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10 ‘Top Tips’ For Returning To School

As the return to the new school year gets closer for many of us, or has already started for some, it can be a time of great anxiety and stress for all children and young people, especially children and young people with additional needs. It can be a challenging and difficult time for parents and carers too, so here’s 10 ‘Top Tips’, as well as some handy web links, that will equip us to help our children return to school well. Ahead of the first day

· Take anxiety and worries seriously. It’s easy to put their concerns off or to convince ourselves that ‘they will be fine’, but the reality is that we could just be building up trouble for the first day if we put off taking their anxiety and worries seriously.

By engaging with them about this early, it gives us more time to help and support them and more time for them to process the support that we are providing for them.

· Create a ‘social story’ about the return to school. Social stories can use images, symbols, as well as text, to help communicate new or complex things to children. A social story that tells them about their new class or school, the staff they will meet, and what they will be doing, all can help to prepare them for the first day.

An example of a social story that can help here is provided by Reachout ASC: https://reachoutasc.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Transition-to-new-class-2021.pdf

· Create a visual timetable for the first day, showing each stage of the day (you’ll need to get info from school for this). A visual timetable helps children to know what is happening now, next and later, what they need to do, and helps them to remain in control of what they are doing.

A link to an example of a visual timetable resource from Twinkl is provided below: https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/t-c-126-visual-timetable-getting-ready-for-school—girls

· Arrange to visit school ahead of the big day, if possible, while it is quiet, to walk through the corridors, see the classroom, maybe meet the teacher/TA etc. Some schools have training days ahead of school opening and it may be possible to arrange a short visit during these days. It’s well worth asking.

On the first day:

· Parents/carers, try to suppress your own anxiety! It’s hard, but children are very perceptive and can pick up when we’re stressed, making them even more anxious. In their minds, if we’re anxious, it must be really bad!

· Get into a routine from day one. Use visual cues e.g. laying out their uniform. Have that visual timetable ready.

· If possible, have them go in on the first day with a friend, even if it’s just from the school gate. Is there something they can take with them that will help them to regulate their anxiety e.g. a fidget toy? (not something precious that might get lost!)

· They are likely to be exhausted when you pick them up. Don’t bombard them with questions the moment you see them or expect too much straight away. Give them some down time first, maybe with a drink and a snack. Later, ask them what they enjoyed most about school today.

· Let them do something they choose or want to do to finish the day positively. They have had other people (including us) telling them what to do all day, letting them choose what to do, or what we can have for our meal for example, gives them some control back over their day.

· Try to get them to bed early. They will be mentally and emotionally exhausted after the first day and so an early night will be helpful, but it will also pay off the next morning when they are fresher and more awake for day two!

Useful links:

Twinkl: There’s a free download on the Twinkl website that helps explain returning to school: https://www.twinkl.co.uk/resource/returning-to-school-social-situation-t-s-2548814

You will also be able to link to other helpful resources from here.

Widgit: There are also free resources about returning to school on the Widgit website: https://www.widgit.com/resources/popular-topics/back-to-school-june/index.htm

Makaton: There’s a free downloadable pack about going back to school on the Makaton website too: https://makaton.org/TMC/Free_resources_.aspx

ReachoutASC: Lynn McCann at ReachoutASC has provided a wealth of free downloadable resources here: https://reachoutasc.com/resources/downloadable-resources/

Action for Children: Knowing how to talk things through with children can be hard, here’s some easy steps to follow from Action for Children: https://www.parents.actionforchildren.org.uk/returning-to-school

Do-IT: A wide range of useful free downloadable resources can be found on the Do-IT website, under their rather appropriate heading of ‘Survive, Revive and Thrive’: https://www.doitprofiler.com/survive-revive-thrive/

Manchester University Foundation Trust: Here’s a great resource written in collaboration between Manchester University Foundation Trust, Manchester Local Care Foundation and One Education, providing a really helpful guide for parents about many aspects of the return to school, along with some positive and useful resources: https://mft.nhs.uk/app/uploads/2020/06/back-to-school-parent-pack-final-version.pdf

Autism little Learners: Just love this site, so full of useful stuff and there are some great Social Stories on this link: https://autismlittlelearners.com/category/social-stories/

As with all Social Stories, these should be adapted or used as a starting point to create a specific version for each child. More information about how to create Social Stories can be found on Lynn McCann’s Reachout ASC site here: https://www.reachoutasc.com/resources

Use these website resources help you to stay informed and able to inform and support your children as they return to school.

I hope these ‘Top Tips’ and website links are helpful for you as you navigate a path through the return to school with your child.

About Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and support community. He is a ‘Churches for All’ partner, a member of both the ‘Council for Disabled Children’ and the ‘Living Fully Network’, and serves on the executive for ‘Children Matter!’ Most importantly, he is dad to James, a 17-year-old Autistic boy with Learning Difficulties and Epilepsy.

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