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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

7 Steps for Making a Smooth Transition Back to School

I’m sitting here waiting on pins and needles for my younger son’s teacher assignment and my older son’s middle school schedule to arrive.  I never really know if the teachers’ personalities will be a good match for my children’s needs.

One thing I do know is how to reduce my children’s anxiety to make the transition as smooth as possible for the new school year.  When their anxiety is manageable, their teachers are able to work with them more easily and develop a trusting relationship with them.  Here are my seven steps to start the school year on the right foot.

Play on the playground 1. Play on the playground

We ride our bikes to the school playground as often as possible during the summer.  This keeps the school present and alive in my children’s memory, and they will reminisce about people and school events while playing.  This morning we watched some teachers come back to school to set up their classrooms, and we peeked in the windows to see what the first grade classrooms look like.

2. Select school clothes

My children tend to lose patience on long shopping trips, but they do enjoy selecting a new pair of shoes or one outfit for school.  My older son prefers a crisp white shirt with a necktie every day, so we have to talk about the types of clothes that are best for art day and gym day.  This summer they each got a new t-shirt with the name of the college that my husband and I attended, and they plan to wear those t-shirts to school with pride.

3. Select & label school supplies

Again, forget the long shopping trip.  Pick out a few necessary supplies together, for example, a pencil box and portfolios.  The step that makes the school year more real for my children is the act of writing their names on all of their supplies.  I also have them color code their supplies according to subject – green for science, purple for music, etc.

4. Walk through school

Every year I contact my older son’s IEP team leader to arrange a visit to school before the first day.  This gives my son a chance to practice opening his locker, see his classrooms and say hello to some of his teachers.  It is easier for him to adjust to the school environment if he has a chance to visit while it is still relatively quiet and peaceful in the halls.

His middle school principal recognizes the fact that all students benefit from this type of visit, so the middle school has a “transition day.”  The principal formally welcomes families and encourages everyone to walk through their schedules until they feel comfortable in the building.  If your school does not offer a transition day or welcome-back social, work with your parent-teacher organization to start a new tradition.

5. Get a photo with a teacher

Picture of teacherThe most important part of the transition visit for my son is to get a photo of him with at least one of his teachers, as well as photos of the classrooms.  If I know who his teacher will be in advance, I arrange a school visit on the day after school ends in June so that my son can look at the teacher photo all summer long.

His second grade teacher actually e-mailed me photos of her summer vacation so that my son would understand that she is a complete person outside of school.  I use the school photos to make a social story for him.

6. Practice some academic skills

Hitting the books in September is a big change from our relatively relaxed summer routine.  Review old material and practice emerging academic skills so that children and teenagers will understand what will be expected with the new school year.

7. Practice the morning routine

My children don’t sleep late, but they need help staying on schedule as we get ready for school in the morning.  Start the morning routine at least one week before school starts so that there are no surprises on the first day of school!

Here’s to another year of growing and learning!  What are you doing to ease the transition back to school?

Karen Wang

Written on August 28, 2013 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"