Back to school? Top tips for a new term

The Summer is almost over and for many children that means a new teacher, a new classroom, a new school, or even starting school for the very first time. Hayley Goleniowska from DownsSideUp has a few pointers to smooth the way.

Invest in the transition process

Visit the school with your child as many times as you can before they start, preferably the term before. Read lots of books about school and try some school-related art too. There are loads of books available that can help children get to grips with the idea of school, so sit down with them to read stories together. This can help them learn more about the magic of school and what to expect from their new routine.

Make a transition book

Take photos of key members of staff, teachers and Teaching Assistants as well as important areas of the school such as the dinner hall and the toilets. You can stick the pictures into a scrapbook with the names printed underneath and talk about them during the summer holidays. 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 play dates during the holidays if possible.

Let your child make choices about their uniform

Give them controlled choices, 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. Ask school if they have a stock of second-hand uniform for sale.

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. Our daughter 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.

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 in the first years of school, 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.

All SEN children are entitled to be flexi-schooled

This would not suit all children or families, but in Year 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, but the possibility is there to return to flex-schooling at any point.

Build good relationships with your child’s SENCO, Teacher and TA

Don’t be afraid to voice concerns or worries early on, 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 discussion about the weekend.

Don’t be afraid to suggest materials/methods that your child likes working with. Each child has a different learning style. See some of the sites listed below for ideas, or give the list to your child’s teacher.

Ask for an intimate care plan

If your child is not fully continent when they start school an intimate care plan can be vital. This will include where and by which two members of staff they will be cleaned and changed. Changing table and wipes, bags etc. This, along with any requirements surrounding eating, drinking or taking medication should be noted in the Statement.

Enjoy school!

There will be suggestions and exercises from Speech and Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Educational Psychologists, Doctors, IT 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. Enjoy your time with your child.

Useful resources

Special Needs Jungle is your first port of call for all SEN-related advice.

The Downs Syndrome Association also produces a 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 has produced a set of education resources for supporting disabled children in mainstream education, called the Learning Together Guide.

The Down Syndrome Education (DSE) – formerly DownsEd – have developed lots of super materials designed to aid reading, writing and numeracy skills such as See and Learn. Their online shop can be found here. They also stock Numicon sets.

For free, legally-based advice surrounding the Statementing Process, visit IPSEA. They can help with form filling, transport queries and what to do when a Council refuses to assess your child for example. TES 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.

Amongst other resources, Makaton provide a free Back to School pack of symbols which you can download here. NetBuddy (now part of Scope) run a tips and tricks website. Parents write in with ideas to help with anything from hairbrushing to keeping glasses on or surviving car journeys. Worth a visit if you need advice or have a top tip to share.

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 here.