Back-to-school tips from real teachers

It’s the time of year again — or for many parents, the first time — when our kids are off to school. From questions about getting ready in the mornings to helping your child adapt to the new classroom, you probably wonder how you can ease your child into a new school year.

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Back to school doesn’t have to be a stressful time with these helpful tips on how you can make the start of the school year easier.

We spoke to two real teachers and even a mom who home-schools, and they happily offered their advice on how to help children — from younger kids to kids with special needs — adjust to going back to school.

The younger years

It might be the first day or one of the early formative years, but whatever the case, your young one might need a little help with starting the new school year.

Allison S. is an early childhood educator in Ontario and recommends beginning some of the preparation before the first day of school.

“Visit the school with your child, and take them around to look at the playground, the door they will use, etc. If you are walking them to school, take the route that you will go every day so that they become familiar with it,” says Allison.

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Some other great tips from Allison:

  • Let your child pick their own school bag, lunch box, etc., even if they don’t match. It’s about letting them take ownership.
  • Have your child practice how to pack and unpack their bag, including using the zippers and various compartments.
  • If their clothes or bag has zippers, put zipper pulls on them to make it easier for small hands.
  • Buy them shoes with Velcro fasteners. Your child might be able to tie laces, but they’ll want to go out to play as fast as they can and will come and go from the classroom multiple times.

Special education

Brett M. has been a special education resource teacher for a number of years and says, “When I think of preparing students with special needs for school, I immediately think about eliminating anxiety. Summer is a long time, but don’t kid yourself: Children can feel when school is getting closer, and with that the anxiety starts to rise.”

He says this can be a two-step process, where you prepare your child for school in advance and then focus on developing a routine.

As part of preparation, Brett recommends helping your child count down to the first day of school. “It could be fun to create a personalized calendar two weeks in advance. Each day the student could peel off a tab or colour in or sticker a day. This will allow the student to visualize how much time is left, and going back to school won’t be a surprise.”

Other tips include organizing play dates with school friends so your child doesn’t lose contact with them over summer, and getting in touch with the teacher or principal before the first day back.

In terms of routine, Brett advises, “The sooner you can start re-establishing a school routine, the better. Toward the end of the holidays, start by waking your child up earlier each day, along with [beginning an earlier] breakfast routine. The more a routine is established, the better your child will react to returning to school.”

He says parents can also think about how they will inform teachers about their child’s exceptionality. “Anything you can do to inform the new teacher about your child’s strengths and/or needs will eliminate the trial-and-error stage. In the first couple of weeks back to school, request a case conference with the school team — teacher, principal and special education resource teacher — and any outside agencies, such as your chosen occupational therapist. Finally, also ask to meet with the teacher and special education resource teacher to discuss your child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP),” suggests Brett.

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Home-schooling success

If you’re preparing for your first or subsequent year of home-schooling, you might be looking for ways to make things easier for you and your family.

Lee, owner of Homeschool Canada, not only offers advice to parents through her website; she is also a home-schooling mom of four children. She says there are a number of things parents can do to get the school year off to a great start.

Lee recommends first and foremost that you “check with your local school board to find out what is expected of you. Every school board has different rules for home-schoolers; some want you to follow government guidelines, and others only require you to inform them of your intent to home-school. Either way, it’s always important to make sure you know exactly what you need to do to protect your family.”

Some other great tips from Lee:

  • Find out what your children are interested in, and cater to their needs and interests (one of the perks of home-schooling), incorporating them into all subjects and unit studies.
  • Read up on home-schooling to find a method that works for you, from “unschooling” to traditional learning.
  • Contact your local community centre to see what programs or classes it offers home-schoolers.
  • Connect with your local home-school group for extra support for you and your family.

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