Starting school is a big deal for both you and your child, and may be met by any number of potential responses. Some children will be excited, while others may be apprehensive, scared or just ‘not interested’ in leaving the comfort of their current routine. It’s also a challenging time for parents as you worry about how your child will cope, have you chosen the right school, is your child prepared for learning and will the other children treat them well?
With so many worries potentially on the minds of parent and child alike, it is no wonder that the transition to school can be a stressful time. However, there are a number of things you can do to help the transition go as smoothly and hiccup-free as possible.
Selecting a School
Research your options
Formal schooling is compulsory in Western Australia once your child comes of a certain age. However, there are a range of schooling options available, which gives you a degree of choice in where you wish to send your child to school. The best tool you can have in making this choice is information – gather whatever information you can from the schools in your area and from the Department of Education. Speak with family friends as well as other parents of children with speech and language delays.
Your schooling options include:
- The public schools in your local area
- Local private schools
- Education Support schools
- Schools located in proximity to Support Centres
- Language Development Centres
The Department of Education and Department of Communities, Disability Services have information regarding education for children with special educational needs, and school years support links which includes more information about some of these options.
Get a feel for the school
Once you have narrowed your options, organise a meeting with the school principal
to tour the school’s facilities and discuss your child’s needs. This will give you a better feel for whether the school has the programs, support and culture you’re looking for in your child’s school. The sorts of things you may want to consider include
- The physical facilities – How are the classrooms and play areas set up, is there room to run, how are the classrooms furnished?
- Resourcing – What sort of books, visual aids and IT/technology are available generally, and specifically what is available to assist your child with their speech and language delays?
- Learning practices – Will children be able to learn at their own pace, are there chances to work in smaller targeted groups and how many other students will be in your child’s class?
- Experience with children with speech and language delays – Has the school provided services to children with speech and language delays in the past (or currently), what did that service look like?
- Staffing – What specialists are currently onsite or could be accessed if your child joined the student body, is there/could there be any PD around speech and language difficulties for existing staff, how will staff communicate with you about your child and how will staff work to support the unique needs of your child?
Provide plenty of information when enrolling
Once you have selected a school, you will need to provide information about your child to the school. While the standard information will be collected via the enrolment forms you will need to complete, information about your child’s unique learning requirements will also need to be provided. Information you should provide includes
- Information about your child’s specific condition, such as a specific diagnosis or a particular area of difficulty
- Previous and current intervention or specialist programs your child is/has been involved in
- Specific learning needs or supports he/she will need
- Other relevant medical information or sensitivities
- Potential stressors or triggers that need to be managed
Preparing your child
One of the most important factors in your child’s transition to formal schooling is to start preparing them for it well in advance of the big day.
Start making small changes in your child’s routine
If your child awakes and is confronted with a completely different morning routine ‘out-of-the-blue’, then they are going to be unsettled and anxious before you even make it out of the house. In the lead up to your child’s first day, start introducing elements of their new routine incrementally.
- Start waking your child at school wake-up time.
- Follow the same order for getting ready in the morning as you would follow on a school day – Example: wake, breakfast, get dressed, brush hair and teeth, pack lunch/bag, puts shoes on then out the door.
- Allocate the same time to get ready in the morning as would be experienced on school days – Following the same routine will be less effective if, come the big day, you’re rushing your child to follow the routine faster than they have been doing.
- As you get closer to the first day, it may even pay to walk/drive to the school gates as you will do when school starts.
- Find out at what times the school will break for lunch and recess, and start
replicating the timing of meals at home.
Eliminate as many surprises as you can from the day. The more ‘predictable’ it is for your child, the more secure they will feel.
- Meeting the teacher – If possible, find out who your child’s teacher will be and organise to meet the teacher in advance. Whether or not a meeting is possible, talk about their teacher often to help build a sense of ‘knowing’ the person.
- Pre-established friends – If you know any of the children who will be in your child’s class, organise a few playdates in advance. New situations are less daunting if there are a few friendly faces amongst the crowd.
- Plan for success – If you know your child may struggle in a particular area, plan ahead with strategies to help your child overcome the fear or emotional turmoil they may experience. Example: If your child is very sensitive to loud noises, you may wish to expose them to the sound of the school bell or siren prior to starting their first day.
A sense of familiarity
Your child may struggle less with the transition to school if they are familiar with
the school and where they will find everything they need. Not knowing where to go to the toilet or where to eat lunch can be stressful for a child.
- Visit the school’s grounds a number of times – Familiarise your child with the location of their classroom, where the toilets and water fountains are, where they will play and where they will sit to each lunch. If possible, let your child play on the equipment and also let them see it teeming with other children.
REMEMBER! This is an important milestone for your child, so mark it with a special celebration at the end of the day.