It’s now the last month of the school year and although September may seem a long way off, now is an important time to ensure the beginning of the next school year starts well. Managing your child’s transition successfully, whether it is the first year of going to school, or simply changing year groups, can make a big difference.
This is usually a busy time of year for schools, trying to juggle sport’s day, school trips, with leavers assemblies and camps. Most schools do also include a transition period, be it a few hours or a couple days, to help children feel settled in their new environment to help with the anticipated move in September. It is important for the children to meet and spent a little bit of time with their new teacher, hopefully in their new classroom. For the majority of children, this will be enough to settle their nerves and anxieties and help them look forward to the new school year.
There are some children, however, who need more support during a transition and it is important to identify those early to try and catch any anxieties before they build up and escalate. For example, imagine a child who often gets send to a different classroom because they are unsettled and disrupting other children in their classroom. They find out that their new classroom and teacher next year, is the one they often get sent too and told off in. If negative experiences are all he/she can associate with this room and teacher, how will he/she feel safe and be able to trust this new environment? There needs to be work done by the school to recognise how this already sets up a child to fail. With everything in life, you need to build up positive experiences again and again to build trust and safety. In this case, there needs to be opportunities for the child to bond with the teacher without the fear of being told off. Simply visiting the classroom to take a message to the teacher, or the teacher saying something positive to the child during a break time can make a big difference.
When children begin school, they often start on a part time basis. This can be very difficult, especially if parents work full time and are used to the child being full time in nursery. I, personally, find this a really encouraging way for children to begin their school life. Once again it is all about building up positive experiences. It may be that the school starts some children attending in the morning and some in the afternoon so that there are less children all in at the same time. This will help them settle into a new routine quicker, and also help the teacher get to know the children individually. It may also be recommended that some children stay on a part time basis longer than others. For children that find the school environment challenging, slowly building up their time in school can be very beneficial. A school is a noisy, busy place, full of new smells and sights. For a child whose senses get overloaded easily, this is a hard place to be for a whole day. Imagine you are watching a TV that is constantly flicking through the channels, never stopping – you would want it to be turned off. That is what it is like for some children at school with all the noise, movement and smells. They may be able to cope for an hour or so, but when they are working so hard to try and cope with this, they will get tired and unfortunately move into survival mode of fight, flight or freeze, if they cannot escape what is going on around them. By keeping them on a part time basis and gradually working up to full time it, hopefully, allows them longer to find strategies to cope when school becomes hard for them. More positives will grow from coping for two hours in school, rather than a full day when they then can get very tired and are unable to follow instructions at the end of the day and so go home feeling angry, frustrated and generally unhappy about school. It is far better to have an hour or two when all has gone well and they then look forward to going back to school the following day.
The key to a good transition is communication. Parents know their child best and if they feel that the child has worries about the move, they need to tell someone, be that the current teacher, SENDCo or even the Headteacher. If they are unaware of your child’s feelings, they are unable to help. Most schools will do everything they can to ensure the transition goes smoothly.
Whatever your child feels about the transition, listen to them, make sure they feel heard. Ask them is there anything you can do to help them? If you have a negative opinion about a teacher try not to share it with your child. They need to feel trusted and safe at school and if your child doesn’t feel you trust their new teacher that can cause anxieties. Older siblings are likely to tell their younger siblings their opinion and that is to be expected, whether they are positive or negative thoughts! Just try and ally any fears and find a positive to focus on.
It is always scary having a new teacher, especially if you know your new teacher is strict. I still remember finding out that my new teacher in either Year 4 or 5 was to be Mrs Roberts. She was known as the dragon of the school, always telling children off and never seeming to smile when I saw her around the school. I was pretty much petrified of having her! However, she ended up being one of my most favourite teachers. I still remember a time having to do a presentation at the front of the class and a friend of mine, (Jenny White), laughing or making me laugh. Well, Mrs Roberts answer to this was put a tea towel over Jenny’s head so I couldn’t see her! After a huge laugh, I did then manage to carry on. For a teacher that had always seemed so strict around the school, she had a great sense of humour, great classroom management and huge respect from some of her children. Unfortunately, she is no longer with us, but to this day I still loved every moment in her classroom that year. We can’t control some of the decisions in our lives and if I had had a choice about the teacher I could have had, it would never had been Mrs Roberts because of my preconceived ideas of her. However, for me, over 30 years later, that lady has still left an imprint on my life for the better.