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Back to School Tips from an Occupational Therapist

It’s that time of year again, parents and caregivers! August, back-to-school month, is officially here. Preparing for the transition out of summer-mode and back to the classroom can be so exciting and maybe even overwhelming. Here are a few tips from an occupational therapist to help your learner in a smooth transition back to school.

Starting a new grade and class can be very exciting, but it can also cause those first-day nerves. Change can be difficult for all ages and all abilities. Talking about these new changes leading up to the first day, and even throughout the first week, can help children prepare mentally and emotionally.

  1. Talk about your child’s new class teacher, which classroom they are in, and things they will get to do this year

  2. Visually show the countdown for the first day of school on a calendar; let your child cross off the days as they pass

  3. Visit the school or complete the morning drive ahead of time, even if your child will ride the bus or take alternate transportation

  4. Practice your child’s morning and evening routine leading up to the first day, from the morning alarm to putting shoes on to head out the door. What will afterschool hours look like? What time will your family typically eat dinner?

Pro Tips: Ask your OT for ideas or suggestions!

  • Use a visual schedule or visual timer to help these routines transition smoothly

  • Use a social story to explain and visually show what going back to school may be like

Social story example:

I am going to ___ grade. My teacher knows all about me and can’t wait to meet me. Their name is ___. I might know some friends in my class, but I will also make new friends. I can’t wait for ___ (library, recess, reading - whatever your child enjoys). It’s good to go to school because I get to learn and play with my friends.

Not only will your child be experiencing a new grade, classroom, and teacher, they will have new peers who may be using new school supplies and learning new skills. That is a lot to take in! It is very important to consider sensory overstimulation and any sensory challenges your child may experience in their day.

  • While a school shopping haul may be on your mind, consider keeping consistent clothes and shoes, backpack, favorite pencils or fidgets, or anything to aid in comfortability and familiarity throughout the day during the first couple of weeks

  • If there are new school supplies to get, let your child help in choosing!

  • If your child has additional sensory needs, be sure to communicate with their school team on how to best support their learning in the classroom

  • Build time in your child’s morning schedule for heavy work activities to help get your child’s sensory system ready for learning. Activities will vary depending on your child’s age and abilities:

    • Sensory activities such as blanket wraps before getting out of bed and big bear hugs from caregivers when waking up (ask your OT for more!)

    • Animal walks to the bathroom to brush teeth, animal walks to eat breakfast

    • Make the bed

    • Take laundry to the laundry room

    • Help with family pet duties

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