I had an email from a friend who has a child with ASD about how to prepare him for the changes in work from play based learning in Reception to the more formal learning in Year 1. Replying to her email reminded me of some of the transition support work I have done in preparing children for school / new classes and I thought I would share some ideas to help ensure that the move anxiety free.
Firstly, preparation is the key to smooth transitions. Some children will need more preparation than others so work out your own plan in conjunction with your school and other professionals working with your child (as appropriate).
One of the best ways to prepare a child for the new term is to visit the school and meet the teacher and other children, this is usually organised by the school at the end of the summer term or first thing in September as part of a gradual transition to full time schooling. If formal visits are not possible, taking the child to see the school (even just to drive past it!) will help make it a ‘real’ place.
If possible take photos the building, the classroom, the toilets, the library, the dining hall, the teachers / teaching assistants and anything else of interest. These can be made into a personalised 'starting school' / 'moving to year 1 (etc)' book. This personalised book can also include 'rules' as appropriate, for example, we have to be quiet in the library, we hang our coats on our peg, class x can play on the climbing frame on Wednesdays and we take turns on the computer.
It is important that the adults (teachers, parents, carers and other family members) connected to the child starting school are positive about the prospects of the experience, however it is also important to allow the child to express their fears and concerns. Books, for example, the Usborne First Experiences: Starting School or role playing school with favourite toys / puppets may help a child understand the process.
Another task that might help your child prepare for school is taking them ‘school shopping’, being taken to get their new school clothes, shoes and bags it can help build excitement about the experience and being able to chose items will add empowerment.
In the period before starting school, other skills that might be worth practicing include self-help skills - dressing, toileting and feeding, following routines and playing with similar toys to those used in school.
To prepare children who are already have specialist support in school, find out whether their support workers will be staying the same or changing next term. Evaluate the strategies used this year and look at how they can be implemented in the new classroom setting, for example, if the child was allowed to have quiet time out in a side room is there the space for this to occur in the new room? If the child sat for carpet time on a specific cushion / space - can this be transferred to the new class? Don't forget to ensure that angled writing boards and other specialist equipment is moved into the new class before the start of term.