Sunday, 20 June 2010

End of School Year Transitions

Now is the time of year when changes are on the horizon and have to be introduced carefully and thoroughly. September will see children in new classes and new schools and it can be a confusing and worrying time for all.

From the school side of things, what we try and do is ensure the annual review meeting comes towards the end of the school year if the child is moving up to junior school in order for the new teacher and SENCO to attend and let the parents know what their intentions are for providing for the child. The existing staff can also pass on what they know and what information the new school will need in order to makes the child's transition as smooth as possible.

It is helpful for the current LSA/teacher to write a short 'crib-sheet' for their successor with tips on how to help this particular child learn, behave and settle in. If you have worked with a child consistently for several years, you will have definitely learned a few tricks and strategies that will be invaluable to the person taking over.

Generally, children will have just one introductory visit to their new school/class, but in the case of a child with Down's Syndrome, it is advantageous to have at least two or three. They should be shown their new classroom and teacher/LSA and told all sorts of encouraging things about what they will get up to in the coming year.

If possible, get photographs of the outside of the school, the new classroom, teacher, LSA and anything else that might be relevant in the new setting and make a simple book for the child to take home and look at over the holidays. Write simple sentences underneath each photograph e.g. "This is Mrs......., she is my new teacher" Encourage the parents to make it a regular activity over the holidays to look at this book and coach the child as to what they can expect in September. This should be done for the transition between pre-school and infants too, and even between juniors and secondary.

We always worry that the child will miss the current LSA when they move on to a new school, particularly if they have been with the same person for a number of years. However, while it will be a challenge for the child to come to terms with the new surroundings and people, I doubt very much that they will miss the old school as much as we adults expect them to. Quite frankly, they have too many other exciting things to think about! It is a very good idea to try an ensure that their best friends are put in the same class with them - this should be emphasized at the review meeting as having a friendly familiar face in the same class is very important when making a transition between schools. When my daughter went to secondary school, her best friend unfortunately went to a different school and for some reason none of her other choices were in the same class. It made life a little difficult to begin with, although she soon made new friends.

If possible, parents should ensure that their child is actually present for first and last days of school. I know it is frustrating to have to pay extra for holidays during the school holidays, but if you have a child with Down's Syndrome you also have to consider how detrimental it is for them to turn up at a new school a few days after everyone else, when the other children have had a chance to get acclimatised, make new friends and learn the new routines. It makes it even more confusing than it would be if they started at the same time as everyone else.

If everyone does their job, both parents and school, these transitions should go smoothly with as little upset to the child as possible.

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