Hop, skip and a big jump
Helping your child transition through Primary School
It is well acknowledged that teenagers experience many difficulties and issues particularly when they are transitioning from primary school to secondary school.
But school anxiety is not confined to secondary schools and there are many micro transitions that take place in primary schools which can trigger episodes of anxiety amongst young pupils as they negotiate change.
Children grow a comfortable bond with their primary school teacher particularly when the same teacher is often with them for the full academic year. They get used to their voice, their ways, their rituals, whether it’s treats on a Friday or no homework on birthdays. There is a sense of security in the familiarity of the relationship.
Parents may not be aware of classroom micro changes or the unintentional upset they can cause to pupils, particularly because very young children often cannot articulate their concerns. These changes can be as seemingly small as a new teacher with a different style of teaching or a different school finishing time.
Fergal McCarthy, a resource teacher, regularly liaises with the class teachers and parents of his students if they’re having difficulties with anxiety in relation to transitioning from one subject or from one class level to the next. In an effort to resolve this, at the end of a school year, he arranges to bring his students on a fun visit to their next classroom to meet their teacher and see the layout and new games and toys. If needed he puts together a laminated book of photographs of the child with their new teacher in their new classroom involved in fun activities. This book can be read by the child with their parents over the holidays so they can develop positive associations in relation to the move over the summer break, simple but proven to be hugely successful.
The migration to first class can also give rise to a range of issues for primary school children. Firstly, the school day itself is longer and there’s a slight increase in the workload and complexity of subjects being taught. No matter how gentle the transition, first class and upwards will require more input from the child themselves as the curriculum progresses.
This can be quite exhausting for young minds. They may be playing in a bigger school yard and mixing with older children. They may have started extra-curricular activities or go to aftercare for an hour or two after school.
On a practical level they may need a more substantial lunch to get them through these days.
Extra patience will be required to deal with tired children when it comes to settling down to meals or completing homework after a long day.
Nora Tuite, another experienced special education teacher, emphasises the need for parents to tune into their children’s school day. Get to know their schedule. Parents can ask for a copy of the class timetable to enable them ask relevant questions about that school particular day. i.e. What did you do in art today? Was dancing fun?
Nora also stresses that children with special needs or learning difficulties need extra support as they can experience ordinary simple changes very differently from other children.
“Some children get totally engrossed in what they are doing, not realising the teacher and class have moved on to a new subject or are physically moving to the yard or the PE hall”, which Nora explains, “can lead to anxiety, frustration, outbursts or even meltdowns in some cases”. Nora has tips for clear and effective remedies. “Teachers can give a ‘5-minute count down’ to the class to finish their current activity before moving onto the next one, thus signalling change.