Tag Archives: school transition

How do we support children through transition during COVID 19

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This is a question I and the team I work with have been giving a lot of thought to. I also delivered some training for Wandsworth this week looking at how we can make this work during COVID times.

In ordinary times we would arrange visits to schools/ classes/ nurseries. In ordinary times children would be in school and nursery, however, as we know these are not ordinary times. Below are a few ideas we will be using and I have suggested to Wandsworth they could try.

Videos

During the lockdown, we have all become more competent at making videos. I have suggested to schools and nurseries that they could make a video of the new classroom, to show the children what it will look like, show them any of the key areas you think the children need to know e.g. outdoor space, dining hall, toilets, pegs, carpet time, creative area, toys. Another way to do this is to include the children you have currently in school/ nursery, ask them what they think the new children need to see.

Video of staff, one important part of the children’s transition is for them to meet staff, many settings do home visits and visits to the nursery or the school, allowing the staff and children to meet each other. This may not be possible this year. One suggestion is for the new staff to make a short video of themselves to send to the children, telling them their name, a few things they like to do, how they are looking forward to seeing the child, this will go a long way to help the child feel familiar and in touch. They can also then re-watch this film, helping with that familiarity.

Photos

For some of our children they may not have access to watching videos, as an alternative, you could make a small photo book of the important parts of the school, include photos of the teacher, Ta’s ( nursery staff if it’s a nursery transition), again you could involve the current children in this. Pull these together into a simple PDF document, if possible print them and send them to the children, encourage the parents to look at this over the weeks before they return.

Books and play

During normal times in the weeks running up to transition, settings will be reading stories to children about moving to school, having school uniforms for children to try on, they may be playing games about going to school. These things can still happen, encourage parents to buy the uniform, and let the children try it regularly. There may be an issue about cross-contamination with clothes in the nursery, to get around this have the uniform from the school hanging up or photos of children wearing the uniform, this is all about helping children to recognise, be familiar, with this change and what will be new. You can still read books to children, there are many books available which you could use. Suggest books to parents they could read to their children, if purchasing books is difficult for parents you could film a member of staff reading some of the books and email the video out to families.

Social story

Make a social story about going to school for the children to take home. The social story we use is a simple story about a girl called Lily who is going to school, through the story we ask questions to enable a conversation and discussion. An example of the questions in our story are below:

  • Lily is going to her new school, it is called Camerton primary, where are you going to school?
  •  Lily’s school jumper is blue, what colour will your school jumper be?.
  • Lily is going to school with her friend Megan, which friends are going to your new school?
  • Lily will be going to school on the bike with her Dad, how will you get to school?
  • Lily will be having school lunches at school, she likes eating jacket potato, what will you do at lunchtime?
  • Lily is looking forward to playing with the pirate boat in the classroom, what are you looking forward to at school?
  • Lily is a little bit worried about playtimes, the playground has a big climbing frame and she is a bit scared about that. Does anything worry you about school?

This is a simple tool to design and use, it enables staff or parents to have conversations with the child about the school they are going to and how they are feeling about it. We have a photo on each page of the story to make it more visually appealing. This is just an example that you could adapt.

These are just a few ideas, but hopefully will help you to think of other ways too that we can still support during this transition. 

At the end of July I have a new book being published withJessica Kingsley Publishers, the title is Supporting Young Children Through Change and Everyday Transitions: Practical Strategies for Practitioners and Parents. It has a chapter on the transition to school/nursery, a chapter on bereavement, and another on separation, along with other chapters covering other changes children experience. 

Transitions

 

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Schools in England and Wales are back this week. A new start for teachers, support staff, and children. Transitions are essential for new starts, the whole process of buying new school shoes, school uniform. For four years old, having conversations about school, trying on their new uniform, walking past the school and looking through the fence during the holidays. For children going into year seven trying out the journey before school starts, conversations about how they will do lunchtimes, whether they take lunch with them or have lunch there, the agreements over what food it is ok to have for lunch and what is not. For staff, preparing new resources, planning, these are all part of the transition preparation.

There are so many transition preparations that we do, that we can often forget about the significance of them. The first term for me in my nurture role is all about transitions. I have worked with staff and met the new children at the end of the last term, I am hopeful that the schools have put in place my recommendations for the individual children. There is a danger in this current climate that we can be inclined to rush transitions. I know many schools who are now choosing to have their four-year-olds start in school, full time from day one. I know some in Oftsed recommend this, and many parents would prefer this. Personally, I think the staggered start is better for children and teachers. I am often told again and again that children are in the nursery for so many hours now, the staggered start does not make sense anymore. However, a nursery is very different, even with reception classes following the EYFS, a nursery is not the same as school. Starting school is stressful, often the buildings are big, they are often noisy, there are different rules, there are more children in the class and fewer adults to support you. I believe children need time to adapt and staff needs time to get to know the children. We want children to start school from a positive place, we want children to feel supported and safe in school, we need them to have a good wellbeing, this is essential. I believe by staggering the start, even if it is by a week of half days and then a week of half-day and lunches and then third-week full time, this slower start helps children to get used to the changes, it helps children to become familiar with the changes. Of course, for parents, this can be really hard to manage with their time, and I do understand that, but I still believe for children’s good wellbeing, a staggered start is better.

In my family we have a big transition this year, our youngest is going to University in a few weeks, we will have moved over the last few years from a household of four going back to being two. This year our daughter has had a gap year, we have talked a lot about transitions, for her and for us and this has been good. This summer my husband and I have been away for quite a few weekends, partly work, partly seeing friends, partly time away together, to remind ourselves of the importance of quality time together. I am so aware it is easy to let changes happen without really planning or thinking about it, so I have tried to be very intentional and aware and to prepare ourselves for the next transition.

Start of a new academic year

 

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The bulk of my work is as a nurture consultant, supporting 4 yr olds in their reception year. Starting school is a major transition and can be so overwhelming for children and parents. The children I and my colleagues support have been identified as needing some extra nurture and extra support. However, in the first few days and weeks, all the new children ( and many of the parents ) need that extra nurture and support. The move to school is such a big change, even for those children who have been in early years settings full time. They are taking on so much new information, new experiences, there are not as many staff as there were in the nursery, the school is often louder, bigger, lots of children. There are many new noises, sights, sounds, smells, everything is often different, that can be so overwhelming even for the most confident and able child.

With all these new changes children will often be exhausted, I often hear parents who have had children in full-time nursery say that school shouldn’t be any different. It is important to understand that change is tiring, change makes us as adults feel exhausted. Think about when you started a new job; I bet you were exhausted at the end of the week; it is just the same with our children. The brain is taking on so much new information, it is working so hard, and this is tiring. So my tip is whether your child is starting infant school, junior school or senior school expect them to be very tired at the end of the week. Acknowledge this and support them with these feelings, they may well be more snappy, emotional, irritable, be there for them in these feelings. Acknowledge how they feel and validate those feelings for them. It is ok to be tired and to feel overwhelmed and to feel a bit scared at the start of something new. Be kind and gentle to them; this is a time of big change, they need to be supported and nurtured.

Also as parents, this can be a hard time for us, many of us cried when our child started school or senior school ( or university!), we can feel worried about how they will survive, overwhelmed by the change that is happening. Be kind to yourself, offer yourself kind words, do something that makes you feel happy, that might be eating cake or going for a run or a swim, speak to someone you know and trust about your feelings.

Transitions and closures

 

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We know that attention to transitions is so important. So much of my nurture work is about helping children to cope with transitions. So many children find transitions hard. In many primary schools last week and this week children are finding out who their new teacher will be, year six children have had their move up day to senior school. Children who are moving into reception will have visited and met their teachers.

Unfortunately, transitions don’t always get the full attention that is needed. In our role as nurture worker, we spend all year talking to staff about transitions. Over the years I have seen a few ideas/practices which have been brilliant.

Making photo books for children about their new setting/ classroom- this can be shared at home over the holidays

Having school uniform in the nursery to dress up in

Taking a video of the new setting to watch at home or in nursery

Meeting new teacher ( lots) if the child is in a school having lots of opportunities to visit the new teacher/classroom- ideally for weeks and weeks ( not just a few days!)

Making photo books with the children about what they like in their current class or nursery and share this with their new teacher, getting the children to take the photos.

 

As well as transitions for children we also need to think about closure. For some staff who have been working 1-1 with a child, this can be a very strong relationship, and it can be hard for the staff when this work is closed. We need to give attention to our feelings about the closure and the child moving on. It is ok to feel sad about the work ending, and we need to acknowledge that. It is important that staff have someone they can de-brief with and also that they are praised and thanked for their work. Also as individuals, there are things we can do to acknowledge the work ending, this week I was encouraged to think about this in my role. This year I have worked closely with two children, where the work has been at times very emotional, my boss suggested I planted something, in nurturing a plant it can help to bring a sense of peace to a situation. I followed her advice and planted some alpines (photographed above).

 

 

Making memories

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During this last week in my nurture work, I have been thinking about how I help children to make good memories about their time in reception class. This is part of my thinking and preparing around transition work. For the children I am working with some transitions are the movement onto the next class at the end of the school year, and for other children, it is transitions of moving away.

One of the activities I do each year is get children to take photos of what they enjoy doing in school, the children love this, together we wander around the classroom and school, and they take photos of the things which are important to them and that they enjoy. I usually make these into a simple book for them, but this year I have bought scrapbooks, and I will print out the photos and get the children to stick in their photos and make comments about their photos. We will also take pictures over the coming weeks of activities they are enjoying in school; this might include a picture of their TA and teacher, hand prints of them and their friends. We will use this scrapbook together to share with their future teacher and Ta and then the child can take it home with them over the holidays, to share with family and remember their good memories.

As adults we have an important role in helping children to make positive memories about their time with us. Having positive memories that we can recall enhances children’s wellbeing and also our wellbeing. I know when I am feeling stressed or low I will look at photos of positive times with my family and friends , this helps me to remember times when I felt happy.

As well as thinking about how I help the children I work with to have positive times and good wellbeing I also need to be mindful of my own, so this morning I went for a walk with my husband in the local woods, looking for Bluebells and taking photos to act as a reminder.

Children who take toys into school- are they transitional object?

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It’s a few weeks into the new term, I have now met all my new nurture children and their staff. It is common for new children starting school to bring something with them from home, often a toy, sometimes a bit of a blanket or a scarf, this is the case for several of my new children. Some schools allow this for a week or maybe two but then want it to be stopped. Many teachers feel that bringing toys and items from home is a distraction, can cause unnecessary disagreements between children and fear they might be damaged.

I understand these concerns but for some children, there is another reason for bringing something in from home, it is comforting, it helps them to feel safe, it is a connection between home, their carer and school. Donald Winnicott in 1953 introduced the term transitional object for items that children use to help them cope with changes. Some children have one object that they take everywhere, e.g a piece of blanket or one very loved, old toy, for other children it is about taking something from home, which acts as a physical link to home.

Early years settings are often really good at understanding the importance of a transitional object and the comfort this provides to children. I think it is really important that this knowledge of child development and good practice from early years settings is shared with staff in schools.

While we are helping children to transition into school we can sometimes forget that for some children this settling in process, helping them to feel safe and secure can take a while, this does not always happen in the first few days or weeks. Some children still need their transitional object to help them feel secure, this doesn’t have to be on them all the time, it could be in a pocket, on a shelf or in a drawer. The very knowledge that they have something with them from home in school can often be enough to help them feel safer and secure.

There will be some children who are still arriving at school and are deeply upset and distressed at leaving their parent, I often suggest for these children that they are allowed to bring in something to school which reminds them of their Mum or Dad e.g a small scarf which smells of mum or a small lego man that they play with Dad. I encourage the parent to explain to the child “I know you are feeling sad that I am not with you at school,  have this scarf to look after for me, when I pick you up you can give it back to me, I will be thinking of you today” the parent can also have something of the child’s e.g a toy that they will look after until the child comes home. The object from home can be kept in the child’s pocket or in their drawer, when the child is feeling overwhelmed or sad they can feel the object and remember they will see their parent soon.

I have been having conversations with the staff working with my new children about the importance of transitional objects and encouraging the staff to recognise that some children still need this.

What brings you joy?

 

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This is the last week of the school holidays, my nurture  work with 4 yr olds will start again next week. This week I will be reminding myself about my new children, thinking about how best to support them over the next few tricky weeks for them, I will be pulling in new resources I might need and generally preparing.

I know from previous years as a nurture consultant these first few months of the new school year can be really hard. I will be needing to make relationships with all new staff this year, building up their trust, I need to gain the trust of 7 small, scared children, who sometimes will display very challenging behaviour. To do this well I need to ensure I am taking care of myself, that I am finding ways to nurture myself.

For me an important part of nurturing myself is through trying to find something each day which brings me joy, this may be as simple as noticing the roses growing in my garden, enjoying eating some chocolate, it doesn’t need to be big things. By stopping, recognising and enjoying that joyful moment it helps to nourish me.
One of yesterday’s joyful moments was buying myself Dahlias from the local farmers market. I love Dahlias. Dahlias remind me of my Grandad and my Aunt, Grandad grew beautiful, bold Dahlias in his small back garden every year, alongside runner beans, I don’t remember him ever growing anything else. Every time I visited as a small girl, a teen and an adult, when the Dahlias were in bloom he would take me into the garden and show me with pride his flowers. My Aunt Pam also went on to grow Dahlias for years as well, I think she had some of the bulbs that Grandad started. I love gardening, but I can’t grow Dahlias, they always die, get eaten by slugs, look dreadful. So instead I always buy myself cut flowers. By looking at them it brings me so much joy and lovely memories of my Grandad and Aunt.

Transitions

 

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For a long time I have been interested in transitions, the process of how we prepare, how we think and plan for transitions, for change. I believe we need to give careful time and thought to transitions and change. For my, under graduate dissertation, I did a piece of research around supporting 4 yr olds transition into school, and now 8 years on a large part of my current job is supporting 4 yr olds where it has been recognised they are going to find the transition into school very hard. A key component of a good transition is preparation and support. I know through the work with the 4 yr olds if we involve them in visiting the school, buying uniform, buying shoes , talking about the school, their teacher, talking about what they will do at lunch time, practicing with them carrying a plate with food on or eating from a lunch box and talking about the feelings they have, this all helps the child in the transition. I also encourage the schools I work with to make a booklet for the new children about their school, their teacher and classroom so the children can look at this over the summer.

I often believe what works for 4 yr olds often works with older children and adults too!, the new children moving into senior school, is another huge transition , these children respond well when they are emotionally and physically supported, again the process of buying new school bags, practicing the walking route/ bus route, practicing buying lunch in a cafe where they need to order what they want, carrying the tray, pay for the food, encouraging them to talk about their feelings, their expectations and their fears, all of these are important life skills. These can help ease the transitions when they are talked about, practised and supported.

In our house we are in a stage of a new transition, our eldest daughter is going away to university, we have had many conversations about what it will be like, how she feels about it, over the summer we have been buying new quilt covers, cushions for her new room, mugs, plates, thinking about what she needs to take away and what she doesn’t need, having conversations about independent living, managing money, safety. I am aware this transition is a huge one for all of us, this last year I have been preparing myself for her going, trying to recognise and acknowledge the emotions this brings, both a mix of pride, delight, excitement for her, plus some fear of the unknown and also sadness of a time that is ending but the recognition of the importance of this and looking forward to what is ahead.

During this year I have thought a lot about the physical experience of being wrapped, I noticed over the year that several of the children I worked with responded really well to having a blanket that they could wrap themselves or be wrapped in when they were feeling overwhelmed, sad or anxious. Over the Summer I bought myself a large shawl, it is soft, and I find it really comforting, I have worn it a lot over the last few weeks, I am beginning to think it has been a way of nurturing myself, providing myself with some comfort, not that I have been feeling overwhelmed or sad, but maybe instinctively I have known that I need that extra sense of holding. One thing I have discussed a lot with Lily has been how cold her  new room might be! with this thought I have been knitting a blanket, it is one I started several years ago but now I am rushing to finish it. It’s a blanket of coloured squares, it’s not perfect but it is a blanket made of love, it is a blanket that hopefully will provide some comfort, some warmth and some nurturing at times when that is needed during this transition.

When you are caring for children- how do you take care of yourself?

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Working with and looking after children is such a rewarding job. I love my role of supporting children in school who are finding the transition hard, but often this work can be challenging and draining. If we are not looking after ourselves we can’t look after the children we care for. If our own well-being is low, we are unable to care for and nurture children to our full capacity and we are unable to fully help them develop a positive well-being.

During the last year I have had many conversations with teaching assistants and teachers about how they look after themselves; encouraging them to think about how they nurture themselves and love themselves. These are such essential ingredients if we are then able to go on to love and care for the children we work with/ look after. Often this can be a challenge when we are tired and worn down, but this is when it is particularly important to take care of ourselves. It is only the beginning of a new term and new school year, but already I am seeing staff looking tired and stressed. This is the time when we need to start off by putting things in place to look after ourselves.

For a variety of personal and work reasons the last week had been a hard long week- some weeks are just like that. Fortunately, over the weekend, I had some nice things arranged to help feed and nurture my well-being. A mix of swimming in the sea at Dorset, watching red kites search for prey, and some moments of great laughter with old friends ; these have all really helped to re-nourish my soul and help me feel once again refreshed and ready for this next new and exciting week.