September brings with it transitions for most school children – whether it’s their first time in a new school or simply moving to a new class, how can you use the holidays to help prepare children for the change?
Get a map
Before starting a new school, see if you can obtain a copy of a map. Spend some time looking at it and discussing what each room is for and which ones your child is likely to use. An idea for an activity over summer might be to build a model of the school from cardboard, or to use chalk to draw a map out on the patio, but bigger so that you can have a “virtual tour” of the new environment and start to get used to where things are. This could easily be turned into a game by asking your child to show you where to get an apple (the canteen) or where you can find books (the library) etc. A prize/reward for each question answered correctly would help to start building confidence in using the new environment.
Practice getting ready
By doing some “dry runs” of the new routine in the morning, you can help your child to prepare for the term ahead. So, if you are stressed about how you will fit in breakfast, packing the school bag and getting dressed and ready for school, or potential meltdowns taking place – practise! On the first try, allow as much time as needed, and then on subsequent attempts, turn it into a game by running a timer and seeing how close you and your child can get to being ready “on time”. Rewarding each faster run with a small prize, leading to an ultimate “treat” such as a day trip or time doing something desirable when you are ready on time (or independently), can mean that by the time September comes around, the morning routine is a breeze for everyone.
Keep in touch with friends
If there are friends going through the same transition, it can be useful to keep in touch with them during the summer holidays and talk about what September has in store. Arranging to go into school with these friends on the first day, or to meet up with them during the day can help bring some familiarity to a day which will be full of new (and potentially stressful) situations.
Know the rules
When starting a new school, see if you can have a copy of the rules ahead of time so that you and your child can start to get used to them. Understanding expectations can really help to minimise the stress of potentially “getting in trouble for doing something wrong” for many young people. This could be turned into a game by putting scenarios on flash cards and asking your child to tell you if they are against the rules or not. You can use your imagination and make some of these silly and fun ideas in order to keep your child engaged in the game
Practice the journey
Depending on where you live and how you travel, practicing the journey to a new school might be worth doing – especially if you want your child to be able to do it independently at some point. Remember that doing this in the school holidays might sometimes give a false impression of what the trip might be like though – as trains and buses will get much busier once term goes back!
Join a club or do a new activity
Not only would this be a useful idea for staying busy over the holidays anyway, but it can also serve the purpose of getting your child used to meeting new people. This could prove to be of value to all children, but particularly those with autism or special needs where meeting new teachers or support staff is likely to prove to be challenging.
Make sure staff understand the needs of your child
Effective transition planning isn’t just about making sure that pupils are ready for the new term – staff need to be prepared, too! So – if you have not already had a meeting with your child’s new teacher or support workers then it’s time to make sure that they have copies of the Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or know they need to process one (where relevant) and understand how best to work with your child. If you didn’t have this meeting before the end of term in July – get one booked in for the start of September if you have a child with additional needs.
Use the holidays to de-stress
Having given the ideas listed above, it’s important to keep it all in perspective. Although planning for the new term is important, taking time out during the holidays to de-stress is also crucial. Take time to do activities that will help your child to relax, and they are more likely to start the new term in a relaxed state of mind. Find a balance between preparation activities and relaxing activities and with any luck – September will be a breeze!
There are plenty of excellent resources on the net which support transition planning. Two which I found particularly useful when writing this article are:
1 – Transition Toolkit – provided by the Autism Education Trust
2 – Moving On – provided by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
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