Back to school time is coming and it’s time to get your child – and yourself – ready. This is especially true if your child has a learning difference or developmental disability.
L.A. educational consultant Victoria Waller, Ed.D., says summer is an easier time for all families. Bedtimes and other rules are relaxed, the schedule is lighter and maybe there has even been a family vacation. But about two weeks before school starts, she sees families begin to worry. “Everybody’s hysterical. Not just the kids, the parents,” says Waller, who has worked with children with learning differences for 50 years.
Here are some of Waller’s tips for back-to-school success:
Help kids hang onto summer memories. Because most teachers ask kids to do some sort of project based on what they did over the summer, Waller suggests helping your children be ready. Talk with them about the summer and help them think of five fun things they did. If you took photos, let them pick out a few photos, print them out and help them write captions. “Then they have a memory of the summer,” Waller says.
Get everyone back on schedule. If you’ve relaxed some rules, start to readjust about two weeks before school begins. Start putting kids to bed a few minutes earlier each night until regular bedtime has been reestablished. If you’ve been doing less reading because of summer activities, get your kids back in the swing of things by choosing something fun and returning to daily reading time or bedtime stories. If your child takes medication and you have taken a summer break, contact the doctor for instructions about re-starting it.
Remind them what they like about school. When you talk with your kids about the upcoming school year, do it in a positive way. “Don’t stress them out,” says Waller. “Talk about the good things at school.” This includes your child’s favorite subjects, friends and other things they enjoy about school. Ask if they have any worries, and if they do, reassure them that you will work on these issues together.
Help them reconnect with friends. Speaking of things your kids like about school, now is the time to arrange a play date or two with your child’s friends – kids they might not have seen much during the summer. This will help them reestablish friendships and give them one more thing to look forward to as the school year begins.
Talk about schedules and transportation. You can get rid of lots of anxiety by letting your child know what to expect. Talk about the details of the fall schedule. Remind them of any house rules (about bedtime, screen time, etc.) that will be reestablished. Talk about school transportation, after-school programs, extracurricular activities and other things that will get going on once school starts.
Connect with the teacher. As the school year is getting started, if you haven’t met your child’s teacher, consider sending a brief email introducing yourself and asking when the teacher might like to chat about your child. But don’t let that chat become a laundry list of what is “wrong” with your child. “You want to make sure that they know your child’s strengths,” says Waller. “Tell them your child’s passions and what your child loves.” The teacher can help you stay on top of what your child is studying, so that you can read books they are assigned, and be prepared for questions and to offer help.
Open the lines of communication. As the year gets underway, take advantage of time in the car on the way home from school, or quiet time before bed, to chat with your child. Give them a chance to tell you how school is going, and to bring up anything that is bothering them. “Make sure that the door’s open,” says Waller. “Make sure they feel confident that you won’t get upset. If you’re like that with your kids, I think they will talk to you about how they feel.”
Reach out for help if needed. Homework can be a struggle for any child, but especially those with learning differences. If you find you aren’t able to help your child, find someone who can. This might be someone in an after-school program (which gives them a head start on the evening’s work), a teacher at school that they like, an educational therapist or a tutor.
For help with all of your educational and parenting questions, Waller recommends understood.org, a site maintained in partnership with 15 nonprofit organizations including the Learning Disabilities Association of America. There, you can find articles on a variety of topics written by education professionals, as well as personalized recommendations for your child.