Returning to School: Tips from an OT Perspective

Written by Jessica Hardy, BA, COTA

As we all know, the 2020-2021 school year went a bit differently than expected! Students were suddenly learning in a new setting, with a new format, and without the supports they are familiar with at school.

As many students return to school in person this Fall – some for the first time in well over a year – we wanted to share some useful tips to make the transition easier for children and caretakers alike. 

Practice new routines: Returning to routines after an extended break is often stressful – and the disruptions to learning over the last 18 months only serve to make the transition more challenging. Practicing new routines early can help ensure a less stressful morning for everyone, which will set learners up for a better day. Implementing aids, such as a timer or visual schedule, may help in the early days of establishing effective routines surrounding school!

Provide consistency where possible: During back-to-school season, there are many changes that we have no control over; between new teachers, classmates, desks, and schedules, it can be a lot to take in! While it is fun to introduce new clothes, shoes, and backpacks for the first day of school, or have a big first day back breakfast, sometimes so much novelty can be overwhelming! This can be especially true for children with sensory challenges. One way to provide some additional consistency is to introduce new items over time, ensuring that the child is comfortable and can use each item independently. Additionally, letting your learner be involved in choosing their own school items can help give them a sense of control and independence during a time that can feel restrictive compared to the less scheduled days of Summer.

Talk about it: Continuously communicating with children about changes they may see when they return to school will help avoid any surprises, as well as reduce anxiety related to not knowing what to expect. Some changes to address may include temperature taking, mask wearing, changes to classroom arrangements and lunchroom and restroom procedures, and social distancing precautions. Don’t be afraid to contact your learner’s school and ask them for additional details about these changes! They want everyone to be successful and should be happy to provide whatever information you need.

Start the day with regulation: Have you ever noticed how much better you feel throughout the day when you start with something that you know helps you feel centered? The same is true for our kids! Building time into your morning schedule for regulation activities helps set learner’s up for success. This might be jumping on the trampoline, some “heavy work” (such as helping take out the trash or carrying a bag of food for a pet), doing “animal walks” down the hall to brush their teeth… with a little planning and creativity, there are many opportunities to build regulation into the morning. If you’re struggling to find the best regulators for your child, ask your OT provider!

Be flexible: We know now more than ever that sometimes, things don’t go as planned. If your school year gets off to a rocky start, you’re not alone! It’s okay to realize that one strategy didn’t work out and switch gears. Maybe you realize that the later bedtime that worked during virtual learning is now making mornings hectic and stressful, or that after so much time at home, your child is struggling with being away all day. Successful routines aren’t built overnight! The most important thing is to communicate with your learner and their educators as you move forward.

Here’s to a safe and healthy 2021-2022 school year!

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TLC Kids Therapy

We provide a safe, enriching and child friendly environment for therapy. Our mission is to be a blessing to all of the children and families that comes through our doors.

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