The end of a school year is a highly anticipated and exciting event for teachers, parents and students. Achievements are celebrated, relationships are created, and memories are made. Year-end celebrations also signal a movement from one class or grade to another. In a few short months, there will be new teachers to meet, new classrooms to work in, new routines to learn and new material to master.
Children with special needs require extra attention during the shift from one school year to the next. A change in environment or routine can be disruptive. Without proper planning, adjustment to a new school year can be challenging. When a significant change is about to take place for a special needs child, schools will often set up a transition plan. A transition plan is designed to help ease the student into a new situation.
It is important for parents to know that they can also help transition their child into a new school year. More importantly, parents should begin preparing their child for the new school year before the old one is over! Preparation and support can continue through the school break, right up until the first day back to school. This strategy is known as “front-loading”. By “front-loading”, you are giving your child information and skills in order to make an experience or activity as successful as possible.
Here are some ways in which parents can help their special needs child prepare for a new school year:
- Find out who your child’s teacher will be for the next school year before the summer break.
- Meet with next year’s teacher, preferably before the current school year ends. Introduce your child and ask for a tour of the classroom. (If your child is new to the school, ask if you can see the rest of the building. Don’t forget to check out the playground!) You might also be able to meet with new support staff as well.
- Bring a camera during your meeting and ask to take photos of the new classroom, teacher and surroundings.
- Ask if any of your child’s friends will be in the same class. Try to maintain friendships through the summer break.
- Ask the teacher to provide you with the daily class routine so that you can review this schedule with your child at home.
- There are many books and computer applications for children that tell social stories. Provide your child with social stories that model appropriate behavior at school and with other children.
- Create a “Transition Book” for your child. This is a book about your child’s new teacher and class. You can use the photos you took during your meeting at the school. Look at the book regularly to help your child become familiar with the new environment.
- Once school has started, check-in with your child’s new teacher on a regular basis to see if the transition has been successful.
A parent can prepare their special needs child for a new school year by providing appropriate information, skills and strategies. This will help ensure that transitioning into a new class will be a positive experience.