Getting Kids Ready for Back to School

     Back to school transition time can be stressful for typical kids.  It can be especially stressful for kids with special needs.  Transitions, however, happen everywhere in our lives.  We change settings, activities, communication partners.  Often any transition can be difficult for our students.  Changes in routines, in people, places, activities can result in major melt-downs for some kids. (Yes, I have years of not-so-fond memories of getting my own son back to school.)  

One way to prepare kids for these changes is to give them lots of visuals to help them process what you are telling them.  Even when we think they are understanding everything we are saying, most kids with language disorders miss at least a part of it, and most don’t remember it beyond 10 days, 10 minutes, or even 10 seconds.  

Visual cues are more permanent. They can be referred back to.  They can reduce the time it takes to transition by preparing kids in advance.  They can reduce our nagging by reminding them what they need to do visually.  They provide clear steps that reduce the load of trying to process multiple directions or steps.
In addition to providing these visual cues, we may need to decide how far in advance we need to provide the cue.  For some transitions, 1 or 2 minutes may be enough.  For other, bigger changes, we may need to start to prepare days in advance.  We may need to provide a visual cue that shows not just the transition, but also the period of time.  Calendars can be used for longer periods - such as when the first day of the new school year is. Students can mark off each day as it ends.  Visual timers help with shorter periods; like how much time before the bus gets here.  For students who need to physically mark off the time, there are ways to “count down” the time by removing numbers or images from a visual cue card or page.
Using photos as visual cues is a great way to show exactly where the child is going and who or what (s)he will see when (s)he gets there.  Take a picture of the school, the classroom, and - if possible - the teacher.  (Tell the principal how important it is that you have this picture!)  Having this transition visual card with him while on the bus or in the car can help the child remember where he is going.  (Hint:Make multiple copies, so you don’t have to worry about it getting lost before the next day.)  For some children, having another transition visual with them during the day to remind them that “FIRST___” (they complete their school day activities), “THEN____” (they go home to Mom) can help them get through those first few new days.
Create visual schedules to show the “new” school day schedule - as opposed to those lazy summer days (which have, no doubt, been anything but lazy for you).  Just as teachers will create visual schedules of the school day to get them through their new routines there, have a schedule of what they need to do to get ready for school., such as FIRST getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, THEN getting on the bus or into the car.  Make another to remind them of what they do when they get home.  This one can serve to remind them to FIRST put away their lunch box and backpack, go to the bathroom, and THEN get a snack.
Don’t forget to grab these free FIRST-THEN graphics

to print and use.

Using visual cues for schedules, sequences, and transitions can help your child adjust to their new school days.  How else do you use visual cues to get ready?


  1. I use visuals all the time! Who can function without their calendar? Great post and freebies!

  2. Thanks, Linda. I know all of my kids need visuals, all of the time - and so do I!