Setting Your Child Up For Success in the Year Ahead

As I write this, we are experiencing a heat wave, and Stampede has just finished. However, in just a few short weeks, the nights will start to become shorter and cooler, and the summer memories will begin to fade. That means that the start of school is on the horizon, and families will begin to adjust their routines to welcome in the start of a new year. This transition can cause a lot of stress for many parents and families, but by engaging in a few things ahead of time, this transition can go much smoother.

Engage in Reflection and Encourage Self-Understanding and Self-Advocacy Skills

Student raising hands in the air No matter the age/grade of the student, the end of summer can be an excellent time to engage in reflection of the child’s previous year to prepare for the upcoming year. In the weeks leading up to the start of school, discuss strategies on how to ask teachers for help, plan for homework and test-taking, and build positive friendships. Understood.org is a great resource for parents, and the following worksheets can assist you in this exercise.

Back-to-School Worksheet to Plan for a Better Year

Self-Awareness Worksheets for Kids

Settle Back Into the School Routine Early

If your child takes some time to adjust to change, it will be essential to start the changes back to the school routine early. In some cases, a week or two before the start of school, start having the child go to bed and wake-up at the time that they will need to for school. Any changes should be done gradually rather than “cold turkey,” such as shifting food routines (e.g., summer food (all of that ice cream!) to healthier options), use of electronics, and watching of television. By no means does this mean that these fun activities have to go into the closet along with all the summer gear until next year. In fact, many experts recommend making a plan to do something fun in the first week of school to help with the transition (e.g., go out for ice cream, plan a last trip to the splash park). The kids will be returning to an environment where they will be expected to put out a lot of mental energy, so help them by not scheduling any other appointments or activities (if possible) during the first few weeks of school so that they can recover from their expected fatigue.

If your child is starting at a new school, start doing the walk or drive routine soon if possible. Most schools are open one to two weeks before the official start day of school, so if your child is especially anxious about attending the new school or even the new classroom, contact the school to see if you can drop by for a walk-through and even to meet the teacher(s) ahead of time. Start the discussions early to ease any stress or anxieties the child might feel. Here are some great examples of discussion topics: 5 Things Not to Say to Kids With Learning and Attention Issues About Going Back to School

 Start the Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher on a Positive Note

As I noted in a previous article, it is to the child’s benefit for his parent(s) and teacher(s) to maintain a positive relationship. To start the year off on the right foot, it can be beneficial to provide the teacher with a letter describing your child, which can help the teacher best meet your child’s needs.

Download a template for a Back to School Introduction Letter.

Both you and your child’s teacher(s) have a shared goal — your child’s academic success. As with any relationship, respect needs to be the cornerstone. Rather than waiting until there are fires to be put out, start the relationship off by working together to brainstorm ways to help your child. Continue the communication with the teachers throughout the year. You are all members of the child’s team.  When each person understands their role in the relationship, including what is expected of them and how to compliment the other’s role, you can both better help and support the child with their learning. Initiate the communication and let the teacher know what kind of feedback you’d like to have. As you are able, attend all parent conferences, review letters and work samples being sent home, and communicate through student agendas and even through regular emails if the teacher provides their address. These days, many teachers and schools also have classroom blogs which allow you not only to see what is happening in the classroom on a regular basis but to stay on top of assignment due dates and tests/exams. Keep in mind that relationships are two-way streets. If you expect the teacher to do what you’ve requested and to provide frequent feedback, be sure to respond to their requests for information promptly. Such responses indicate to the teacher that you are an involved partner in your child’s education. It also boosts your child’s positive feelings about school with them knowing that everyone is working together. Through your modelling of trust and respect, he/she will also have those feelings towards the teacher.

Prepare in Advance for Your IPP Meetings

Home-school collaboration is of utmost importance for students with special learning needs to not only help the child to feel supported but to provide consistency of structure across environments. Parents are encouraged to partner with the other members of the child’s team to provide essential input to the development of their individualized programming (i.e., IPP) and participate in regular meetings to review the goals and objectives the student is working towards throughout the school year.

IPP meetings typically occur a few times a year, with the first usually occurring in the early fall months. Ahead of this initial meeting, review the goals and objectives of your child’s IPP from last year (if applicable) as well as the child’s last report card and most recent psycho-educational assessment. What areas of concern were highlighted? What progress has been seen?

During the meeting, set things off on a positive note by asking about your child’s strengths, interests, and areas of growth. Then, move into asking about your child’s progress and if there are any new assessments, reports or observations. As a member of the IPP team, you also want to share your own concerns about your child and the goals that you think your child should be working toward. Share samples of work completed at home and also ask to see samples from the classroom to help you have a better understanding of your child. As with the letter to the teacher at the beginning of the year, at IPP meetings it is beneficial to share any home conditions that may be impacting your child’s performance or behaviour at school; also share any documents from outside support services. At these meetings, a lot of jargon can be used. It is okay to speak up and to ask questions to ensure you understand what is being put into place for your child. Summarize your understanding of the decisions and actions to be taken as well as the timelines and who is going to do what. You will be asked to sign the IPP document. As a parent, you have the right not to sign the IPP until you feel it matches the mutually agreed upon goals and strategies for your child. As the year progresses, ensure that the IPP goals are frequently monitored. At the follow-up meetings, ask about whether the objectives have been met. If they have been, new ones should be set; if they haven’t, the team should review what is in place and make changes as needed.

Attending IPP meetings can be intimidating. But, being prepared can increase your confidence. Download this parent-teacher-conference worksheet as a preparation tool. Keep in mind that references to IEP and 504 plans are the US federal legislation equivalents to our Individualized Program Plans (IPPs) in Alberta.

As the school year approaches, engaging in some preparation steps can help relieve any stress and set everyone up for a successful year ahead. In addition to the information above, this back-to-school calendar provides you with steps of what to do this month to prepare for the start of school!

Written by: Melanie Reader, Registered Psychologist and Manager, Psychological Services and Groups with Estelle Siebens Community Services at Foothills Academy.

August 2018