It’s that time of year again! September, back to school!
For many children with SEN, returning to school can be a daunting experience. Moving classrooms, new teacher, different peers, higher expectations… the number of changes is endless! Pupils, in particular those with SEN, can find this change very difficult to process and may feel increased anxiety and stress. These children may present in a variety of ways, ranging from quiet and withdrawn to disruptive and challenging.
There are so many new routines and rules to learn in a new school year, but some simple strategies can be used to encourage pupils who need a little extra support. The key … use visuals!
Schedules: Have a visible timetable for the day ahead. Use whatever format works best for your children. This could be words, colour codes, symbols or photographs. I find it easiest to laminate all the activities you need for the week, then take a moment each morning to velcro them onto a notice board. Use circle time or your morning routines to discuss the day ahead. Some pupils may benefit more from their own personal schedule. You can ask them to check it when its time to transition, or post the completed symbol in an ‘all done’ envelope. You’ll be able to see an immediate change in pupils who are anxious or constantly asking what is next when you use visual supports!
First – Then Boards: For pupils who seem to be really struggling to cope with daily routines, use visuals to explain what is happening now and next. This is useful to keep pupils motivated through an activity which they are reluctant to take part in. Simply remind them of a preferred activity which is coming next! Keep your language simple and allow the pupil to have access to their visuals throughout. For example, “first numeracy, then break”.
Timers: Use a sand timer, countdown video, stop watch or anything else that you can get your hands on! While your pupil is working on an activity which they don’t enjoy, the visual timer will reassure them that this wont last forever, and they will soon be able to move on to their preferred activity! A timer is also useful to transition pupils away from their activity of choice to another task. The visual timer will allow them to see that the activity is about to end, so there is no surprise when you ask them to move immediately.
Lanyards: I find lanyards a brilliant way to communicate with my SEN children effectively! Use symbols to support your verbal communication – SEN children can struggle to understand your verbal instructions – using symbols give extra processing time to understand what you are asking. Wearing them on a lanyard allows quick and easy access when you really need them. You can use whatever symbols you need but here are some I like to use: wait, stop, fantastic, stand, sit, quiet.
These simple strategies will help your pupils to settle quickly into their new routines and surroundings! Let me know how you get on!
Chloe is a Special Needs Teacher from Northern Ireland. When she’s not teaching she enjoys going out for coffee or playing the piano!