Gearing Up For a New Year

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Many kids have already begun the school year but by the middle of next week, after all those Labor Day picnics and parties, almost everyone will be starting school.  For some of the kids, it will be their first time going to school and for others, they will be returning to school.  While this time of the year can be very exciting, it can also bring about anxiety in children.  For many of the kids I work with, this time of the year can be difficult and parents are as anxious as they are about how the new year will go and what they can do to best prepare their children for the upcoming year.  Each of us has our own thoughts and ideas about this and it is most important to figure out which of these strategies work for your child and his/her areas of need.  As I prepare my own daughter (she begins kindergarten next week) for a new school year, I will be doing some of the following with her to get her ready and excited for all this new year has to bring.  
1.  Start your school year routine with your children the week before school begins.  This includes waking up to an alarm if necessary, eating meals the way you will during the school year and getting a bed time routine worked out before those first few days of school.  This is important for all kids, but especially those who have a difficult time with transitions and changes in routines.  If it helps, find some kind of daily schedule you can hang up for your children that they can look at before leaving the house for school so they have an idea of what to expect.  You may even want to put that schedule together right before bedtime the night before so your child can feel as prepared for the next day as possible.
2.  One of the things I remember most about growing up is the annual shopping trip for a new backpack and lunchbox.  This was super exciting and always made me feel slightly less anxious for a new school year.  Allow your children to be part of the process of picking out their new backpack and lunchbox.  If they are feeling anxious about going to school, make a big deal about showing their friends whatever they pick out.  I am one of those parents who avoids getting supplies with characters (but my daughter is more into pretty designs like clouds, stars and unicorns) but if you have a child who is into Disney Princesses, Cars or any other popular character, let them get it.  It doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal but it really is!  
When picking these bags out, a few tips: 
*make sure that the backpack and lunchbox are not too big for your child to carry independently.  We send our kids to school to become more independent people, but if their bags are too heavy and cumbersome they are going to rely on grownups to take care of it for them.
*if you can find a backpack that has a lunchbox that will attach to it, even better.  I am a big fan of the new big kid backpacks by Skip*Hop.  In addition to being large enough to accomodate all the things a school age child needs to carry back and forth, there is a compartment built in for the lunch box to slip right into.  
*if you have a child who has decreased trunk strength, you might want to consider a bag that has wheels on it for them.  This way they have the option of carrying or dragging their bag.
3.  School supply shopping can be a daunting project but it is a necessary one.  My daughter starts kindergarten in a public school next week and the long list of supplies is crazy.  Since she has fine motor issues (nothing major or that warrants therapy…the poor kid has a mom who is an occupational therapist and is all over her!), I want to be sure that I get her supplies that she will be able to use and that might help support some of her difficulties.  Here are some of the things we will be getting for her and I will be recommending for the children I work with:  
Crayons-for the younger kids, especially those who may have a delayed grasp, I suggest the Crayola Triangular Crayons.  It comes in a box of 16 colors and are a bit thicker than the regular sized crayons. Additionally, the triangle shape helps encourage a tripod grasp when using them.
Colored Pencils-again, I am a fan of any of the Crayola colored pencils.  For the smaller hands, their Pip-Sqeaks Colored Pencils are perfect.  As they get older and still struggle with using a proper grip, you might want to consider getting the regular sized pencils and breaking them in half. The smaller the writing instrument, the more it encourages a proper grasp.
Scissors-I have always been a fan of the Fiskars blunt-tip scissors.  They are the perfect size for those little hands.  They also have left-handed scissors which not all companies carry.  You can find them in almost all chain drug stores but their website also has a large selection and you can find the exact color for your child!
Student Planner/Assignment Books-some schools now give each student a planner at the beginning of the school year which I think is amazing.  Many of the kids I work with struggle to keep their assignments organized, often forgetting what each of their teachers has asked them to do.  As children get older, they need strategies in order to keep themselves organized and more independent for classroom success.  Go to Staples or book stores and look at their selection and figure out which would be best for your child.  There are so many to choose from and there may be something about one that is better than another for your child and his/her needs.   It’s important to go over what you expect from them when using this book.  Be sure to go over this before the school year begins and maybe even copy a few pages so you can do some practice runs before they have to use it for real.  
Folders-I don’t care what brand you pick out but do have some suggestions, especially as kids get older.  First of all, if you have a kid who has difficulty keeping their backpack clean and organized, get those thick folders made out of plastic.  They can take a beating as they are shoved into their bags!  Also, I would suggest getting different colored ones for each subject so they don’t have to open and close each one every time they need to complete an assignment.  If you have an older kid who you need to come up with organization strategies for, you can consider getting a binder to put all of the folders in so everything is in one place.
Pencil Case-be sure to find a pencil case that is big enough to carry what your child needs, but not so big that they have a hard time finding all they need.  If you have a child who presents with difficulty with organization and other executive functioning skills, you may want to find something that has compartments so it is easy to find everything when they need them.  You don’t want your kids to lose out on time to complete assignments because they are too busy digging through their pencil case.  I am a big fan of this one here by Yoobi.  It’s a little larger than the typical case, but it you can definitely find what you need when you need it without a problem.  Be sure to check out all the other products on Yoobi because for each product you purchase, they will donate one to a classroom in need.  
4.  A new school year can be most difficult partly because of all the new faces that a child may have to learn.  For kids who have learning, language or sensory delays, this is even more challenging.  Many of the kids I work with don’t only have to worry about new teachers, but new therapists both in and out of school.  When possible, try and schedule a meet and greet with your child’s new teacher and therapists prior to their first day with them.  While on these meet and greets, you can ask to take pictures for them to go back and look at leading up to their new schedule beginning.  You can also use these pictures to set up some kind of visual schedule for your child to look at the beginning of each day so they know where they will be going, who they will be seeing and what they can expect from their day.  This seems simple, but it can go a long way in setting your child up for a successful day.  
5.  It may seem crazy, but since I have a kid who is a picky eater I have to worry about her snacks and lunch for the school week.  Summer has led to bad eating habits (you know, eating ice cream for dinner or snacking on junk food during the day instead of having dedicated meal times) for us and one of my biggest concerns is will she have enough to eat during the day to ready her for brain learning all she has to do.  Packing protein filled meals is important to keep our kids from being hungry.  And since there are so many classrooms that are peanut and nut free, we have to become creative in what we pack for our kids.  When possible, take your child shopping for snacks and lunch foods.  I find that when they get to help choose them, they are more likely to eat them.  For kids with fine motor, sensory or feeding difficulties, be sure to pack foods that your child can eat independently.  Cut food into small, bite-sized pieces so they can easily take a piece with a fork or use their fingers.  If they have a hard time with using spoons, get squeezable fruit packs, applesauces or yogurts so they don’t have to worry about using a spoon or asking for help.

Do you have any back to school tricks that you would like to share with my readers?  Any strategies that you have used with your sensory sensitive kid that made the transition back to school that much smoother and easier for not only your child, but your family leading up to the first day of school?  I am sure us parents and therapists have a lot of advice we can offer one another to make this anxiety producing time of the year less stressful and more enjoyable.  I love hearing from each and every one of you and hearing your helpful advice and know that when you share it with me, you are sharing it with tons of others!  I am only a click away and look forward to hearing from you!

As you all, parents, therapists and especially the kids that we love, begin this new school year, I wish you a wonderful and exciting year!  

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