School & Learning

4 Things to Do Before School Reopens: A Checklist for Parents

Most schools will reopen for full-time, in-person learning this school year. Is your child prepared? Use this checklist to help your student with ADHD transition away from distance learning back to the four walls of a classroom.

schools reopening concept image: illustration of parents dropping masked students off at school

Back-to-school season was strange, disappointing, and even non-existent for many of our children last year. Now that most U.S. public schools are reopening to full-time, in-person learning again, fall preparations are perhaps more vital than ever for our students — especially those who have been exclusively learning remotely during the pandemic — and they can’t start too soon.

The summer break (which should first, and foremost, be a break) is the perfect opportunity for families to look ahead to the upcoming school year and take small but important steps to smooth the transition. From reviewing learning plans and medication regimens to priming your child’s brain for learning, here is a checklist of activities to complete before school reopens.

Schools Reopening: Task List and Tips to Help Students with ADHD

1. Review Your Child’s IEP/504 Plan

If your child has an IEP or 504 Plan, consider the following questions before the start of the school year:

  • How effective was your child’s plan for online learning?
  • Were the services set out in your child’s plan provided during online/hybrid learning?
  • Were goals met? Was progress made?
  • Does the plan need adjustments to make up for learning gaps? Or behavioral challenges in the classroom?

(If your child doesn’t have an IEP or 504 Plan, click here to review the process for receiving special education services.)

[Get This Free Download: IEP vs. 504 – What’s the Difference?]

If changes to your child’s plan will be necessary, think through these items first to craft an effective plan:

  • What kind of learning paradigm will be in place when your child starts the new school year? How the IEP or 504 Plan is implemented can vary depending on where and how your child is learning. For example:
    • Will your child be engaging in full-time, in-class learning?
    • Will some learning components still be online?
  • Consider seeking compensatory services, which are designed to address and compensate for setbacks associated with services and supports that your child has (or has not) received over the last 18 months. They can include extra sessions and specialized instruction.
    • If your child has exhibited social/emotional difficulties as a result of online learning, they may be eligible to receive services that address these needs.
  • Remember that you have the right to seek an IEP/504 meeting at any time, even over the summer. Bear in mind, however, that a meeting may be difficult to schedule as personnel are not as readily available.
    • Have a small change to make to your child’s IEP? You may not even need to have a meeting. You can communicate the requested change in writing to the school to be implemented when classes resume, if the school agrees.

[Read: What To Do When the IEP Stops Working]

2. Optimize Medication Management

If your child takes ADHD medication, continue to monitor effectiveness before and through the start of the new school year.

  • Keep a medication diary, if you don’t have one already, to track symptoms and side effects
  • Adhere to a follow-up schedule with your child’s doctor to check the current regimen’s effectiveness. An optimal schedule should include:
    • Visits every three months to perform a physical examination and monitor growth
    • Parent and/or teacher checklists on symptoms and side effects
    • Other relevant information

Distance learning and telemedicine may have changed the way you gather the above information. As the new school year approaches, think about how you might move forward differently. For example, do you want your child’s teachers to fill out symptom checklists only after the first month back?

3. Build Skills with Games and Projects

Review School Subjects

Remote learning gave many parents a unique opportunity to observe how their children learn. Based on your observations, and conversations with your child, determine the following:

  • What classes went well?
  • Which subjects were a problem?
  • Was the type of instructions offered last year effective?
  • Is your child ready to do the work they will encounter in the fall?

Focus on Vulnerable Areas

Frontloading content, or building background knowledge on a topic, is incredibly beneficial for children with ADHD, as it facilitates engagement and recall once they encounter the topic in school. It can also help ease anxiety and bridge any existing learning gaps.

Frontloading should not be burdensome. Use these resources to plan summer skill-building activities that are both useful and enjoyable for your child:

  • Khan Academy is a free learning resource that covers most academic subjects
  • Brain Pop is an educational website offering free videos on YouTube on various subjects
  • Newsela is a free resource that publishes educational articles at several reading levels to improve comprehension and fluency. Children with reading challenges can review subject matter in simple language to boost skills.
  • Snap and Read is a reading tool that presents simple and advanced versions of texts — a useful resource for vocabulary-building
  • DreamBox Learning is a game-based math program for multiple grade levels
  • Bedtime Math presents short-form math problems through funny stories
  • Audiobook programs like Learning Ally and Bookshare include features like guided reading, which are great for supporting students with reading challenges

Research additional tools to address challenges related to time management (check out this timeline template), note-taking (smart pens, apps, and recording devices, if permitted in the classroom, can help keep track of lessons), and organization.

Cultivate Your Child’s Strengths

Use your child’s strengths, talents, and affinities to build skills in reading, writing, and math as well. Leverage activities and subjects that your child enjoys and feels good about, such as sports, art, drama, music, science, and more.

Interest-based learning is effective because it doesn’t feel like “work,” and your child can complete desired activities at their own pace.

Some ideas for interest-based learning activities (that also target executive function skills!) include:

  • Planning family trips to science museums and historical sites
  • Keeping score at sports matches
  • Putting on a play or musical
  • Baking and cooking (for math skills)
  • Creating personal books with text and artwork

4. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

Many children with ADHD struggle with low self-esteem after years of experiencing setbacks and negative messaging. This can contribute to a “fixed mindset,” or the belief that our qualities and skills are set and unchangeable. This can be a problem in academic settings, especially when it comes to tackling challenging new material. Children with fixed mindsets may avoid change and hesitate to do things outside their comfort zone. They may also be unmotivated to learn.

With the transition to in-person learning, it’s important to help your child develop a “growth mindset” that assumes qualities and skills can change with effort. In other words, a growth mindset translates to an “I can’t do it yet” outlook, where children embrace challenges and persist in the face of setbacks.

One way to cultivate a growth mindset is to normalize the fact that your child learns differently and, therefore, has different strengths, weaknesses, and needs. When a child understands this, it increases their confidence and adaptability.

Focus on these four areas before schools reopen, and your child will start the new academic year with ease and newfound confidence.

Schools Reopening: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar 9 Ways to Prime Your Child for a Positive School Year [Video Replay & Podcast #363] with Susan Yellin, Esq. and Paul B. Yellin, M.D. which was broadcast live on July 15, 2021.

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.