GiGi's Playhouse Milwaukee • 8685 N. Port Washington Road, Fox Point, WI 53217 •

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Let’s get ready for Back to School time together!


August 16, 2022 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

✅ First Day Outfit for Mom’s Photo Shoot

✅ Backpack with ALL the Stuff

✅ Lunch Box

✅ Water Bottle

✅ Cool, Comfy Shoes

Check, Check, Check and Recheck!

What else? What else do we need in order to equip our kiddos for a school year of success?


This blog post was designed to provide some helpful insight for parents and kids alike, as well as educators. Please share your own tips from past experiences in the comments at the end. We would love to see this list grow!

First, a few tips from some GiGi’s families…

For our littles:

  • Choose clothing that is not bulky/oversized, is without buttons or snaps and easy pull up/down to make bathroom independence simpler.
  • Pre-open snack bags and remove wrappings of granolas for easier get-to. Pack a kid-friendly water bottle like the GiGiFIT water bottle or Contigo with the easy-to-push button.
  • Connect with your child’s teacher and request another quick walk-through before opening day.
  • For increased independence at lunch: practice at home! Pack the kids a lunch at home the week or so leading up to the first day of school so your child has mastered any zippers or packaging, for example.
  • For packers, the Bentgo box (here from Target) is perfect for lunchtime. It allows you to have everything available by flipping open its two tabs. No worries about opening packages! For juice boxes, either remove or partially open the straw from the plastic. For someone who requires a cold lunch, the PACKIT insulated lunchbox works great! It fit all these items without trouble.
  • To open lunch boxes or backpacks with ease, attach a metal ring to the zipper!

For our older children and teenagers:

  • Communication! Set up a plan for frequent contact that is easy for the teachers/staff and your family to manage. We create an online spreadsheet with each month as a tab, that way we aren’t endlessly scrolling by the time June rolls around. Plus I can make comments about upcoming doctor appointments or they can send reminders about materials needed. It’s so much nicer than texting! All team members and parents/caregivers have access so that we don’t have to repeat the same notes over and over. 🙂
  • Be organized. My daughter helps with packing her lunch and choosing the next day’s wardrobe the night before. This helps build her independence and gives her a voice, allows us to talk about the day, and helps to alleviate the morning hustle.
  • Have an after-school routine. Homework first works for us. Then read together and talk about what was learned that day.
  • Regularly send emails back and forth with teachers. Let them know of any situations at home that might be causing your child extra stress at school. The teachers appreciate this feedback to help them best support your child.
  • The biggest challenge my daughter faces is resetting her bedtime routine to an earlier hour! Start this at least a week or two ahead of the first day of school so it’s not as big of a change when the time comes.


Don’t we all struggle with that adjustment? We just want to hold onto the longer daylight hours of summer and later bedtimes for a wee bit longer!


Secondly, good advice comes from fifth-grader, Ellie Ochalek from Maryland who has Down syndrome. Her mom, Lauren, a friend of Lizz Maxwell, Site Director of GiGi’s Playhouse Cleveland, recently shared on Facebook:

Ellie wants other individuals with Down syndrome and their families to:

“Be an advocate.

Be brave.

And always be kind.”

Nailed it, didn’t she?

We must advocate. And, parents must teach their children to advocate for themselves as well.


Some ways to advocate in our schools:

  • Share information about your child/student with Down syndrome. Make a personal profile sheet to share with classmates and their parents. Dana, a GiGi’s mom to kindergartner Caden, did this last year for his pre-K classmates and parents. Grab your personal profile sheet here.
  • Ask the teacher to schedule Sara Van Deurzen, Operations Director at GiGi’s Milwaukee, to speak to the class or multiple classes about changing the way the world sees Down syndrome. GiGi’s Playhouse offers a variety of tools to help your school community become a Generation G community! Click here for our School Tools!
  • Do you have questions about IEP’s or Evaluations? Need an advocate for an upcoming meeting or just some support? Reach out to Sara, she is happy to help! Before her time at GiGi’s Sara was a Special Education Director and teacher within the MPS and Racine School Districts for 15 years and she has a kiddo with multiple disabilities so she is happy to be your advocate too!
  • Offer to read a book to the class or ask the teacher if she would read. Some great children’s books about Down syndrome, people differences and classroom inclusivity:

Eli, Included by Michelle Sullivan (This book is specifically about Eli’s days at school and is a favorite of mine.)

Different, A Great Thing to Be by Heather Avis

Everyone Belongs by Heather Avis

A list of other great books can be found here!


More Resources

  • Ways to advocate may be presented any time in the school year, but a great time might be during Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October or around World Down Syndrome Day on March 21st (also GiGi’s Milwaukee’s Anniversary!)
  • Advocating for what we believe in is brave. Sure, you could be met with resistance, but we must continue our efforts until educators naturally presume competence and inclusivity for persons with differing abilities.
  • In research for this post, Lizz came upon a site that references Nicole Eredics who moved to California from British Columbia, where she started her career in teaching. “In British Columbia the system is set up for mandatory inclusion. That’s the norm. All teachers were trained how to include every type of learner in their classroom. We all co-taught, and inclusion never happened in isolation.” Yes, Nicole! We love this!
  • Nicole shares some helpful back-to-school tips of inclusion here.
  • Be sure to check out the Down syndrome resources we provide on our website that offers printables, education videos and a deeper dive for anyone wanting to learn more and equip themselves to be their Best of All!

Down Syndrome Resources – Milwaukeee (

And lastly, as we interact with educators and others on behalf of what’s best for our child’s learning, let’s take Ellie’s final piece of advice to heart, “Always be kind.”


Please post your helpful tips in the comments below!


August 16, 2022
8:00 am - 5:00 pm
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