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Back to School & Building a Routine for Children with Assistive Needs

December 17, 2021
 Back to School & Building a Routine for Children with Assistive Needs

For children going back to school, the transition back to the life we once had may seem a little daunting. During the last few months, our routines and schooling have looked very different and have probably changed significantly.

With back to school quickly approaching, it’s important to start to re-establish a well-balanced school morning routine early to help children - especially those with assistive needs - feel comfortable and prepared to return to the classroom. In this article, we’re sharing some top tips for building an effective back to school routine to help children readjust to the classroom again.

Why is having a routine important for students with additional needs?

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For families, having a solid routine is important for parents and children alike to know what to do at a particular time and day, what needs to be done and what each person is responsible for. It keeps families running smoothly and can help to establish new skills in young children.

For those with assistive needs, a routine is great for helping them feel safe, secure and in control of their day. A routine can happen every day, weekly or even fortnightly, depending on a range of factors, like school, work and weekend activities.

Daily school routines are useful, especially for children with additional needs, to know what they need to get done in the morning, what needs to be packed for school and how to manage their expectations for the day ahead.

Going back to school after a long break can become very stressful, so a routine is useful for giving a sense of calm and structure before school starts. There’s no hard or fast rule as to what a routine should look like, as long as it works for your children individually and your family as a whole.

Building a back to school routine

When starting to build your children’s back to school routine, remember that every child is different and finding the right level of structure for your child may take some time and patience. Getting your children prepared in advance is the best way to help your kids get ready for the year ahead.

1. Start early

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A good way to start is to get your kids ready for the new school year early, rather than the night before first term commences. Often starting slow can help children adjust to the new routine a little easier. Some small ways can include:

  • Start a new sleep schedule: Have children sleep on their regular school schedule before they start school. Getting them to go to bed early and wake up at the same time every day will help them get into the habit of waking early for school, which will ease the transition back to face to face learning and structure.

  • Establish goals with your children: Discuss with your children as to what they want out of this school year. It may be very small, like learning how to spell big words or something that requires a little more focus, like learning a new sport or starting a new hobby. Whatever it might be, knowing before the school year what your children want to achieve will help you incorporate it into their routine better.

2. Use visual cues

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Often visual cues and supports can help children understand what they need to do before school starts. An effective way to get children motivated through visual cues is by implementing a to-do board that your child can interact with. This can be on a whiteboard or velcro board and when a task is complete, the child can wipe or rip away the task, which can be very satisfying for all ages, especially small children.

Schedules and to-do boards can also include pictures. Images of someone getting out of bed, followed by someone brushing their teeth, having breakfast, putting on their shoes etc. can assist children in knowing what they need to do in a fun and visual way. Keep these to-do boards in a common space, like on the kitchen fridge, in the bathroom or the child’s bedroom, so they can come back and remind themselves what they need to do.

Other visual cues include getting the child’s uniform out the night before and laying all the different clothing items they need, like underwear, then socks, shirt, shorts, shoes etc. This can help children who respond to patterns, as they can layer their clothing independently and recognise the order for putting on their clothes.

3. Finish boxes

If your children don’t respond to visual tables or to-do boards, another way to get children active in their routine is to implement ‘finish boxes’. Finish boxes are great for allowing children the satisfaction of finishing a task and putting it in their special box. For example, after the child brushes their teeth, they can put their toothbrush into their morning routine finish box. If all morning tasks are complete, there is a sense of achievement as everything is packed away neat and tidy.

Having this ready in advance will also help alleviate stress for children when the time comes to get ready for school because they have become familiar with the steps well beforehand, while also giving them a sense of accomplishment because they have completed their responsibilities.

4. Get the whole family involved

When it comes to establishing a solid routine, it can feel isolating for young children if the rest of the family doesn’t have a routine like them. Routines can help the whole family function well and in rhythm with one another. Keeping everyone on a schedule will help lessen anxiety for those with assistive needs because they will know what the rest of their family is doing while they get ready for school. This can also help parents and any siblings feel ready for the day ahead, reducing stress and anxiety, while giving children a sense of achievement before leaving for school.

Other ways to help transition your children back to the classroom

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While having a routine is a great way to establish a normal and stress-free environment for transitioning back to the classroom, there are a few other ways to help ensure your children have the best year yet.

1. Re-connect with your children’s teachers

With each new year comes new teachers, new curriculum goals and teaching styles. Before your children go back to school, get in contact with their new teachers and have a chat about the year just passed. Explain your child’s needs and how they work best in the classroom, what worked well during learning from home, any struggles or difficulties and any other concerns for their return.

If your child works with an aid, chatting through any challenges and successes from the previous year will help them get up to speed and allows them enough time to make any adjustments to learning plans and strategies for your child. This will also help you stay relaxed and in control as your children transition back.

2. Get any paperwork ready in advance

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Have any paperwork ready and signed before the school term starts. This will make the transition for you and your children much easier in the long run. Keep a record of any predetermined school trips, calendar events, or school functions so you know exactly what’s coming up and what your child will need in advance, like medication, clothing, doctor’s notes etc.

Make sure that all medical plans are up to date as well. For example, any allergy plans, or behavioural plans are up to date and that the school and any aids have an updated copy with all relevant information like phone numbers, next of kin etc.

3. Changes to your NDIS plan

If you believe that changes need to be made to your child’s NDIS plan, getting in contact with your child’s Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) coordinator before the school year starts will help your child better transition into the year ahead.

If your child needs extra assistance while in the classroom, it’s also a good idea to reconnect with your child’s principle before the school year starts. Your child’s school is responsible for applying for and using funding from the Program for Students with Disabilities (PSD) and it is up to the principal to determine where funding is spent. Reconnecting with your child’s school before the new year starts can help you better understand how the funding is being used to assist your child while in the classroom.

Building an effective and seamless back to school routine is something to aim towards and may not fall into place smoothly while your children adjust to the change. However, once you have your new routine down pat, you will be able to transition your children back to school with ease. Shop the selection of kids sensory items, books and kids grooming to help them get ready this back to school season from Averee.