There They Go.

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There they go. And here we are. It’s the first day of school. The build-up began months ago when the big yellow pencils were hung above the “Back to School” aisle. The supply lists, the bus schedules, and the open houses. We parents of kids with special needs have also been thinking about IEPs and “get to know me” sheets. We look hard for familiar staff that support our kids, often serving as re-entry anchor points for navigating new classrooms, peers, and teachers.

There they go. And here we are. Listlessness can stir up spinning thoughts and worry as we try to picture our children beginning a routine we don’t yet know much about. Stop. Breathe. Notice that listlessness and find your anchors. Here, I offer the tips for a successful school year from a teacher who has served as an anchor for many children and families. I hope her gentle guidance helps you anchor down and settle into this day of newness, and begin the year with confidence.

I have been teaching young children for more years than I would like to admit. Lucky for me, it’s a profession I love; observing, playing with, and teaching young learners. But I also love the fresh start every September brings.
Before school begins, my colleagues and I plan new learning activities and projects, and then wait for the new students to come walking through the door. Even with the best preparation, every day is a new adventure that doesn’t always go as planned. And that’s where parents come in. You can prepare your child’s teacher, so that we’re as ready as can be to teach your child.

I had some help preparing this list from my colleagues. Together we came up with the following six tips, and we all agree that knowledge is key.

1. Be open about your child’s challenges. The more you share with us about your child, the better teachers we are. Some parents choose to “hide” their child’s challenges, diagnoses, or learning styles from teachers, so that their child isn’t “prejudged.” When children have unique challenges, they follow him/her to school. When teachers are able to partner with parents from the very start, these challenges can be better understood and dealt with in a positive way. Please don’t keep secrets from your child’s teacher.

2. Keep in touch with your child’s teacher. Ask which mode of communication they prefer – phone calls, emails, notebook, etc. You know your child best, and your insights are always appreciated. If your child didn’t sleep well, is coming down with a cold, or had a rough morning, let the teacher know. It is so much more productive to be proactive rather than reactive to challenging behavior.

3. Tell your teacher what motivates your child. What are your child’s special interests? These interests can be used to build and foster your child’s relationships with teachers and peers. Let us know anything we can use to make your child’s day more successful: small rewards, special books, preferred activities and special ways to connect.

4. Don’t drill your child after school. Children live in the moment. School is school and home is home. As parents we want to know everything about the day. “What did you do today?” is a favorite inquiry. Typically when children get home they have an agenda that doesn’t include rehashing their school day. Most children are more willing to talk about it a bit later, once they’ve had time to “chill out” a bit. When you do ask about your child’s day, be specific: Who did you sit next to on the bus? What did you have for lunch? What story did your teacher read?

5. Treat home and school as separate. You and your child get to start the day over the minute he/she gets off the bus or walks through the door. If your child has a “bad” day at school, don’t feel that you need to give a consequence at home. In most cases the teacher has already dealt with the behavior at school. Often teachers just want you to have the information about a school problem, just as we like to know about a bad morning at home. We don’t report this information so you feel the need to discipline your child at home.

6. Be aware of homework. If your child has homework, respect their timing as well as your own need to “get it done.” Ask your child for input: “Do you prefer doing homework right after your snack or right after dinner?” When children are given a chance for input, they tend to be a bit more cooperative.
I hope these tips help you enjoy a smooth and happy school year.

Bonnie’s original post, A Teacher’s Top Tips for a Successful School Year, can be found at https://cea4autism.org/teachers-top-tips-successful-school-year/.

Author: Beth

Beth is a wife, mother, researcher and connector. She has two elementary-aged kids, one who is differently wired with autism. Beth has done graduate work and consulting related to youth development and community engagement. She loves advocating for authentic community engagement and contributions of kids and families impacted by autism. She lives in Hopkins, MN.

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