Enabling Environments

Children with SEND – 7 tips to ease transition during COVID uncertainty

  • Children with SEND – 7 tips to ease transition during COVID uncertainty

The current pandemic has led to unpredictability and uncertainty, and so we must consider the role of transition and emotional safety for children with SEND. Kerry Payne shares some tips for key people…

1 | Time to settle-in

There will be an ongoing element of recovery over the next few months, and what we have to value is the importance of taking our time. We may have lots of expectations and pressures but the best thing to do is to write these down and then more than halve them.

This relates as much to your to-do list than anything else and it is the starting point for being able to spend uninterrupted time with children. This isn’t the time to think about outcomes but instead getting to know each other again.

As an educator, you will also need time to settle in too. No significant learning can happen without a significant relationship and enjoying being in each other’s presence again will build strong foundations for a healthy adjustment.

Let children know the ways they have been held in mind and make opportunities for uninterrupted time to just be. Transition is a marathon, not a sprint.

2 | Model your own ways of dealing with change

The reality is that many of us feel anxious about the way our settings will adjust following the events of the pandemic.

Children often pick up on adult’s cues and moods and it is important to consider how you can lead with empathy. One such way is to model your own ways of dealing with change and talking to the children openly about this.

For example, you might talk about your own feelings and what strategies you use. One of the best techniques for developing empathy is to connect over shared experiences and a simple “I feel that way too” can go a long way in supporting a child to feel emotionally safe.

Reflect back when talking to children and be open to sharing your own feelings as a way of developing empathy.

3 | Provide predictability and allow some control

It might be tempting during transition to aim for order and control because change can make practitioners and children feel unsettled. Contrary to some of the concerns about restrictions, the use of bubbles for some has been an opportunity to tune-in with children’s daily rhythms.

Practitioners have not been as tied to strict routines and this has led to children having greater control over their play. While some structure is important, particularly for children with SEND, a degree of flexibility means you can meet a variety of needs.

You are likely developing plans and ideas for what an average nursery day will look like. Once this is established, send out a visual or guide for parents to introduce to children.

4 | Realistic expectations, not lowered expectations

Unfortunately, there have been some narratives about children during lockdown that can be unhelpful. The use of the term “catch up” suggests that without education children cannot learn, and this is untrue. While there will have been an assortment of experiences, we must acknowledge the efforts of families.

For children with SEND, it is likely that parents have been continuing with the strategies and techniques at home. Work from a “can-do” approach and ask questions about progress rather than how far they have fallen behind.

Ask empowering questions such as “what new things did you learn about your child” and value the parent as a co-educator.

5 | The Child’s “Voice”

The Child’s “Voice” is a metaphor for the thoughts, feelings, behaviours, actions and perspectives of children and it is crucial that we develop ways to embed children’s views into our everyday practice.

This is often viewed as difficult when a child has SEND but there are many ways in which we can advocate the child’s perspective. Resources such as communication passports can be invaluable ways of ensuring we understand children’s needs, interests and behaviours.

Have curious conversations with parents about the ways in which the child shares their “voice”.

6 | Play is a right, not a privilege

The pandemic has led to difficult discussions around “good practice” and there have unfortunately been examples of play losing its priority.

It is crucial that children are still experiencing high-quality play-based experiences and that children with SEND are not subject to integrative practices.

Integrative practices mean that the child is expected to change to fit in rather than the setting making adjustments to remove barriers to learning.

Ensure that discussions about reasonable adjustments continue and are in collaboration with the parents.

7 | Circles of Connection

Children with SEND are often engaged with other services and specialists, and their interventions will have continued in some format during lockdown. Where possible make contact with specialists to discuss the continuation and transition of strategies and techniques.

Discuss whether there are new ways of delivering interventions and discuss the progress. The sharing of information will lead to greater knowledge about how to meet the child’s needs.

Liaise with specialists and parents so that you can build a clear picture in preparation for transition.

Preparing for transition

  • In person or virtual supervision will be crucial during this time to gauge the emotional mindsets of practitioners. Identify specific anxieties around the return of children and consider how we prepare for the varying needs of children.
  • View parents as co-educators and place a high value on their knowledge and expertise. Explore home routines and home learning including the benefits and challenges. This will give you key starting points for the transition.

Kerry Payne is an early childhood SEND specialist based in London who works as an independent consultant and trainer. Read more from her at eyfs4me.com.