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    Four Ways to Ease the Back to School Transition

    With September right around the corner, it can feel like we have so much on our plates. Backpacks to prepare, class schedules to check, and the list goes on. The transition back to school can be both an exciting and stressful time for parents and students. To prepare for school, here are some tips to keep in mind and get your child feeling supported and ready for “the big day”!

    1. Emotional support goes a long way

    • The transition to school can be an emotionally overwhelming time for kids. It can be hard to go from having free time in the summer with a completely different routine, to jumping into an environment with high academic expectations.
    • Emotional validation, or the act of listening and reflecting back children’s emotions through conversation and close support, can help lessen the burden of the transition. Some tips for emotional validation include supportive statements such as, “I know this is hard” or “I am right here to help you”. These statements can help kids feel they don’t have to worry about going back to school alone. Using supportive statements and careful listening can also create a space for kids to feel comfortable sharing what is on their minds with caregivers, allowing caregivers to effectively problem-solve worries.
    • Don’t be alarmed if you notice your child has more difficulties regulating their emotions in the first few weeks of school. Depending on the child’s age, they might not yet be able to reflect on why they are feeling upset or what they can actively do to feel better. They are simply processing the newness. Give them time.

    2. Fine motor skill practice boosts academic performance

    • In the weeks leading up to school, practicing fine motor skills can set students up for success.
    • If your child is learning letters, many fun activities can be implemented at home. Some engaging activities include putting letter beads into sandwich bags with glitter shampoo and doing a “scavenger hunt” to find the letter to write. Magnetic letter boards and motivating letter toys, such as The Learning Resources alphabet acorn activity set, can motivate kids to start familiarizing themselves with letters. Practicing zippers and shoelaces can also ensure your child can make clothing changes.
    • If your child is older and working on writing proficiency and speed, why not ask them to write a funny story? Or make up some jokes to tell the family? We want to make writing as relevant to the child as possible so they see it as a task that facilitates something important they want to do. Supplementing handwriting with a typing program like Typing Club is another great place to start.

     3. Practice executive functioning skills

    • Executive functioning skills are defined as all the higher-level cognitive functions that allow us to plan, follow directions, control our impulses, pay attention, initiate tasks, and manage our time. Kids develop executive functioning skills as they grow, often needing support with these skills in their early school years.
    • Practicing grade-specific executive functioning skills can check one item off the to-do list in September. Involve your child in initiating tasks, choosing an agenda for the year, or giving them more responsibility in planning a snack or their outfit for the day. Fostering independence will boost confidence and encourage cognitive development.

    4. Sensory needs play a bigger role than you think

    • Sensory integration, or how our sensory system processes sensory input, such as touch, smell, and vestibular input, has received attention due to its impact on various aspects of school engagement.
    • Some kids are sensory-seeking for certain types of input – they actively seek out input to regulate their nervous system. For example, some kids are sensory seeking for vestibular input. These are Tiger kids, always jumping, spinning, and finding a way to move in the lunchroom or while listening to instructions from the teacher.
    • Other kids are sensory sensitive – they are hyper-sensitive to certain types of input. A common example of sensory sensitivity seen at school is auditory sensitivity. These kids are scared of loud noises and loud crowded areas or may show signs of irritability or avoidance after a long day filled with loud environments.
    • If a child is sensory sensitive or sensory seeking and it hasn’t been identified, these sensory needs can translate into self-regulation difficulties or difficulties with attention. The sensory sensitive child may have more meltdowns or outbursts since they are overwhelmed with the input their brains process during the day. The child who needs more vestibular input may have difficulty focusing on schoolwork if they don’t receive the input they need.
    • There are many ways to integrate sensory strategies into the classroom. How about a sensory bucket with sensory toys that students can use for a break? Or a wiggle cushion on the classroom chair to promote attention? When in doubt, seeking support from a Registered Occupational Therapist can help answer questions about your child’s sensory needs before school starts.

    With so much to consider regarding school readiness, remember all the skills you have worked on with your child and they will shine! Take one day at a time, and all will fall into place.

    About Fernanda Lara Peralta, MSc.OT., OT Reg. (Ont.)

    Fernanda Lara Peralta is a registered Occupational Therapist in good standing with the College of Occupational Therapists of Ontario (COTO). She obtained her Honors Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy from McMaster University. Fernanda is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor (Adjunct) at McMaster University, teaching in the School of Rehabilitation Science in the MSc OT program.