Transitioning Back to School with Ideas from an Occupational Therapist

by | Jul 16, 2015 | Occupational Therapy | 0 comments

Although it is still July, parents are starting to gear up mentally about their kids going back to school. For some children, whether they have special needs or not, starting a new grade in school is VERY exciting; but for other children, this is a time of GREAT anxiety. Occupational Therapy can help with making transitions for children with special needs easier, but here are some general suggestions to make the transition from summer back to school as smooth as possible.

Think about how overwhelming the school environment can be with all of the sensory overstimulation when in session, moving to a new hall of the same school, meeting new teachers, or having to start at a brand new school. To help ease your child back into the school environment, visit the school when the office re-opens a few weeks prior to school resuming; don’t wait until “meet the teacher” night. This is a quiet time that your child will enjoy walking the empty halls, seeing familiar faces of teachers and staff, meeting new teachers, practicing drop-off and pick-up routines, as well as learning where their new classroom will be. Don’t forget to visit your child’s favorite staff outside of the classroom such as school nurse, P.E. teacher, music teacher, receptionist, janitor, or favorite cafeteria staff as these people play an integral part of your child’s day at school as well. Depending upon your child, you may want to videotape/take pictures of your time at the school and reminiscing with familiar faces so that the child can watch this video or flip through a book of pictures every day for two weeks leading up to the first day of school.

Outside of the school environment, here are some additional suggestions to ease the transition of going back to school. While at home talk about the excitement of going back to school a few weeks leading up to the first day of school. If retail stores are sensory overload for your child, then consider online school supply shopping. Two weeks prior to the start of school begin to implement the morning and evening routines that will be expected with the start of school. Transitions through these daily routines are simplified with picture schedules or checklists. Involve your child in making and interacting with a countdown to the first day of school by marking off days on a calendar or tearing links of a paper chain. Finally, a social story can be utilized to make the transition back to school easier. There are several free social stories available on the internet or you can easily customize a social story using the pictures you would take while visiting the school as described above. If you need additional suggestions or further assistance with this transition or any daily transition for your child with special needs, please don’t hesitate to consult with your child’s Occupational Therapist.

Samples of back to school social stories:

If customizing a social story, here are a few suggestions to add to your story:

Vacation is so much fun. I really enjoy going to ____________

School begins on __________

I am going to ____________ grade.

My teacher knows all about me and can’t wait to meet me. Her name is _____________

I might know some friends in my class but I will also make new friends.

I can’t wait for ___________ (library, gym, reading… whatever your child enjoys)

It’s good to go to school because I get to learn and play with my friends.

Source: commercial e-mail from

Lisa, Occupational Therapy Team