It's that time of year when many of you are preparing your children for a new term at school.
I think back to the time Natty came to the end of her pre-school years and remember the stress and worry, the form filling and meetings, all mixed together with pride that she was making this huge step for the first time. I remember a lot of tears of worry, late nights of planning and the invaluable support of many professionals. In the current pandemic things are even more fraught with EHCP plans put on hold, social distancing to ensure and the struggle of home education for those of us who feel woefully under-prepared.
Whether your child is starting at mainstream or special school, or starting back after lockdown, you will want to get through this process as smoothly as possible to ensure the right package of support for your child.
So here are a few tips and ideas that worked for me, as well as some invaluable support groups that you can consult for advice tailored to your child's needs, whatever their stage of schooling.
Tips and Tricks for Starting School
1) Invest in the TRANSITION PROCESS
Natty knew the school she was going to because she had accompanied me to drop off her sister off there for 3 years and had met all the staff and pupils. Pre-school staff still invested a lot of time, bringing Natty and a small group of peers to the school for weekly play sessions in what was to be her new classroom with her new teacher throughout the last half of the summer term.
We read lots of books about school, and did sticker work and school related art too. There are loads of books available that can help children to get to grips with the idea of school, see our Pinterest board for ideas, and sit down together to read stories like this, so that they can learn more about the magic of school and what to expect from their new routine.
Going to School shows photos of children with Down's syndrome enjoying every aspect of school life and is available to buy online.
2) Make a TRANSITION BOOK
I took photos of key members of staff, teacher and TA and important areas of the school such as the dinner hall and the toilets. We then stuck the pictures into a scrapbook with the names printed underneath and talked about them during the summer holidays. This is important because 6 weeks is a long time in which to forget the great work achieved in 1). You could also use a talking book and record you or your child saying each name.
Meet up with children who will be in your child's class for safe play dates during the holidays if possible.
3) Let your child make choices about their UNIFORM
Perhaps choosing the shoes or school bag or pinafore/trousers from a choice of two. Buy plenty of uniform (I stocked up on cheap second hand items) so that I never became stressed when it was dirtied, wet, painted on or even ruined. I bought 10s of pairs of cheap pants so they could be thrown away if beyond washing. Leave two changes of everything at school.
Make uniform buying as simple as possible. Some stores offer special opening hours with a quieter atmosphere for children prone to sensory overload with bookable times. The store doors are also locked to remove the worry about children running away, something I know would have helped us enormously when Natty was younger.
4) ROLE PLAY school at home
Let your child dress in their uniform and make a school corner. Make it fun and exciting and tell your child how grown up they are and how proud you are of them. Natty loved practising sitting on a carpet for a short story and then getting a star sticker for good listening. We also bought story and sticker books about starting school to share together. Make a visual timetable of the week too.
5) Start at your CHILD'S PACE
Every child is different and their physical and medical needs vary. Natty was small and got tired very easily, so we started with mornings only and added one afternoon a week until she was full time. If she was tired at all I would pick her up at lunch time or even take a day off.
6) Children with a statement of SEN often benefit from FLEXI-SCHOOLING
This would not suit all children or families, but in yr 1 I chose to educate Natty at home each Wednesday. This allowed a slower, quieter day, where we could consolidate what was being learnt at school as well as working on life skills such as laundry or grocery shopping. We also had time to swim in the afternoons. We continued this until Natty asked to be at school with her friends every day. Ask your child's school for more information if you think this might work for them.
|You can flexi-school your child at home|
7) Try to build a good working relationship with your child's SENCO, TEACHER and TA
Make suggestions of ways in which you can help at school/home. Don't be afraid to voice concerns or worries early on too, as they are probably learning as they go along, just as you and your child are. Use a home/school diary to write about the day's/evening's events for each other. Use photos to prompt talking about the weekend.
8) Each child has a DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLE
Don't be afraid to suggest materials/methods that your child likes working with. See some of the sites listed below for ideas and chat to your child's teacher about using sign, symbols or song.
Make a visual timetable for the morning routine
9) Ask for an INTIMATE CARE PLAN
This can be put in place if your child is not fully continent when they start school. It will include where and by which members of staff they can be cleaned and changed if necessary. Your school will need a changing table and wipes, bags and even a shower. ERIC are the child continence experts and have resources and products on their website.
This, along with any requirements surrounding eating, drinking or taking medication should be noted in the EHCP. More advice on creating a plan to suit your child can be found on Special Needs Jungle. Let you child choose a new drinks bottle or lunch box to make eating and drinking fun, and don't forget to pop a lip balm in their school bag to prevent sore chapped lips. I developed a natural healing balm that stays put, smells nice and really heals Natty's lips, cheeks and even peeling cuticles. You can buy Lip Warrior via Etsy here.
10) There will be suggestions and exercises and from Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Educational Psychologists, Doctors, Computer Experts...
Sometimes it all feels overwhelming, but take what you can and what you think works best for your child and don't fret about doing it all all the time. Remember that above all else your child must enjoy school, make friends and learn to be as independent and confident as possible.
He or she is your wonderful child and not a case study, so enjoy your time with your child. Read Top Tips for Parents of a Child with a Learning Disability here.
Essential Contacts when your child with Down's Syndrome is starting school.
The Downs Syndrome Association produce a fabulous Primary Education Support Pack for teachers which covers all aspects from Inclusion to Numeracy Skills. It can be downloaded free or purchased on a CD ROM. Their Education Information Page also includes advice for parents, statementing support and SALT advice for children beginning Primary school.
Scope also have an Learning and Education Forum which provides support on all aspects of SEN and Mencap provide Education Support here.
The DSEI (Down Syndrome Education International, formerly DownsEd) have developed lots of super materials designed to aid reading, writing and numeracy skills such as See and Learn and Numicon sets. Their online shop can be found here.
For free, legally-based advice surrounding the Statementing Process, visit IPSEA. IPSEA can help with form filling, transport queries and what to do when a Council refuses to assess your child for example.
Tania runs the website Special Needs Jungle with news, information and informed opinion about SEN and disability for parents, by parents. She has written an invaluable book SEN - Getting Started with Statements a great place to start.
The Times Educational Supplement SEN produce worksheets and lesson plans for use by teachers working with children with additional needs.
More free posters, labels and worksheets can be downloaded from Twinkl.
Numicon make a highly visual set of numeracy aids. School sets and home starter packs are available via DownsEd (see above).
To help with reading and writing, read our Writing Tips here, which includes info on seating positions, pencils, pencil grips and writing slopes as well as Jolly Phonics sound system and Read Write Inc letter writing scheme (available from Amazon).
ERIC are the Childhood Continence Experts. Their site sells products to help with the toiletting process, whatever stage you are at, from protective underwear and swimwear to sheeting and story books for children to help with understanding.
And if your child is making the step to secondary school, the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities (FPLD) has a useful transition leaflet Moving on to Secondary School, available to download in Easy Read here.
You can also buy the book Inclusion for Primary School Teachers by Mum and teacher Nancy Gedge here.