Helping Children With Special Needs Transition to Kindergarten
It can be both exhilarating and overwhelming for kids with disabilities and their families to make the transition from a small early childhood special education (ECSE) class to kindergarten after years of attending ECSE. Students must make a number of adaptations, including adjusting to a longer school day, a greater class size, new classmates, and new instructors.
Working with scores of children and their families over the past five years, I’ve helped them become more comfortable in their new environment. I’ve discovered that the tactics listed below help children make a smooth transition, reduce their anxiety, and prepare them for success in the classroom.
USING SOCIAL STORIES
The development of social tales was originally intended for higher-functioning kids with autism; however, they can be beneficial to individuals with a variety of other difficulties as well. In the words of Carol Gray, the developer of social tales, the purpose of a social storey is to “convey accurate information in a detailed, meaningful, and physically, socially, and emotionally safe manner using material, structure, and voice that are safe on several levels.”
Descriptions of the setting (“Next year, I will be in a new classroom with a new teacher and new rules”), perspective statements (“I may feel scared or nervous in my new classroom”), directive statements (“I will work on learning the new rules and listening to my new teacher”), and affirmative statements (“My new teacher will be pleased when I follow the new rules”) should be included in social stories. In addition, for preschool-age children, images might help them understand the storey more easily.
The social storey that follows is one that I have used with my students.
I’m going to kindergarten, and it’s going to be way too loud. I’ll be getting a new teacher. In my class, I’m going to make a lot of new pals. I’m going to go to the gym and play with my classmates. I plan to participate in music class by playing instruments with my classmates. I’ll be eating lunch in the cafeteria with the rest of my new class. I’ll be learning in a large group setting. It is possible that kindergarten will be noisy. It has the potential to make my ears suffer, as well as cause me to cry and holler. I’m concerned that crying and yelling may make my teacher and classmates unhappy or terrified. When the music is too loud, I find that headphones can help me relax. When the music is excessively loud, I shall make an effort to request headphones. When I request headphones, I know it will make my teacher and the rest of the class happy. When I am cheerful and relaxed, it will make my teacher and the rest of the class happy.
TRANSITION IEP MEETING
The holding of a transitional individualised education programme (IEP) meeting for students who have graduated from an early childhood special education (ECSE) programme is not required by law at this time, but it can be beneficial for both the kindergarten staff and the students’ family. These meetings allow the ECSE and kindergarten special education professionals to work together to develop a transition plan and Individualized Education Program (IEP) that will support and satisfy the student’s needs. A general education kindergarten teacher may also be present at the meeting to answer questions from the family, discuss adjustments and changes, and develop a plan for inclusion. This will vary depending on the situation and the school’s organisational structure.
The student should be given the opportunity to visit their new classroom(s), and they may benefit from participating in storey time or snack time in those classroom(s) as well. This will also allow staff to determine whether the student requires any more assistance in order to be successful in their new surroundings (such as noise-canceling headphones in a large group setting or a designated spot to sit on the carpet).
Additionally, watching the student in the existing ECSE classroom may be beneficial to the kindergarten special education teacher and/or teaching assistants. Communication, interaction with staff and peers, participation in group activities, and the demonstration of self-help abilities will all be seen by the observer during the observation period.
A PHOTO BOOK IS A BOOK OF PHOTOS
Another type of transition support that can be beneficial to youngsters is a book made by the teacher that has photographs of the student’s new special education teacher and teaching assistants, kindergarten teacher, classrooms, lunchroom, and other relevant locations. During the summer, families can read this book along with the child. This differs from a social storey in that it does not incorporate sentiments, expected behaviours, or the ability to choose an alternative point of view.
At the start of the school year, many school districts provide a kindergarten orientation where students and their families can get to know their new kindergarten teacher, drop off school supplies, and learn about the policies, procedures, and expectations for kindergarten students. The students who attend these orientations are normally in groups of four to five people at a time. Individual orientation may be more appropriate and/or less overwhelming for some students with disabilities than a group orientation. Aside from that, the family may feel more at ease asking questions and sharing pertinent information about the student and their impairment with the school.
Finally, I urge that ECSE instructors spend time in both general education and special education kindergarten classrooms to gain a better understanding of both. While observing unfamiliar environments, there are several aspects to keep in mind:
What visuals, language, and expectations can I use to help my kids make a smooth transition to the new school year?
In order for my pupils to succeed in kindergarten, what activities, resources, or expectations may need to be modified or adapted for their benefit?
Is it necessary for me to work with my students on self-help or functional skills in order to foster independence and self-confidence in kindergarten?
When the school year comes to a close, it’s always a bittersweet experience for me: I’m thrilled for my students as they begin the next chapter of their lives as kindergarteners, but I’m also sad to say goodbye to students with whom I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of working for the past two to three years. In order to provide customised support to my pupils as they transition to kindergarten, I employ all of the strategies listed above each year.