Unbabbled Episode 9: Back-to-School Tips

Back-to-School Tips for Children

Back-to-school is often a time of mixed feelings for both children and parents, especially if the child has communication, motor or learning difficulties. In this episode, hosts Stephanie and Meredith discuss tips to help families make the transition from summer to school smooth and positive for the whole family. They discuss the importance of building communication with the teacher, attending meet-the-teacher events, getting back to a routine, and involving your child in the back-to-school process. Whether they’re entering preschool, moving up a grade level or starting a new school altogether, this episode will help start your year off strong.

Stephanie and Meredith have more than 45 years’ combined experience as parents, classroom teachers and speech-language pathologists! They also use many of these ideas with their own children. 

Stephanie:                        00:05                   Hello and welcome to. Unbabbled a podcast that navigates the world of special education, communication delays and learning differences. We are your hosts, Stephanie Landis and Meredith Krimmel and we're certified speech-language pathologist who spend our days at The Parish School in Houston helping children find their voices and connect with the world around them. In today's episode we'll be discussing getting ready for back-to-school. Meredith and I give advice as speech-language pathologist with experience working in both the elementary and preschool level classrooms and as parents who are going through the process as well. We chat about the importance of building communication with the teacher, attending meet the teacher events, getting back into a routine and getting your child involved in the school process.

Stephanie:                        00:53                   Welcome to Unbabbled. Today we have a little bit different of an episode. Instead of having a guest in, Meredith and I are here chatting about getting ready for back-to-school, which is just around the corner between both of us being in the classroom ourselves and having children. We have a few little tips and tricks up our sleeves that will hopefully help you and your children have a smooth transition back into the classroom. So my number one go to is to get off of the lazy summer schedule that I've been on and start getting back on more of a school schedule, which often means going to bed a little bit earlier each night till we get back to our routine. And unfortunately setting the alarm and waking up.

Meredith:                         01:32                   Oh, that's a tough one. Nobody wants to get up earlier than they have to, but it does help,

Stephanie:                        01:37                   Especially in the summer when it's still so light outside. It's really hard to get the kids to bed early and on time. But so many kids come in and the first week is hard and they're tired. And it makes it even harder that if you can get your kids so that they're sleeping in to their normal time instead of being woken up at 6:00 AM when they're used to sleeping till like 9:30 and it can help that transition so that they're a little less tired and more irregulated.

Meredith:                         02:05                   Yeah. Last night I was putting my son to bed at 7:45 and it was still light outside, so I was so thankful for our blackout curtains. I don't know if all parents have those, but definitely helps. Trying to get your kids back to getting up at a reasonable hour. Um, it's just really gonna help that smooth transition back-to-school.

Stephanie:                        02:22                   One of the other things I suggest with that schedule is switching to a more school-like eating schedule because I know that a lot of families slip into the habit of snacks, snacks, snacks, all day long, lunch, snacks, snacks, snacks, dinner, and at school it's not free range into the pantry. Right. And I know for my own daughter next year, I've heard from previous parents that her lunchtime is at like 11 o'clock in the morning and we've been eating lunch a little bit later. So we'll be starting to get lunch a little bit earlier in our day to prepare her for that so that she's not uncomfortable and starving. And it's hard to focus when you're doing something new and you're hungry. So that's one of the changes we're going to be making as we prepare.

Meredith:                         03:07                   Yeah, that's good advice. We snack a lot during the summer too, so that's really good. Good advice. I'm going along with getting back on the right schedule, decreasing screen time, starting to limit a little bit more of the screen time. I know I'm guilty of, I'm allowing a little bit more movie and TV show time during the summer or tablet time or whatever it is you're doing. Just try to cut back on that. You know as kids go back-to-school, they're not going to be sitting around watching as much television, so trying to get back on that schedule, it would be good too.

Stephanie:                        03:36                   Yes, because the kids come in and they're so used to being seditary and watching TV or playing a video game and then getting up and a lot of schools are active and moving and you're changing classrooms or moving around in the classroom or now you have PE built back in. That really increasing that activity level and decreasing the screen time is a huge help.

Meredith:                         03:59                   Another piece of advice that I think is really beneficial is going to a meet-the-teacher event or attending some sort of back-to-school event. If your school has one and if your school doesn't have one, figure out if you can get up there and just see the, the school and see where your children will be going every day. It really helps your kid prepare and mentally, um, envision where, where they're going and especially if it's a new school that's really important.

Stephanie:                        04:24                   And even if it's the same school, some schools have very different classrooms from year to year, whereas one year, they're used to more of a centers based play and they had one table that they would do maybe their table work at and before they had centers and all of their stuff was kept in one central location. The next year they might have an individual desk and they might increase the level of expectation of like you stay at this one desk or vice versa. Maybe they're switching more to a classroom where they rotate through classrooms so you don't have a set desk. So now you have to keep all your stuff in a backpack. That can be a small shift to us as parents because it's something we're used to. But for kids, that can be a huge transition, especially for children who may have some executive functioning where their organization and their time management and their problem solving is already kind of decreased. Giving them that chance to see the expectations of, okay, before your backpacks went and one cubby with your name labeled, but now you're older, you carry your backpack with you. So here's where you put your supplies. Or hey, you're in a school for the first time, you can't just throw your things around like you do at home. You have to keep them organized and in this one set spot and you'll know it's your spot because your name's on it, or you know it's your spot because it's your number on it. And all of those things can help kids get a visualization. Whereas if you just tell him, hey, you're going to school and you'll have a locker, they're like, great, what's a locker?

Meredith:                         05:47                   We've been through school, so we know that these changes happen, but our kids might not have any clue that they might switch classes for reading groups or they might have a locker and need to remember a code or they might need to carry their backpack from one class to the other. The, these are things that might be brand new information and we may as parents may not think to tell them about that. So going to back-to-school, meeting teachers, those are ways that you can expose your children to the expectations and the changes. And another great thing about going to meet-the-teacher or a back-to-school event is you as a parent, get an opportunity to speak with your child's teacher and let them in on anything that's important that they need to know about your child. Whether it's a specific word for potty or there are changes going on. Maybe with medication, it's a really good opportunity to share with a teacher something going on with your child. It's really important to have open communication with your teacher. It puts everybody on the same page. We all can start working towards the common goal of helping your child with all the information necessary to do that successfully.

Stephanie:                        06:46                   Yeah. And it gives the child a chance to see their teacher and put a name to the face. And even just sometimes having that picture of what their teacher will look like and having that maybe two minutes of or five minutes or however long of personal connection can help start to build a bond that will decrease some of that anxiety for them. And as a parent, if I've had a chance to connect with the teacher myself, it decreases my own anxiety. And I know that makes a big difference that when I'm calm then my children are more relaxed and apt to be excited about going to school. And sometimes you can also then meet others students in the classrooms for the kids and on the parents side you can meet other parents. I know for myself for the first time, my daughter's just starting kindergarten and we're starting at a new school and I feel very lucky that within the neighborhood they've already started hosting some kindergarten roundups and I think it was more important for me to meet some of the other parents and it just is important for my daughter to meet some of the other kids and she's already gone from feeling a little bit anxious to like, Hey, I already know that I have one friend there, I can feel a little bit more confident going in. And so she's been able to do that. We also were able to take her in to see the classrooms in the school so that she can see where things will be and we're really looking forward to like a back-to-school day where she can go in and actually visualize exactly where her stuff is going to be. And it gives you a chance to take pictures if your kid happens to be a visual learner or is like mine and ask the same question and wants to go back and go back through the information again and again and again. It is really helpful to go and everybody's got their, you know, iPhones or cell phones on them now that it's really easy to either ask permission and usually teachers will say yes or you know, take a quick picture. Teachers are used to that by now too and you can take a picture and then build them their own little book that they can go back over again and have that visual of this is where my desk is, this is what my teacher looks like, this is what, where I get dropped off in the morning. This is what it's going to look like when I go to the cafeteria for the first time cause that's a totally new experience for many kids. This is what it's going to look like when I go to art or the other new classrooms that might happen for them. For my own child, she gets to go to band for the first time and that's something totally new and different. Going and seeing what a band room looks like and giving the concept of like band. Yeah, what's band, band in kindergarten. That's awesome. So even little changes like that for me are fairly normal, but for her it's a whole new world and being able to go back over that information with either their own book or we've even been starting to borrow books from the library about like going to kindergarten or starting middle school or you know, whatever phase your child might be in. If they have that information and can go back over it, going back over information for children, especially if they have any sort of anxiety really helps decrease it because then it feels like second nature to them instead of something new and scary and big.

Meredith:                         09:59                   Yeah, absolutely. My son and I, he's going into pre-k for next year and we've been talking probably since May about the change coming up and in a very casual, conversational way as it comes up and he'll say things like, I'm going to miss Ms. Julie, but I'm very excited to go to Ms. Angie's class because we've been talking about it for, you know, three or four months at this point. So I know that eases his anxiety and then I present it in a really fun, I try to present it in a really fun way. So it's exciting and that, you know, I, I as a parent am nervous. A change is hard. It's scary when it's your kid is going somewhere different, a new school, a new classroom, will they be successful? Will the teacher like them? We're feeling all those things as parents, I can acknowledge that within myself and then try to present to him the exciting parts of the new new classroom and try to take away some of my own anxiety so he doesn't feed off of it.

Stephanie:                        10:52                   Yeah. That's one of the tips that I give parents a lot is to try and manage their own anxiety and do things for them that helps them feel better. And a lot of times meet-the-teacher or calling a meeting with the principal or teacher's teaching team, or if you're switching and have a new individualized education team to get everybody on this same page and if that makes you feel better than it's gonna make your child feel better. Maybe reaching out to the school and seeing if there's somebody there, maybe a parent-teacher organization or other way that you can get involved and get to know some of the parents that can give you a little bit of input and help ease your worries. Even if it's something as simple as buying uniforms for the first time, like where do I buy the uniforms? What's the best deal? Which ones are the most comfortable? Which colors should I buy? Don't buy the white.

Meredith:                         11:42                   Yeah, advice. Have Bleach. Don't buy the white or buy the white. Who cares if it gets messy? That's what kids are supposed to do. That's another thing to remember. Your kids are learning and they learn by doing. So if come home messy, that's great. That's, that's really important that kids are able to experience and get messy at school. You talked about asking parents questions about uniforms, which I think is great advice but also you know, ask, ask your school questions. The people who work in the school, they know the best information about policies and procedures. If your kid is doing carpool for the first time ever. Yes. Ask parents how it goes, what works for them but also make sure you understand how it works. Ask your teacher or call the front desk and they'll direct you to someone. And a lot of these things are discussed at meet-the-teacher back-to-school events. But if you're like me, I can't go to meet the teacher for my children this year. So I have let my current teacher know that we're not able to go and asked her to fill me in on any changes or anything that will be different next year since my children are in different age groups. So if you can't go to meet-the-teacher, just be sure that you understand all the policies and procedures going in so you can be prepared on the first day and decrease anxiety for yourself and your children.

Stephanie:                        12:49                   Yeah. Another great thing that I think a lot of people have a hard time with is being aware of how you are presenting the information. You touched on it earlier about saying that you're trying to do it in a positive light. I've caught myself in social situations where a friend in front of my daughter will ask me, are you worried about kindergarten coming up? And I smile as best as I can and I mean personally I'm not worried on most days. Other days I feel a little anxious, but I never say that I am in front of my daughter unless she tells me like I'm a little worried. I'd be like, yeah, it's a new place for me. I'm a little worried but here's what I'm doing to make myself feel better. But I'm trying not to in front of her being like, Oh my poor baby, she's going off to this new school for the first time or oh, we're so worried they've never done middle school before. So we're all feeling very anxious. That feeds into the anxiety and feeds into those negative feelings. And instead I try and like I said, I'm not always great at it, but I try as much as possible to acknowledge if there is a little bit of worry about something, but then back it up with what we're doing or the excitement we have about these other things. So I'll say, yeah, you know, we're starting a new school, we don't know many families, but we're reaching out and we're really excited because we get to start these new things that we've never got to experience before. So that I am making sure that I'm giving that positive reinforcement and letting my child know that this is a really great change. Even if I'm feeling worried. Just getting that positive energy out there, like you had mentioned too, makes a big difference.

Meredith:                         14:29                   Yeah, I think that's really important to acknowledge what we're saying around our children. Even if we're not saying it to them, they're feeding off what we're saying and our energy and kind of the feelings we're putting out there. So being careful how you talk about the change or the new school year to people in your family and your friends. That's great advice.

Stephanie:                        14:46                   One of the ways that I've tried to get my daughter excited is to help her come with me for first time. We now have a back-to-school supplies list and so I've gotten her to look over the list with me and we're making a plan so that when we start back-to-school shopping that she can start helping pick some of it out and so she can take a little bit of ownership of it and get excited about getting these things, whether it's a new lunchbox for the first time or new school supplies that they can pick out notebooks. I remember this is totally gonna age me, but I remember in elementary school getting very excited about picking out trapper keepers.

Meredith:                         15:23                   Oh yeah, yeah. And New backpacks, right? Like if your kid has a uniform, then you might not be able to go back-to-school shopping for clothes, but go for a backpack or a folder. Make it fun, make it exciting, make it something they want to bring with them.

Stephanie:                        15:37                   Even if your child does have uniforms, it's still a great idea to get them involved in picking out the uniform. If your child happens to have sensory difficulties, which so many kids with language disorders or learning disorders or even my child is picky about some shirts, it would be a great idea to have them help you pick it out because then they can let you know if either of the collar is bothering them or if you can only get tee shirts that have tags in the back. Or maybe you can be able to special order tee shirts that don't have any tags and that way that they're feeling good and comfortable and can practice wearing their uniform before the day of, so that's not another big switch to them because once again, clothes seem like a small thing to us, but for so many kids they're used to having the freedom to pick out and wear whatever they want to wear and switching to a uniform can be a very big and difficult transition.

Meredith:                         16:30                   Yeah, absolutely. I worked with a Kiddo who only wore dry fit shirts and so the mom a great advocate for their child, got in contact with the uniform company and they were able to to make that work for him.

Stephanie:                        16:42                   That's fantastic. Yeah, and I know that and there's also parents who have been able to do the same, get in contact with the uniform companies or get in contact with the school and see if they were able to use the logo on shirts that were tag lists or shirts that were made this way, that helped their kids feel confident and comfortable. Or they've reached out to the school and said, hey, these type of pants really don't work for my child. They don't have the fine motor skills to get the belts and the buckles off. Can they use elastic waist instead? Can we go with this brand? And those are small changes that make a huge difference for kids and their anxiety level of now they feel more confident to go to the bathroom independently because for some kids they're starting to be independent for the first time. Whether it's that they are going to school for the first time or are they making this switch from a classroom that had more hands on deck to help them open all of their lunchbox, unzip their backpack, you know, help them get ready to use the restroom and now they're going to a level where they're expected to be independent for those things. It's a big shift.

Meredith:                         17:45                   Yeah. And you hit on something really important, I think, which is um, letting your children be part of the process. So part of the process of picking their uniform, part of the process of learning about their schedule and where there'll be walking and what classes they'll be going to and things like that. In addition to that, I think getting them part of the process means practicing some of these things. Practicing opening and closing their lunchbox items, packing and unpacking their lunchboxes and backpacks, getting dressed, getting undressed, really good things to help them practice with their new uniforms or uh, with their new lunchbox or their new backpack. Whatever you, you've changed for the school year. You know, just really making sure they understand how it works and that they know how to do it.

Stephanie:                        18:24                   I know that for many kids who are transitioning either from small private schools into public schools or from elementary up into middle school, now they have lockers and locker combinations and practicing to make sure your child knows how to use a lock is a big thing and giving them the steps and having them practice, okay, I forgot, now what do I do?

Meredith:                         18:48                   Yeah. I remember going to junior high and feeling really anxious about my locker, about remembering my code and being embarrassed if I didn't remember my code or if I didn't know how to open it. I mean, I remember feeling those feelings, so I know a lot of our kids are feeling, so giving them the confidence by having them practice and really understand the concept. I think is a great way to get them started for the school year.

Stephanie:                        19:08                   Yeah, and practicing changing from class to class. You can't go through and practice that, but you can help them make a list. Maybe even if it's after the first week of school, okay, now you know that you have this class and this class you have math and then you have science and then you have reading. So you may need to switch and switch out your books for these before you go to your social studies class or before you go to your language class. Or if you need to go back to your locker before you say once again, go to band or some other class where they can't take their instrument with them. Just practicing the routine and the daily step and getting it down as much as possible. And once again, a lot of that is going to the school ahead of time. You might even be able to get your child's schedule a day or two early if they're in like a middle school or high school transitioning to their you. Same thing with elementary schools. You. We, I know at The Parish School we set our schedules ahead of time and by meet the teacher, a lot of times the schedule is set and parents can see and the kids can look over what their day is going to be like and they can know like, okay, on these days I have this activity, this activity, and then maybe we're going straight to therapy afterwards or we're going straight to adventure play for The Parish School or for other kids, maybe we're going straight to swing lessons or karate. You can kind of get them in that daily headspace of this is what my new routine will look like and they can practice that transition.

Meredith:                         20:36                   Yeah, I think as parents and speech-language pathologists who are in the classroom, we could go on and on about back-to-school. So many tips and tricks and advice for our families and for ourselves really, but I think we've hit all the highlights and I wanted to ask you, Stephanie, I know who you ask all the guests a question and so why not? It's just me and you. If you had one piece of advice for families, what would it be?

Stephanie:                        21:00                   For back-to-school or in general?

Meredith:                         21:02                   In general.

Stephanie:                        21:03                   I think in this case, my biggest piece of advice for parents is to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and that you are doing what you need to do to prepare yourself for any big changes and whether that's to contact the school ahead of time or whether that's to preschedule a mother's night out or a dad's golf trip or a parent date night so that you know that, okay, we're going to have this to decompress on our own side. I think that that's my biggest piece of advice is that the more you can center yourself and get yourself ready and prepared and calm, the easier the transition will be. Personally, my daughter feeds off of my energy and so does my son, but my daughter even more so, so I know that I have to be the one who's calm and ready and feeling confident in order for her to feel calm and ready and confident and it's not easy and I catch myself all the time and my husband catches me and it's like, I think you need to go calm down, right? Let's do this so that we can get everybody feeling good again. But that would be my big piece of advice is to really make sure that you're feeling good and you know what's going on so you can help your child walk through the process too.

Meredith:                         22:30                   That's great advice. Self Care, very important. Can't help others if you can't help yourself. So awesome.

Stephanie:                        22:36                   Yeah, I think that this was really hopefully helpful for a lot of parents and it even reminded me of a few things to do before we start our back-to-school process. Yeah, me too. And I enjoyed it. It was fun. And if there's any parents who are listening, if you have advice that we didn't pick up, then feel free to either email us or to reach out via one of the social media pages and let us know and we'll share it on with other parents.

Meredith:                         23:00                   Yeah, that's great. Thanks. Thanks. Thank you for listening to the Unbabbled podcast. For more information on today's episode, including more tips on getting ready for back-to-school, please see our episode description. For more information on The Parish School, visit www.parishschool.org and if you're not already, don't forget to subscribe to the Unbabbled podcast on your app of choice, and if you like what you're hearing, be sure to leave a rating and review. A special thank you to Stig Daniels, Amy Tanner and Amanda Arnold for all their hard work behind the scenes. Thanks again for listening.