There are two parts to successfully completing the move from primary to secondary school: forward planning by parents, and building trust, confidence and familiarity in children.
A Plan for Parents
Finding out involves making checklists for phone calls, organising meetings and school visits, and gathering any information or formal paperwork that is needed. Start a file or folder and create a checklist for issues or concerns with:
- School environment
- Safety and social relationships
- Academic tasks including homework
- Transitions and routines
- Personal belongings
Talking about change is crucial as the transition to secondary school coincides with the onset of adolescence, a period of significant emotional, physiological and psychological changes. Inevitably, this has an impact on friendships, social groups, environments and methods of teaching and learning. Starting these conversations early, rather than at the moment of impending transition, will help to tackle worries and concerns before they become problems.
Communication in the classroom is particularly important for students who experience difficulties with receptive and expressive language, and might include agreeing verbal and non-verbal tools or strategies with school staff. It is important that these are determined before school begins.
Coping strategiess include activities and resources that will assist your son or daughter to manage potentially stressful situations within the school environment. These might include making communication cards or developing behavioural scripts for scenarios such as:
- Feeling unwell
- Changes to routine
- Getting lost
- Forgetting homework
- Transition between classes
- Sensory overload
Managing the school environment is a significant task for both parents and students, particularly during the first year of secondary school. Changes to the practical aspects of school-based learning include an increase in academic subjects, organising the books and materials associated with those subjects, an increase in workload and in particular homework, and maintaining high quality communication between home and school. You need to be clear about how you are going to manage these changes at home, to reduce any stress or confusion for your student.
Individual Transition Plans completed by the student, their parents, and support professionals are a very useful method of transferring knowledge about strengths and challenges. Indeed, in the absence of an Individual Education Plan, it ensures that needs and reasonable adjustments to the learning environment are communicated well before the moment of transition to secondary school. Nowhere does it say that this is not allowed.
Activities for Children
The following activities can be completed over the course of the final year in primary school. You should do these activities together, and use a scrapbook to gather any information that is needed. If you are handy with word processing you could make a workbook and have it spiral bound at a printing shop. If you are an all out creative type, an eBook will make it extra special.
Finding out more concrete information about the physical surroundings and features of their new school can be enormously reassuring for young people. This activity also provides opportunities for meaningful conversations that can address anxieties, and indicate areas for further discussion or action. Answering basic questions such as:
- What does my school look like?
- Who will I meet?
- What will I do?
- Where will I go?
ensures that students become knowledgeable and confident about how secondary school works. Here’s a tip. Find out if the school hosts a Summer / Christmas Fair, Bake Sale, Car Boot Sale etc etc. Make sure you go to them all. Develop a sense of familiarity (and have a sneaky look around the classrooms, dining room, toilets etc).
Talking about changes should encompass all aspects of change in people, activities and environments, including:
- Lessons and subjects
- Sports and PE
Knowing where to go and what to do during break and lunchtime periods can be a source of great anxiety.
Getting organised and managing time needs to focus on getting to grips with:
- school bags
- books and materials
What time do I need to get up in the morning, how will I get to school, how will I get home? You can use checklists, visual timetables or a whiteboard to help with this.
Things that can help me are activities for developing coping mechanisms. Identifying and using ‘safe spaces’, or ‘go to’ people in the school environment is an activity that can take place closer to the move to secondary school, and should form part of the school visit. Introduce school rules and why they are important. Now is the time to talk about differences in social situations, for example, what happens at break and lunchtime, managing large groups, teasing and bullying, and who to go to and how to ask for help.
You can read more about planning and preparing school transitions and the resources I have created for each of these activities in Ready, Steady, Go! Planning the Transition to Secondary School: A Workbook for Children and Families. I hope to have this published in January 2017 😉