Once your child starts school

Transition to School Resource

Starting school is an important milestone in any child and family’s life. For families of children with developmental delay or disability, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and as positive as possible.


 

What to expect

What to expect

What to expect in your child’s first weeks in a mainstream school

Many schools will have staggered starts for kindergarten children. This usually means that kindergarten children start on a different day to other students. In some schools, kindergarten students may start with shorter days in the first week of school.

You may wish to think about how your child might react in their first week/s at school and whether a gradual start may be helpful for your child.

Best Start Assessments

At some schools, kindergarten children will do an assessment on one of their first days at school. In NSW this is called Best Start.

The NSW Best Start initiative is intended to ensure that all students are on the right track in their literacy and numeracy learning by Year 3. The Best Start Kindergarten Assessment is designed to provide teachers’ with knowledge of where each child’s literacy and numeracy skills are at the beginning of kindergarten. This is so they can plan teaching and learning around children’s needs.

All children have the opportunity to participate. Teachers of students with confirmed disabilities get additional support to build a profile of the child. This helps them to plan quality learning programs for these students.

Click here to view specific information about how the assessment may be adapted for children with identified disabilitiy or additional needs.


What is likely to happen at school in the first week

In many kindergarten classrooms, the initial week will involve:

  • teachers emphasising the children’s social skills and getting to know all the children and their learning styles
  • children: 
    • doing a combination of structured activities (such as listening to a story at their desks) and unstructured activities such as free play
    • learning to move around the classroom in what are often referred to as “rotations” -
       where groups of children complete activities and then move to another area in the room to complete another activity
    • becoming familiar with the routines, rules and expectations at school

Expectations and classroom rules such as the 5 L’s of listening (legs still, hands in your lap, lips closed, look at the teacher and listen with your ears) may be taught in group lessons with visual support.

Click here for a link to a video about what happens in mainstream kindergarten including children showing and talking about their school day.

What will my child be taught at school?

Teachers in all NSW schools are required to teach a range of subject areas which are also known as Key Learning Areas or KLAs. These KLAs incorporate the national curriculum.

The 6 Key Learning Areas taught in NSW schools are:

• english (also referred to as literacy)
• mathematics (also referred to as numeracy)
• science and technology
• human society and its environment (HSIE)
• creative arts (including visual and performing arts such as drama and music)
• personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE)

Click here for ideas on preparing your child for school.

How your child might behave after school in the early days

The school routine differs from early childhood education and care settings and home, in terms of structure, routine and expectations.

This means that most children will be very tired at the end of the school day. It is quite common for children to show or act out their tiredness and emotions when they return to the security of their own home and family. This can occur even when their day at school has gone relatively smoothly.

Many families report that limiting their expectations and commitments after school in the first year is helpful. See also calming activities for before and after school.

Developing a positive relationship with the school

Developing a positive relationship with the school

Why is a positive relationship between home and school so important?

  1. When schools and families work together they can determine areas of priority and how best to work together. This is more likely to support the child’s skills in all areas of their life.

  2. Parents and carers know their child the best. Sharing your knowledge gives school staff a better understanding of your child. They can then build on this knowledge as they learn about how the child reacts to the new and different school environment. See also preparing for transition meetings and a "snapshot of my child" for ideas on how you can share what you know about your child.

  3. Shared problem-solving opportunities allow for parents/carers and school staff to brainstorm ideas and learn from each other.

  4. When people make decisions together, they are more likely to make a commitment and contribution to following the plan that is developed.

    Effective partnerships with schools require effort. Sometimes things may flow smoothly and at other times, it may be more challenging. From year to year teachers will have different communication styles.

 

Factors that help develop effective partnerships

Communication

“In our first year at school, I made an extra effort to build a good communication system with my daughter’s teacher. She said email would work well for her. I felt it was important to acknowledge and thank my daughter’s teacher when she let me know about what was happening at school. It really worked both ways. She would ask what was working for us at home and I would learn what did and didn’t work at school.”

Priya, mother of Shreya

 

Communication involves at least two active communicators

Remember that communication needs to go two ways. Respectful communication involves both people listening to each other and also having a chance to be heard as they share their thoughts, experiences and ideas.

Communicate openly and honestly

When communicating about your child, it is important to start with their strengths and what they can do. It can also be helpful to share any needs in a solution focussed way for example: “We have found that Jamie responds well to visual communication. When he sees a direction presented visually, he seems to understand it better than when we just say it to him.”

Your role:

  • share your goals – let the teacher know your priorities for your child’s learning
    try to keep the teacher informed about family priorities as they change and emerge
    give the teacher:
    • some space and be trusted to do his or her job
    • time to get to know your child as well as all the other children in their class
  • ask the teacher about what might work best in terms of regular ongoing communication with you

The teacher’s role:

  • a teacher’s first responsibility is to teach the NSW curriculum which is set out by the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES)
  • in mainstream or regular kindergarten classes, teachers will be responsible for the education of between 20 and 32 children
  • many teachers also have responsibilities outside of their class such as coordinating music or sport for the school

It is important to have realistic expectations of teachers and understand that their time will be limited.

Communication methods

Ask the teacher what might work best in terms of regular ongoing communication with you.

Availability and preferred communication methods may vary from one teacher to another.

Phone calls can be used as a communication tool in order to:

  • provide feedback on how things are going
  • let parents know about a particular situation (e.g. a teacher might use text messaging to advise when they will not be at school) - this can help you to prepare your child if they benefit from being prepared for changes to routines
  • check on progress around a particular goal

Email can be used as a communication tool in order to:

  • provide feedback on how things are going
  • hear about relevant information such as home life; goals and strategies related to therapy that happens outside of school hours

Communication books:

  • some teachers and parents may like to write in an exercise book which goes with the child to and from school; to share important information between home and school
  • time constraints may not always permit regular writing within communication books

Short conversations face to face before or after school:

  • These can work well for brief messages about something that the teacher or parent may need to know about at that time. Teachers may not have a great deal of time for detailed conversations immediately prior to and after the school day

Pre-arranged meetings with the teacher:

  • If a more detailed conversation is needed, it is usually advisable to arrange a specific time that suits you both. The teacher will then have time to listen and talk with you. This may be the best option to establish goals, determine strategies and share information about your child’s progress with their teacher. If necessary, it also allows other relevant people such as therapists to attend the meeting

By planning ahead you can all be prepared for the meeting and it is more likely to be productive.

Provide positive feedback to staff:

  • wherever possible, acknowledge any positive aspects of your child and family’s experiences with the school
  • praising any strategies that have been successful can help to let the teacher know what you feel is going well and this may make it more likely to continue

Becoming involved in the school community:

  • different parents will be able to be involved in their child’s education and the school community in a range of ways based on their:
    • available time
    • personal skills and resources
    • other commitments related to their children and work

Share ideas and come up with solutions together:

  • when parents and school staff work collaboratively, it is usually easier to come up with ideas and strategies to support children
  • by bringing together knowledge of the child at home and at school there will be more information to help find ways to support them


If concerns arise:

If you raise concerns or questions clearly and without blame or criticism, people will usually respond more positively. It may also be important to think about which concerns are a priority and whether it is the right time to raise them.

Remember:

 In Australia, it is a requirement for all education providers including schools to comply with the Disability Standards for Education (2005). These standards clearly state the need for all educational institutions to consult with the student or an associate of the student (e.g. parent, carer, or advocate) regarding how a disability affects the student's ability to access education or training. Consultation is also required when determining what individualisation of teaching will be made to support the child’s access to programs.

Calming activities for home

Calming activities for home

Many families may find that their children both with and without a disability, become quite tired by the end of the school day. For some children this may result in them sleeping and eating better. Others may have difficulty winding down. They may become easily emotional and over-tired which may affect how they adjust and behave at school and home.

“Down time” after school is important especially during the early days of attending school. Many families try not to arrange formal after school activities especially for the first term or so while their child is adjusting to the new routine of going to school each day.

Children may benefit from some calming activities before and after school. This can help them to be in a calm and alert state ready for learning and playing at school and relaxing at home. You may like to plan some time for some calming activities in your morning and after school routine.

It may be helpful to use visual schedules to show your child when calming activities will happen in their routine.

Click here to view an example of a visual schedule for after school routine.

Remember: What is calming for one child may be different to what is calming for another child.

Try a range of activities to find the ones that work for your child. Physical activity such as bouncing on a trampoline, riding a scooter or bicycle can help to release nervous energy and help a child to relax.

Listening to:

  • music through headphones or a stereo
  •  a recorded relaxation or meditation DVD, which may include prompts to breathe deeply and tense and relax muscles
  • watching a relaxing favourite television show or DVD (screen time may be calming for short periods of time)*
  • playing a familiar game on the computer or tablet*

*Monitor your child’s response to particular games or programs, as some may have a more exciting effect than a calming one. It is generally not recommended for children to have “screen time” in the hour prior to bed time, as this can impact on children’s capacity to fall asleep.

Breathing activities - taking deep breaths in and out. Use fun activities, such as blowing:

  • a pin wheel
  • whistle
  • harmonica
  • an inflated balloon across a table
  • bubbles with an easy to use blower

Deep pressure touch activities such as:

  • being rolled up like a “sausage roll” in a blanket
    squeezing their torso between two large cushions
  • squeezing a firm stress ball
  • massage

Tactile sensory play such as:

  • playing with favourite, comforting toys
  • water
  • play dough
  • plasticine

Rocking or swinging in a:

  • hammock
  • swing
  • rocking chair


Modelling calmness

Starting school and adjusting to the new routine may elicit a range of emotions for parents too.

When parents are able to show their children how they manage their own stress, this in turn helps children to learn how to regulate their emotions and calm themselves.

It is hard to help your child calm themselves when your own stress levels are high, so it may be important to work out what supports might be helpful to help you remain calm.

See supporting myself and my family which includes information about well-being and self-care for parents and carers.

Being actively involved in your child's education

Being actively involved in your child’s education

Continuing to be actively involved in your child’s education once they start school

“Our whole family are very involved in the whole school. This helps us get to know other children and the staff. I know I can’t rely on the teacher to do everything, because of all of her responsibilities so we can help with some things as a family. I couldn’t imagine not being involved. We’ve always been very involved. I also had regular meetings with his teacher which helps the teacher to be reminded of what he needs help with.”

Peter, father of Mitchell

Why is it important to be involved in the school community?

Different parents will be able to be involved in their child’s education and the school community in a range of ways based on their:

  • available time
  • personal skills and resources
  • other commitments (e.g. children and work)

Sometimes, grandparents or other family members are able to help. Even a small amount of time can have benefits for your own child as well as for the school community more generally.

Benefits include:

  • becoming more familiar with the routines, experiences, and curriculum which can help you to support your child’s adjustment and adaptation to their new school
  • providing opportunities to meet your child’s peers and their parents
  • helping the school

How can I be involved in my child’s school life?

Even parents with little spare time can be involved in the following ways:

  • participate in meetings with your child’s teacher and any support professionals, to discuss goals and strategies for their Individual Education Program (IEP)

This is a valuable opportunity to share your priorities and your knowledge of your child and adapt the goals in their IEP as your child develops and changes.

These meetings may only be held a couple of times a year, so it is important to:

  • communicate regularly with your child’s teacher (see Developing positive relationships with the school for different ways to communicate with the teacher)
    • share what you are working on with your child at home including any changes to routines, new goals, progress, or concerns (regular contact will also help you learn about what the school is focusing is on, so you can reinforce your child’s learning at home)
  • arrange play dates outside of school time which can help to strengthen your child’s friendships
  • practise particular skills that the teacher may suggest at home
  • talk about current classroom topics or current areas of focus with your child at home (e.g. animals in the zoo)

“Because the school was more curriculum focussed, I would ask what they were doing in class and then say we could work towards this at home too. I let the teacher know I was there to support what needed to happen to help my child learn.”

Hyun Jae, mother of Kwan

 

For those with a little more time

Ask your child’s teacher how you can be involved. This can help you to match your own skills, interests and availability to the needs of the school. If you aren’t able to help, maybe grandparents or other family members can. Children love knowing that their family is involved in their school.

You could also volunteer to:

  • listen to children read in the classroom
  • make visual supports or "social stories™"
  • cover school books or sharpen pencils
  • help in the classroom during literacy (also known as L3) rotations
  • assist with art or craft activities
  • be involved in the school’s Parents and Citizens (P&C) Association
  • assist with fund-raising events
  • help at sporting events and carnivals
  • attend school excursions
  • join the roster for the school canteen

“Getting involved in the school was really important. It gives you a nice presence in the school and allows you to give back.”

Karen, mother of Jason

Trouble-shooting guide

Trouble-shooting guide

“I think the relationships are the most important thing. Being aware that there often is not funding allocated for each child, but knowing that you can advocate anyway. Expecting that things might go smoothly for a while and then you may need to revisit certain strategies or change strategies.

Lisa, mother of Jake

 

Even with the best planning, there may be times when challenges or issues arise which require additional thought, discussion and input from different team members.

You can discuss concerns and come up with solutions with the school by:

  • thinking positive, that the situation can improve
  • being able to move forward from feeling overwhelmed by the situation
  • taking some time to think through how to express what you want to say
  • being able to look past a specific issue and look towards making a plan

Here is an outline to help you to assess the reasons for problems, tackle challenges and come up with possible solutions.

It may help to consider the issue at hand in relation to this "SOLUTION" acronym:

Start with what is happening now

  • what is the challenge?
    • communication?
    • need to work on additional skills at home or individual opportunities with our child to support learning at school behaviour?
    • need for training for school staff?
  • what strategies are already in place?
  • what has worked in the past for your child?
  • similar concerns may have arisen in the past, and there may be some strategies which have helped previously
  • If there are many challenges, it may help to start with the one which is impacting most at the moment


Observe and outline what is working and what could be adapted

  • observation may involve the class teacher and/or other professionals
  • an early childhood intervention (ECI) professional who is part of your team may be able to observe your child
  • observation notes should include an outline of what is currently happening in the classroom or playground when the issue of concern is happening
  • if the concern is a behavioural issue, notes should include what is happening before the behaviour and after the behaviour usually occurs. This helps to identify any patterns, triggers and accidental rewards for the behaviour

 

Listen to all involved and get some different perspectives

  • it is important to listen to what all parties have to say and make sure they feel heard
  • it can be helpful to allow others to express their concerns without blaming
  • by listening and gathering information from different people, it becomes easier to see the big picture and identify how to move forward


Understand the problem and be realistic about what can be changed

  • gathering information about a particular challenge and why it may be occurring, helps to understand the problem
  • understanding the nature of a problem can help to find a solution
  • it is important to be realistic about what strategies can be used

Tactics and strategies

  • gather ideas from across your team and brainstorm all possible strategies

Invent and implement a plan to monitor change and progress

  • make a plan with a few possible strategies
  • work out which strategy should be trialled first
  • decide on when to check whether things are improving, before trying other ideas
  • write down the plan, including who in the team will be responsible for doing what

Outcome – set an achievable goal or outcome

  • think about and write down what positive change you would like to see
  • it is important for any goal you set to be as realistic and achievable as possible
  • when goals are realistic, they are more likely to succeed and motivate everyone to continue working together

Now and next

  • work out:
    • what steps need to be carried out to put your plan into place
    • when you will re-visit the goal to check progress
    • when to review the plan to see how things are going

 

If things don't seem to be working out

There are times for all children when things do not go so smoothly at school.

Times which may be more difficult for some children than others include:

  • when there is a change of teacher or class
  • when friendships change
  • as the school week or term progresses and your child becomes more tired
  • when what is being taught becomes harder for your child
  • when there is additional stress or anxiety in the classroom or at home.
  • when your child is feeling unwell

When a challenge occurs, it is important not to panic, and lose hope. If you work with your team to think of new ideas and strategies to try the situation may improve.

The developing a positive relationship with the school, trouble-shooting guide, and advocacy skills sections may provide you with information to assist at these times. Also look at common challenges and strategies.

What if I am worried that this school isn’t working out for my child?


Before making big decisions such as changing schools:

  • talk with trusted members of your team and go through the process of trouble-shooting and thinking of new strategies to try
  • remember every school will have its good and challenging points
  • think about whether the reasons you are considering changing schools will be resolved at a different school or not
If, after talking with your team and considering all options in the current school, you decide that a change of school is best for your child and family. It may help to use considering what I know about my child and thinking about other school options.

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Starting school is an important milestone in any child and family’s life. For families of children with developmental delay or disability, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and positive as possible.

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