Back to school: How to give your child the best start

happy kids with disabilities in preschool

The start of a new school year is an exciting time. But it can be a little scary, with new teachers to meet, a new classroom and classmates, sometimes even a new school. This year, it may be a little more scary for those who had a disrupted school year due to COVID-19.

If your child has a disability or additional needs, you can help make the first few days and weeks of the 2022 school year a lot easier for them (and you!) by keeping the following things in mind.

Let your child know what to expect

Talk about the year ahead with your child to help reduce their anxiety. Focus on all the fun and exciting things they’ll be doing at school, like art classes, science, music, sport, or whatever else they’re interested in. Encourage them to ask questions – you never know, the biggest worry in their mind might be something simple to solve, like “Where do I sit when I eat my snack?”

If it’s a new school or campus, try to arrange a visit beforehand. Show your child where all the facilities are – such as the toilets, the library, the front office, their playground, and their classroom. Ideally, arrange a meeting with their new teacher, too, so they know a familiar face on the first day.

Lock in your ‘get ready for school’ routine

 Getting ready for school in the morning can be a stressful time for all involved! While you’ve got some time and space in the holidays, write a checklist of all the jobs your child can help with before school – like getting dressed in their school uniform, making their bed, having breakfast, brushing their teeth – and start practicing this routine in the days before school starts.

As part of this practice run, you could also pack their lunchbox and then go on a picnic to the park to enjoy all the snacks inside.

Talk to the teachers and school

 With school starting next week, you’ve no doubt already spoken to the school about your child’s needs. They should have made any adjustments necessary to accommodate your child, including education support if required.

When the school year starts, keep those lines of communication open. Check in with your child’s teacher, keep notes of meetings and parent conferences, and always let the school know about any changes to your child’s routine, medical assessments, or wellbeing.

 Consider the impact of COVID-19

 If your child, like so many others around Australia, spent a lot of 2021 at home during last year’s lockdowns, they may be feeling more anxious than usual about returning to school. This is completely normal. Consider ways you can help ease their transition. Ask the school for information about everything from drop-off and pick-up rules, how classrooms will be set up, what happens at lunch and recess, and what rules are in place around masks, cleaning and physical distancing. The more you know, the more you can explain to your child to help ease their anxiety.

If you were helping your child with their lessons during stay-at-home orders, you might have picked up a few tips about how your child likes to learn or, conversely, what they struggled with. Share these observations, along with any other concerns you or your child have about returning to the classroom, with the teacher so that they are as prepared as can be, too.

Ease into it

Remember, the first days and weeks of school can be pretty overwhelming and exhausting for all involved. Try to minimise after-school activities as you ease into the new school year, and encourage early bedtimes and plenty of rest while they adjust to the new routine.