Oh August! It is still summer BUT school looms in the not-too-distant horizon. For students with executive function challenges (and their parents!) there can be an underlying anxiety about facing a new school year, especially if last year was filled with the painful memories of struggling to get things done in a timely manner.
A few years ago, I was inspired to put together my own personal list of back to school tips. I am sharing it again because it is quite timeless when it comes to getting kids ready for the new school year; I just wish I’d been smart enough to create this list back when my kids were in school! My dear son never did figure out how to open his middle school locker.
These tips are designed to calm the brain and make the whole transition from summer to school a whole lot easier. I hope you find them helpful! Plus, I added a special bonus tip this year!
1. Clothing: Before you buy new school clothes, take two grocery bags into your child’s room. With their help, fill the bag with clothes they no longer wear or don’t like anymore. Fewer options in the closet and drawers will make choosing what to wear for school easier and faster – this goes for parents too!
2. Sleep: Start establishing routine sleep patterns before school starts. Do this little by little, going to bed and getting up 10-15 minutes earlier each day or two until your child is getting nine hours of sleep per night prior to the first day of school. This will help their body adjust to the school hours and be ready for school each morning with less effort.
3. Binder: When shopping for binders, let your child take some ownership by letting them choose colors for the items. Get a clear plastic folder for transporting papers to and from school and put this in the very front of the binder. Make sure that you get pocket dividers for each subject and label them ahead of time. We have a list of recommended products to support executive functions on our Cool Tools Page.
4. New School: Get familiar with classroom locations. Visit the school and pick up the floor plan and your child’s class schedule. Find out how much time is allowed for transitions between classes, and have your child practice going room to room, timing how long it will actually take. Your child may need to hustle! Clip the floor plan of the building to the outside of the binder for that first week.
5. Lockers: If your child is using a locker for the first time, visit the school to determine the type of lock required. Purchase a combination lock that matches the locker model and help your student practice opening such a lock. It is easier and MUCH less stressful to practice at home than in a crowded school hallway! Check out this helpful video tutorial from Understood: How to Help your Child Get Comfortable with a Combination Lock.
6. Evening routine: Make mornings simpler by asking your student to do some tasks the night before. Choose clothes, shoes and jackets and lay them out, put all schoolwork into the clear return folder in the binder, put the binder into their backpacks, then the backpack next to the door. For lunches, put nonperishable items together. Create a checklist for this routine and have each of your children time just how long these tasks take to complete. This will show the time saved from sleepy mornings!
7. Reading: What is the status of your student’s assigned summer reading? If they haven’t been reading, set up your home environment to help them start. Designate a “no tech time” each day where everyone is tech free. (They WILL survive! It is really hard to be motivated to read when everyone else in the family is playing with a device.) If your child is a slow reader, get him or her an audiobook of the required text. I also suggest that you read the book yourself so you can discuss it at dinner. Go online for discussion questions for the book.
8. Math: Warm up those math facts and concepts that have disappeared over the summer. Set up the home environment to review. There are lots of math practice apps available. Kahn Academy.org is great to review math skills.
9. After school schedule: Help your child see how their after school commitments fit with homework time and “lights out” time. How much time is really available for homework? Post this information in sight.
10. Calendars: On a wall in your home, post enough monthly calendars in a row to cover the first grading period. Have your child write all exams, quizzes and project deadlines on the family calendar. Have your student cross off each day so she can “see” how the deadlines are getting closer.
11. Planner for School: Look for a planner that focuses on the calendar view of a month rather than the week. The month view enables students to have a picture of the future beyond just a week, which is critical for those long-term projects. I encourage you to check out our new Set Up Success Student planner with versions for middle school/high school and college.
I designed it to support development of the executive function skills of time management and daily planning. It helps with transporting papers to and from school too! This planner comes with a video tutorial full of tips to make a planner useful and used. (We don’t have many left, so get yours soon if you need one!)
The steps you take in August can make the rest of the year go SO much better.
Little by little… Marydee
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.