Back to School! Tips and Strategies to Ease the Transition

It’s hard to believe that summer is slowly coming to an end! As we begin to move into the new school year, the range of emotions conveyed by our children, parents and even teachers could not be broader. Although there is certainly the excitement of seeing friends and the anticipation of returning back to “normalcy,” there are also feelings of uncertainty, stress and anxiety in regard to the unknown and things that may be out of our control. Back to school can be a very stressful time for any child as they have to adapt to their new surroundings, and you may notice their sensory needs increase during this time. Set your child (and yourself as a parent!) up for school success in 2021-22 with these 9 back to school strategies:

  1. Visit School: It may be beneficial to begin getting your child familiar with their new surroundings they will encounter by visiting the school. If possible, try to arrange to visit (in person or virtual) and show your child what the new classrooms, cafeteria, bathrooms, and gyms will look like. By doing this as the new school year is approaching, it can ease the transition and help your child be more comfortable in their new space. Discuss with your child any unexpected or sudden noises that they may hear throughout the school day, such as the school bell ringing, the fire alarm, or teachers talking over the loudspeaker.

  2.  Ease into a New Schedule/Routine: As the school year is approaching, try to slowly shift the summertime schedule into the school schedule rather than abruptly changing the schedule the night before the first day of school. Ways to slowly implement the school year schedule can include adjusting mealtimes, adjusting bedtimes, or by moving regular activities 15 minutes each day.

  3.  Comfortable Clothes: It is important to make sure that your child will be comfortable in their clothes throughout the entire school day. If appropriate, allow them to pick out a couple of shirts and bottoms that they feel the most comfortable in. Remove anything that may make their clothes uncomfortable to wear such as itchy tags, and wash them to make them a softer material.

  4. Sleep Routines: According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, the recommended hours of sleep per day for preschool children (3-5 years) is 10-13 hours and for school age children (6-12 years) is 9-12 hours. Follow these guidelines and slowly adjust to accommodate new bedtimes and implement a consistent bedtime routine to allow the child to appropriately regulate themselves. You can also help your child in recognizing and identifying the signs from their body indicating that they are tired which will prevent future challenging behaviors.

  5. Backpack safety: According to the American Academy of Pediatrics your child’s backpack should never weigh more than 10-20% of your child’s body weight. Pack heavy items closest to the center of the back and adjust the pack so the bottom sits on your child’s waist. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back and remind your child to use BOTH shoulder straps! 

  6. In the Classroom: Give your child a fidget toy or stress ball to manipulate in their hands while sitting at their desk to decrease stress and anxiety and increase attention. You can also tie a TheraBand to the legs of their desk so that they can push or pull against it with their feet. Using a weighted pencil or a vibrating pencil may also help sustain their attention when writing. Allow the child to sit on a wobble cushion at their desk to reduce movement and fidgeting.

  7. Support with Transitions: Using a visual timer may be beneficial to give your child a warning prior to transitioning. This will help your child understand the concept of time and will prepare them for cues that may be provided in the classroom. Use a visual schedule to outline the daily plan for the day so that your child knows what to expect. Allow them to wear headphones or wear their backpack as added weight to assist with calming behaviors during transitions if necessary.

  8. Food and Nutrition: Make sure that you provide your child with a healthy breakfast. Studies have shown that eating a nutritious breakfast will improve your child’s attendance, behavior and academic performance at school. Have your child drink from a bottle that has a reusable straw to provide that calming oral motor input to their bodies. Pack crunchy snacks, such as crackers, carrots or popcorn in their lunch box that will also provide a more calming input to help regulate their bodies. 

  9. Move and Play:  Take advantage of the beautiful weather and get your kids outside to play! Climbing playground equipment, side walk chalk and digging in the sand are all great activities for strengthening and ways to activate your child’s sensory systems! If your child has a sensory diet given to them by their occupational therapist, be sure to continue with those activities. Understand that when school starts, these activities might have to be done before school to help organize their central nervous systems and prepare them for the day. Also understand that with a new routine your sensory diet activities may not be working for your family or child anymore. Ask your occupational therapist for new ways to help prepare your child for school so they are ready to listen and learn! We are here to help! 

Remember to keep self-care as your top priority and assist your child in prioritizing healthy ways to stay physically and emotionally balanced throughout the upcoming school year. Don’t hesitate to ask your Occupational therapist for new strategies to set your child up for success at school!

By: Kerry Marino MSOT and Caitlyn Buckley OTS 


Source: American Academy of Pediatrics