24 June 2020
Sport is my greatest passion (family and friends are excluded for the purpose of this exercise) and, during this time of nationwide sporting lockdown, has led me to watching repeats of sporting events from yesteryear to provide my athletic hit! The most noticeable thing about sport from many years ago is the lack of preparation there was compared to the ‘marginal gains’ sporting world we see today. Equipment looks heavy and archaic in design, wingers in rugby still resembled willo the wisps rather than giant robotic speed machines. Pitches look like mud baths rather than a royal lawn. Also, a coach and a bucket and sponge man seemed to suffice rather than a seemingly endless support team. Time has certainly moved on!
It is perceived (and widely agreed) that improved preparation leading to those marginal gains will lead to greater outcomes. In the world of education this is no doubt true also but, after all these years, are we getting transitioning to school right for our young people? Transitioning into the very first steps of education can be traumatic for everyone particularly the most vulnerable such as those with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). This is different for every child and every parent and I don’t believe that one size fits all.
Selecting a school that can not only show understanding of your child’s needs but that has an empathy and a willingness to listen and adapt their provision is paramount in the initial stages. No question is a foolish one and relate them all to your child’s needs. Share information as widely and succinctly as possible to allow for the best possible preparation. Schools are at their very best when they combine the formal information they receive and the informal nuggets provided by parents (consciously and subconsciously!) to plan for vulnerable students.
As parents we can support this transition better than anyone. Last year my daughter started at university, it very quickly took me back to 14 years earlier and taking her first steps into education. She was excited, a little nervous and full of questions, I was worried sick with no real answers for her. The only real difference was a very expensive trip to IKEA as opposed to the pied piper trip to the school outfitters. It is a time full of worry for parents but there is plenty we can do for our pre-schoolers.
Parents can create a structure that supports our children. As adults we use calendars and planners all the time to support us in our day to day lives including appointment calendars, lists, weekly meal planners, workout plans or setting reminders on our phones (I’m afraid yellow sticky ‘Post-its’ rule my world!). Visual support tools are an incredibly effective way to enable children to follow routines and develop independence skills and this is very much the way schools will operate. Many schools have a staggered start at the beginning of the reception year, meaning that initially children may be attending mornings only or on specific ‘settling in’ days. This can be a little confusing without something visual to refer back to. An additional benefit to using a visual calendar is that it supports children’s development of conceptual language relating to time (days of the week, morning, afternoon, before\after) and the development of early literacy skills (tracking from left to right\ top to bottom, understanding that pictures and text carry meaning, reading labels).
Reading stories about school is a fun, non-threatening way to help children to begin to think about what school might be like. Talking about relatable characters, rather than themselves, may help them to gain some understanding before talking about their own feelings. Jake and his toy tiger Tizzy are the central characters of a series of eight picture books about the day to day life of a pre-schooler. The books focus on familiar activities such as attending nursery, celebrating a birthday and playing hide and seek.
I went down the positivity route and drip fed positive vibes for months in advance. It remains unclear whether this was for me or my daughter but certainly had a reassuring effect on the both of us! This is particularly important in the early days and when you are leaving them at school in the first few weeks. If you are positive, they are more likely to be positive. Equally if you are feeling nervous or anxious it is likely to rub off on them. You may well be feeling nervous yourself or perhaps struggling with returning to work and leaving your little one. Try to talk about and manage your feelings away from your child – kids often pick up on far more than we think.
Children with any kind of additional needs are particularly vulnerable at transition times. This must be a team effort and we all have to play our part. Education, like the best sporting teams, are successful if they share common goals (ensure a clear plan is place for your child from day one), prepare well (do all you can as a parent to prepare for the big day) and are willing to communicate and adapt (maintain an open and honest two way dialogue with school). Good luck!
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