It’s not easy starting school.
For a start, nearly everyone is bigger than you. New experiences are around every corner, and whether they are viewed as exciting or terrifying depends upon the child’s individual circumstances. Did they have the chance to interact with other children in pre-school settings? How independent are they at home? Maybe they have a sibling at the school already? It can take a while for some children to settle into the routines and TAs can help enormously.
I was fortunate enough to meet a remarkable child a few weeks ago. A tiny wee dot of a child with an angelic smile and an incredibly strong will.
The TA was taking a guided reading group, a challenging task with children of this age. She was clever enough to play to their strengths. Repetition and rhyme featured strongly, as you would expect, and this was supplemented by lots of visual and tactile props. Bright pictures for the children to point to and talk about were magically brought to life as the TA rummaged in her bag and produced these as actual things for them to touch and play with. A picture of a cake led to chatter about picnics and parties. When pieces of cake were placed on the table the children were inspired. OK…the cake was plastic. It didn’t matter. The children still took it carefully, sharing it so that everyone had a piece. The TA managed the chatter so that the group were always focused on the story but linking it to their own experiences. She used Makaton signing and encouraged the children to sign to each other.
The trouble started when the activity ended and the group had to return to class. Despite the efforts of two other adults the one, smallest, child was not for returning. A full blown tantrum was on the way and two experienced adults were no match for this little dot.
The TA I was with stepped forward quietly and calmly. She gestured for the others to move back. She dropped to the level of the child and lowered her voice so that the little one had to be quiet to hear her. She made eye contact and calmly repeated the instruction that had sparked off the tantrum. She asked the child what was the problem for her and let the child know that she understood how she was feeling. She explained why the child had to follow the instruction and repeated it once more. Slowly, the child began to nod. The TA moved away, half standing, and used open body language to encourage the child to do the same. She smiled and signed as she repeated the request. Soon, the child was happily trotting along beside the other children into class.
The TA’s actions were instinctive, and I know that TAs in every school deal with children in this way regularly. But this particular child has Down’s syndrome and communication is very difficult for her. She has problems with processing auditory instructions and so the TA’s use of signs and gestures helped enormously. She played to the child’s strengths, which are visual. She allowed her time to process her thoughts and to verbalise her feelings and the result was positive. The tantrum was avoided. Job done.