We have found social stories to be a fantastic to help children prepare for such a big change ahead and have used Special Stories for many years now - creating stories to help through the transition from start to finish. Special Stories allows children to become familiar with new environments, new faces and new routines in their own time, preparing them for the big experience of starting school or returning to school after a break.
1. Have a long transition period
One of the biggest transitions for children is from home into nursery or kindergarten, where children's routines are completely changed and they are surrounded by many new people in an environment they have never been to before. Each year small transitions take place for many children already in school as they move up to their next class, and these transitions should hopefully become easier over time.
Another big transition is moving into secondary school from primary or from elementary to high school. Children often also move from one class teacher and one classroom for the year to an entire school environment to navigate with multiple teachers daily with a complex timetable moving around the school to different rooms, different teachers and different lessons on a weekly or termly rota. This is a significant change for all children so it's important to remember not to rush anything when they are migrating between very different environments and routines.
The transition needs to be long enough to support your child so that they have a good experience and settle in well in their new setting. It also needs to be long enough to ensure a smooth handover between settings. Transitions over a longer period provide time as well as multiple opportunities for children to try school at different times of the day. They may go with the rest of their class, they may go to lessons as a small group, or they may go alone with support staff, they may go more times than their peers. For young children their parents may often accompany them during their transition, and also at the start of the new academic year to help them settle into their new surroundings.
2. Transitioning never stops
Transitioning never stops. It continues even once they leave their old school, over their school vacation and into the start of their next academic year. There is plenty of opportunity during the school holidays to talk about transition and support your child yourself. The support starts as they are leaving their old school, during the summer break and then at the start of the new term.
Teaching staff may have created social stories about the new school environment, the new staff faces and roles and what their new routine would be like. It can be a great help to go though this during the holiday or vacation.
3. Take your child’s lead
School transitions can be a difficult time to navigate through. All children are different, so take their lead. Watch and monitor their behaviour during the transition period, as it will allow you to understand if they are comfortable with the change or anxious, nervous and needing more support. Many children have speech and language problems so they may use different ways to communicate their feelings to you.
The teaching staff at your child's school will have their own transitioning routines at the start of the academic year to help settle children quickly into the routine of the school day. They have done this many times before with other children. If you are worried about anything then ask, as they may have some tips and techniques that they've used successfully with other kids.
4. Plan the school transport routine
If you child has different or special transport arrangements, ask if you can meet drivers and escorts before the first day of school. Ask if you can take pictures of the driver and car or bus so your child knows how they will get to school.
Ensure you have their contact numbers and they have yours, confirm the transport pickup times for the start and end of the school day, if they are being handed over or dropped off, check that they have the name and contact details of the school and key school staff members to talk to if there is a problem.
When children start or return to school it can be a very worrying time for parents, and it can seem like a long time from them leaving in the morning to returning home at the end of the day. Ask the school if they can give you a courtesy phone call or email or text if you have worries and anxieties to let you know that your child has arrived at school ok and has settled in class.
You could test drive the route to school and let your child know what the journey is like, how long it will take and landmarks to look out for. This helps get them uses to idea that they will be going to a different place when school restarts.
5. Ask questions and get answers to your questions
Talk to people in your group of friends or support network. Remember that your network includes your online friends, as well as local support groups who can offer advice and signpost information. Ask as many questions as you have and get answers so that you can then handle any questions your child may have.
Talk to staff at the school as they are involved with many children's transitions every year. This whole process is new to you so ask them what happens and when. Ask what steps are involved generally for all children and what extra things do they anticipate for children with SEN and anything specific to your child.
If the same staff have supported your child in school for a number of years, ask them if there is anything they think is needed to support this next transition to make it a successful. Sometimes even small changes can be helpful. It may be best if your child is last in the line up into school and their peg or locker is the nearest one so that they don't need to get past the other kids to put away their coat and school bag.
If your child needs medical supplies or spare clothes then you could ask if school could keep spares in school so that these are not in their school bag and they are more like the other kids. Each child is unique and their needs may well differ and change over time. Ask yourself what they need and ask school how these needs can and will be accommodated.
We hope your children are able to have a successful and smooth transition to their new school or class. Learn more about our Special Stories app which can support school transitioning and home-school communication, as well as helping children and young adults develop life skills. Discover our full range of apps to support children in their journey through school.