Articles and advice (not to mention, advertising) about preparing for the new school term feature prominently in magazines and parenting websites at this time of year.
But how many of these are targeted at additional needs families, and how realistic are they?
We’ve come up with our own back-to-school tips for families who have children both with and without additional needs. There are only nine, by the way, rather than the traditional ten – after all, we do things in a slightly different way, don’t we?
- Make a list of everything the children will need when they go back to school: school clothing, stationery, bags, lunch boxes, etc. Do any shopping well in advance if you can – buying online can be less stressful that trips to the shops. Once you have everything on the list, label anything that needs your child’s name on – ideally well before the school term starts! Depending on what is best for your child, either hide the things away safely or keep them visible (some children are reassured by being able to see them).
- Talk with your children during the holidays about school, mentioning it naturally in conversation. Most children like to be prepared for things, and talking about them can help alleviate any anxiety and give them the opportunity to air any worries. Try to convey the positives of starting a new school year or term, and remind them about last term and about any visits they’ve already made to their new classrooms.
- If bedtimes have got later and mornings more relaxed, aim to get back into ‘school’ routine a few days before you have to. Plan the family’s morning, allowing plenty of time for breakfast. Provide alarm clocks for those (including adults!) who will benefit.
- Talk with your children about the school day routine. If there will be homework to do, build it into the late afternoon/early evening to fit in with any after-school clubs and other activities. Remember that some children need ‘down’ time between school and homework but others like to get it done straight away (so we are told!).
- Buy a family organiser calendar with a column for each family member (adults may have to share a column or have a separate calendar, if there aren’t enough columns). These calendars are especially helpful for siblings of additional needs children because, through having their own column, they can see that their lives and activities are significant and important.
- Get school clothing ready the night before and place school stuff in bags by the door before bedtime. (Always good to aspire to this one!)
- If possible, allow time to talk with teachers and support staff in the first week of term to work out the best way for them to contact you and you to contact them. Try to do this for each of your children, whether they have additional needs or not.
- Be positive, but honest, with your children about school and the people in it. Explain that things may not always happen as we would like, and that it may sometimes be necessary for you to speak to school staff to sort out problems, but reassure them that everyone wants the best for them.
- It is tempting to plan a really busy week for yourself once the children are back at school, but the first week back (never mind the week before!) can be physically and emotionally exhausting for everyone. If possible, build in a little time for yourself; that way, everyone in the family will benefit.