At this time of year, the summer holidays are in sight! All my sessions start getting moved around to accommodate school trips, exams and transition days. As I remember from last year, if you have a child in their preschool year, you start to realise that starting school really is only a couple of months away! Since my daughter had been in childcare part-time since the age of 7 months, I really didn’t expect that to feel like a huge transition, but it really is! It’s an exciting time, but all parents worry about how their child will settle in and whether they will make friends. If your child has additional needs, this is even more worrying.
The transitions don’t end there either. Each new year group brings new things, and then there will be transitions to other schools later down the line – junior school possibly and certainly secondary school, and of course your child might move schools outside of the usual times for a variety of reasons.
Some children with language problems particularly struggle with transitions, and so they may need a bit of extra support in the run-up to a new school or class. So what can we do to help things to go as smoothly as possible?
- Communicate with the staff. If your child has additional needs, or you have any extra concerns, be open and honest about it and find out what support the school can offer. SENCOs, and sometimes class teachers, are often happy to meet up with parents to discuss any additional needs before the child starts – they want to be prepared for the year ahead just as much as you want your child to be!
- Visit the school with your child. There are usually a few visit days for all the children, giving them an opportunity to meet staff and the other children. These are great, but they are quite busy and can be a little overwhelming for some children. Ask the school if your child can come for another visit or two if you think this would be useful. Think about when would be a good time. For some children, visiting when the building is empty will help them to familiarise themselves with the environment. For others, this might make it even more confusing when they find the building full of people the next time they come!
- Take photos. For many children, especially those who struggle with change, making a transition book can be really helpful. Take pictures around the school – the classroom, the teacher, the pegs, the playground, the dining hall etc. Print them out and make them into a book. Then you can look through it over the summer holidays with your child and everything will seem more familiar in September.
- If your child finds certain clothing difficult to tolerate, introduce school uniform slowly and in a relaxed environment. Let them wear it around the house. Involve them in choosing it if possible, to help them feel more in control. Show them photos of children in the school all wearing the uniform so that they understand why they are being asked to wear it. Take a photo of your child in their uniform and put it into their transition book.
- Practise skills that your child will need or discuss strategies with the school staff to help them. Some skills to practice include approaching an adult to ask for help, putting your coat on and off, changing for PE, eating with a knife and fork, going to the toilet independently.
- If your child uses another means to communicate either instead of or as well as speech, make sure that the class staff are aware of how this works and talk to them about how this will work in the classroom. Eg if your child uses signing, do all the staff who will be working with them understand crucial signs like “help” or “toilet”? If your child uses an AAC device, how will this travel around the school with them and how will they ensure that it is available for your child to use all the time? (rather than kept safely in a cupboard?!)
- Talk to your child about the transition in a relaxed but positive way. If they are able to ask questions, let them do that and answer them as clearly as you can.
- Finally, try to keep a sense of perspective about the transition. Many children start school with difficulties in various areas of development – the likelihood is that the school will be used to working with children who struggle with communication in some way, and already have some ideas and strategies in place. Other children in your child’s class may also have difficulties. Also, although you are very aware of your child’s difficulties, very often, the other children don’t even notice and just accept your child as they are. Hopefully you will find your child has settled in better than you could ever have imagined!