little soldiers waiting for orders. At the start of the year, I also make signs for the backpacks if they need anything (like a lunch) added in the morning.

5. Project calm to keep the kids calm - Even if you are a crier like me, learn to project calm towards your children. I don't cry in front of them for the first day of school. And I don't care how old they are, I cry a little each year when I send them off for the first day. While I will cry in front of them for most anything else, I don't want them to feel guilty for going to school and liking it. So no tears in front of them--stay strong.
I also find with Nathan being on the Autism Spectrum, it is harder for me to let him go than it is the other two. I have more concerns and worries about his school year and it is hard to let him go to any teacher (although he has had awesome teachers each year). Let's face it, she will never be me and I have a hard time letting go of that control in his case. So other special needs moms, I say an extra prayer for you before school starts!!

6. Don't forget the PTA/PTO! One of the best ways to shape back to school and the whole school year is to join the school PTA/PTO. These Parent Teacher Associations/Organizations are the backbone to what the school can do and achieve. From fundraisers to classroom help and parties, these are the worker bees. It doesn't take tons of time--unless you want it to. If you can only give a couple hours, do that much to help.
There are lots of 1-2 hour shifts for the evening events and helping with a classroom party is only an hour. Or offer to help once a week in the classroom. Teachers can't do it all alone, help as you can. When your kids see you making school a priority in your life, they start to understand the importance of school. I will also assure you that they have a lot of pride saying, "My mom or My dad did xxxx." Even though they pretend to be embarrassed when I'm in their room, I hear what they tell their friends. They like knowing we are in and out of their schools, too.

With a little preparation and a lot of love, back to school can be a smooth transition in your home, too.

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