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Preparing your child for school

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Once you have chosen a school, it is time to start preparing your child for school life. School days can be a wonderful time, where your child has a chance to learn and have fun. You can make sure your child is prepared for the changes school life brings, and do some fun activities to help them start thinking about the kinds of things they will do when they go to school.

The school day is often very different from a day at home or preschool. The school day is split up into different lessons, with recess and lunchtime at set times each day. These changes may be a surprise to a deaf child unless you help them to get used to routines like the ones they may have to keep to in school.

Playing games with your child gives you the chance to introduce new concepts, or new signs if you use signing with your child. Play also helps your child find out about themselves and the world around them. You can use role-play games to help your child learn about what school life might be like.

The school day

To prepare your child you could use reference cards, with pictures of things that they may or may not be familiar with at school (for example, desk, whiteboard, library). This might help them understand these new things better when they start school, and there are a lot of new things to take in.

You might also want to visit the school you have chosen and take pictures of the rooms they will use, and the people they will spend time with. Or you could draw the rooms yourself. Use these pictures to make a book about the school and school life.

You could include pictures of activities at the school. Look at these pictures with your child, explain them, and answer any questions your child has. Once your child has started school, they could use the pictures to tell you what they have been doing and who they have been working with. You could also make a book about home, with pictures of your home and activities you do together. This could help your child to tell their teacher and other people about their home life.

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Being around other children and adults

Playgroup or preschool/kindergarten can help your child get used to being with large numbers of children and with different adults. Getting your child used to being around groups, and among people they do not know, can help them prepare for the new people they will meet and spend whole days with at school. If your child is not used to being away from you, organise a few playtimes at friends – or relatives – houses without you before they start school. Children need these social opportunities to learn how others feel and see the point of view of others.

When your child starts school, invite classmates round so that your child has time outside school to form friendships. Or suggest that you meet up with other children and their parents outside school, in your local park for example. This will give your child time to form bonds with other children, and help them feel socially included in school, especially during playtimes. Social interaction and communication between your child and other children in the school is important. It will help your child to feel part of the school community, and will give them a chance to develop their social skills.

You could use toys to help develop your child’s social skills such as using appropriate greetings and responding when they are spoken to. For example, you could act out a situation that might arise at recess, where there are a group of toys together and one toy standing separately. Ask the child how they could get the lonely toy to play with the group. Perhaps show one doll from the group asking the lonely toy to play a game with the group. Then show them all having fun together. Or show them the lonely toy asking the group if they can join in the game. Make sure your child is comfortable introducing themselves and knows their name, address and phone number.

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Identifying and expressing emotions

Using books and toys during play may help your child to express themselves, improve their vocabulary and gain more confidence. These are very useful skills for your child to develop before they start school. Books with images of people with different facial expressions can be a useful way of exploring how people express their feelings. You can talk about these feelings and give them names (for example, happy, sad, excited, worried). This can help situations where your child needs to let someone know how they feel. For example, if they become worried in class about some work, or if your child needs to tell the teacher which activities they enjoy and which make them happy.

Suggested reading with your child – Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

It is important that deaf children can express their feelings. Help them learn ways of identifying different emotions they have, and ways of telling you, or their teacher, how they feel. Try to help your child let you know how they feel. This way they might feel comfortable about sharing their thoughts and feelings with staff at school. Using pictures of facial expressions to explore feelings is useful , but you could also try asking them to draw how they feel, using different colours and shapes. Have a list of different feelings and discuss with your child which feelings are positive (e.g. happy, playful, surprised, brave) and which ones are negative (e.g. sad, angry, afraid, hurt). Which feelings do they like?

You could also talk about different situations, and ask them how they would deal with them. For example, tell them that a boy is colouring a picture. He wants to use a red crayon but he has not got one. You could ask your child how they think the boy feels, or tell them that he might feel disappointed. You could then ask your child how they think the boy could be happy again, and ask them what they would do if they were in this situation. This kind of activity can help children to identify situations in which they feel different emotions, and to explore how to deal with different emotions.

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Making choices

Children sometimes have to make choices at school. For example, their teacher might ask them to choose between two activities, or the school librarian may ask them to choose a book to read to the class. Give your child some experience of making choices at home. To help your child practise making choices, ask them to choose between two different pieces of fruit, or ask them whether they would prefer to colour a picture or play outside. Practising making choices at home can help your child feel confident when making choices at school, especially when they have to make choices quickly (e.g., in the tuckshop queue or during lessons).

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Being independent

Children must learn to do things for themselves before they start school. Children need to be watched and supervised but they learn to be independent and feel confident by doing things for themselves.

Children may have to get changed for sport or swimming lessons , so it is important that they can dress and undress themselves. If they cannot tie their shoelaces, give them shoes with Velcro so that they are easy to take off and put on afterwards. You can make practising skills fun. Perhaps you could have a race and see who is quickest at putting their sandals on before you go out. It is useful to get your child to practise using different fastenings on things, such as buttons, zips, press studs, Velcro and laces.

Encourage your child to be independent with their personal care such as going to the toilet and washing their hands by themselves; using a handkerchief or tissues to blow their nose and using a bubbler to drink. Provide your child with everyday opportunities to develop the skills that help make the transition to school relaxed and enjoyable.

Give your child some responsibilities at home – jobs they can do independently such as setting the table and unpacking safe items in the dishwasher.

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Information supplied by The National Deaf Children’s Society. Reproduced with permission.
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