Transitioning to the school routine after the summer break can challenge anyone. Any child might struggle with pushing bedtime back when it’s still light out and adjusting to eating lunch at a new time. Those with speech-language or social communication deficits find the shift in routine especially difficult.
As speech-language pathologists working with children, we can help our clients or students tackle this transition every year. During my more than 20 years working with children, I’ve discovered a few strategies to lay the groundwork for a more productive fall.
Admit and recognize that transitioning is hard. Students and SLPs face big changes in their routines. Accepting that we all find change challenging helps create more realistic expectations during the first weeks of the school year. Give clients or students credit for showing up, moving from space to space, and interacting with peers as an excellent start. I find this transition time also works well for establishing or re-establishing rapport. Reviewing and sharing goals with each student is also an effective place to begin the school year.
Ease into the school year by reminiscing about summer fun. Use stories of what they did over the summer to practice verb tense, sequencing, descriptive language, and articulation and phonology skills. I create activities incorporating positive aspects of summer and recall of fun. Some popular examples include a felt-board activity with animals they saw at the zoo or a car-wash activity with shaving cream. These activities yield a treasure trove of engaging material to target student speech-language goals.
Preview sessions with a checklist or picture schedule. I do this to help students settle into a given session. I arrange laminated illustrations of each session activity into a visual schedule board. Ask the child to take down pictures of each activity as you start it. They then place the picture cards in a bucket as they complete each one. Using visual cues like these during the session generates transitions within the session, helps empower students, and clearly defines expectations.
Physically moving from a table to a standing activity or seated on a rug. Moving from place to place—if you have the space—helps children physically transition and mentally focus on the new activity. By using different locations and movement in your routine, students also start to predict session routines and can pace themselves. For example, start the session seated at a table where the student learns or reviews a target skill. Next, practice the skill while standing at a white board with magnets or placing Velcro items on a poster. Lastly, move to sitting on a rug to implement the target skill at the appropriate level while playing a game. Establishing and sharing a preferred routine with your clients or students can help take the mystery out of what comes next and provide comfortable predictability to your sessions.
Find time to treat yourself at the beginning of the school year, too. We also feel emotionally, mentally and physically taxed when transitioning back into the school year routine. Set yourself up for success by giving yourself something fun to anticipate. Grabbing a coffee on the way into work, making time to go for a walk, and not feeling guilty about actually taking a lunch are just a few little things you can do for yourself.
Children usually need time to adjust to the change in routine. I now give myself and my clients permission to transition into the start of school year at our own pace. This helps me remember to meet them where they are for those first few weeks, which is half the battle for a successful year.
Kristina Peterkin, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical educator at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the owner of Peterkin Speech Language Inc. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders (Dysphagia); and 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. firstname.lastname@example.org