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Mapping Out Back to School

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

The “back to school jitters” are typical for any school year no matter what. During my time as a classroom teacher I would even have back to school dreams starting in August - dreams of lost lesson plans or chaos in the classroom (yes, even us teachers get nervous). However, as we start the 2021-2022 school year, a variety of emotions may be present that surpass the typical back to school jitters. Many students feel excitement about returning to in-person learning, but some may be experiencing anxiety after having been at home for 1.5 years. Many parents and teachers may feel trepidation and uncertainty with various unknowns lingering such as mandates, regulations, and new norms. Acknowledging these emotions will go a long way in helping students (and adults) feel equipped as the school year begins.

The following is an interactive activity that provides structure for the family as you return to school (and honestly adults should do their own because it is helpful for anyone!) Take time out this week as a family to sit down and complete this therapeutic art activity to provide space for expressing anxieties, empathizing, and ultimately strategizing for success.

What to do:

1. Gather up fun art supplies. You can use markers, pens, pencil, paint, paint pens - really ANYTHING that feels fun. You can even use magazine pictures as symbols for this activity.

2. Be sure to have a piece of paper (again - size is really up to you!)

3. The goal of this activity is to make a “road map” for change. Have each person write out the changes that are coming down the road this year. Ideas may be:

  • Back to in person learning

  • Having to get fully ready each day

  • Starting back sports/music lessons

  • Having to ride the bus or walk to school

  • Having to pack lunches

4. Once you’ve listed all the changes, have each change be color coded with red being the most anxiety provoking and blue being the least. Using the color coding, place these changes on a “road map” with each change being a stop on the map.

5. Now the fun part. When you are taking a road trip, there are built in stops for gas, food, stretching, and sightseeing (and don’t forget coffee!). These are the things that keep you going successfully down the road. Why not build those into your “Back to School” road map, too? Once you’ve listed your “stops” along the way, go back and add in the things you need to make your trip successful. Write, draw, or glue pictures of things that would provide support.

For example, maybe one of your red stops on the map is getting up early? Ideas for support may be adjusting your night time routine for increased sleep or writing out your morning routine so it is as efficient as possible. If you are doing this activity with your children or teens be sure to ask questions like, “What do you think would help you on this red stop?” and “What type of support do you need?” Let them guide the conversation regarding what may be helpful. As adults, we can often be surprised at the things that would make our children and teens feel more calm. Use this therapeutic art activity to learn a little more about your child(ren).

When you’ve completed your map, sit together and look through your support stops. Find the available and readily implementable ideas, and if you haven't already, gear up for the school year ahead! Maybe you need to grab a few fidget toys, a new calendar, a new planner, or a weighted blanket. Maybe you need to schedule in more down time on the weekend for recovery which may mean saying no to a few obligations.

The goal of this therapeutic activity is to start a conversation on ways to lower anxiety and increase stability and comfort in your child’s life - and ultimately, in your own as well. If you feel you have any questions regarding this activity please reach out to us at KS Services.

Our idea for therapeutic art activity was adapted from

Laura Waller, MS



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