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Friday, October 9, 2009

Home, preschool, school, high school – what’s the difference?

I just thought I would start this month’s blog theme with a bit of a summary of the different skills that are required in the different contexts - home, preschool, school and high school. These changes can bring challenges for all children, but we need to take special care to prepare children who have disabilities for these changes as many may take a little longer to learn the skills necessary and take a little longer to adjust to the change - expecially if they have developmental delays, Autism and Down Syndrome or find it hard to learn some of the expected behavioural skills.

Just a note: Here I am focusing on the social and emotional factors, rather than academic skills such as numeracy and literacy.

The Physical environment

Children become safe in their environment as they become familiar with its layout and learn the boundaries. Parents also may have put in place structures such as closed doors, gates and so on to provide physical prompts to those boundaries.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
The physical environment begins to grow. There will be more space, more people, and it will contain more and different equipment, lighting and noises.

The world opens up even further, especially when we begin thinking about the playground. Here the physical boundaries (ie. what is "out of bounds") may not be as easily to identified.

High school:
Moving to high school generally means attending different classes in different rooms unless the child is placed in a specialist classroom. It will mean more movement during the school day into a range of different spaces that might have different noises, smells, people and sights associated with them. The child may need extra help in learning to navigate around the larger spaces and identifying physical boundaries.

Relating to Adults

At home your child will spend most of the day with you or with a small number of familiar adults. For the most part, they do not have to adjust to the different way adults relate to them, or the different ways adults might do things.

Families with children who have disabilities will also grow to know what routines help a child cope in their environment. This means that the environment is less changeable, more predictable – especially in the context of who the child has to interact with.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
If your child goes to child care the first thing that will happen is that they will have to learn to trust and relate to a number of different adults. Secondly, there will be more children for the number of adults available, so they will have less one on one time with adults.

Children’s services Regulations 2004 state that the teacher to child ratios should be:
1:5 for children who are under the age of 2 years,

1:8 for children who are aged 2 to 3 years of age, and
1:10 for children who are 3 or more years of age but under 6 years of age.

While good centres do focus on consistency, there will be a range of different staff in one room each day. The staff may work shift work, and some of the staff may be part-time, casual or leave the centre during your child’s time there so further new faces may be introduced. So your child needs to be able to adjust to these changes, and interact with a range of adults who may have different expectations or routines, and relate to them in different ways.

When your child goes to school, they will have one teacher in class, and a range of other teachers they will need to learn to trust and relate to on the playground. So, again, the change in the key adults in their lives will need to be considered. Further, there will be even less time that a teacher can spend with the child one to one.

According to the NSW Department of Education and Training class sizes on average so far in 2009 were:
- 19.3 for Kindergarten students;
- 21.3 for Year 1 students; and
- 22.6 for Year 2 students.

High school:
If your child is not placed in a specialist classroom, they will be taught by a range of different teachers. If your child is in a specialist classroom, they may integrate into regular classrooms for different subjects such as Personal Development, Health and Physical Education - being taught by different teachers in these classrooms.

As students move to middle school/high school, the relationship with their teachers changes. The are expected to be more independent. And because they spend much less time with individual teachers, they may form a closer, supportive relationship with only one or two of their teachers, their special education teacher, and/or their teacher’s aide.

Class sizes in high school vary depending on subjects and whether they are special education or general education, but there can be about 30 students in one classroom.

Adult-directed routines versus child-directed activities

At home you might have some set routines for meals, bathing and bed-time. You may also have some more irregular routines such as grocery shopping. But for much of the time at home there is freedom for a child to choose their own activities according to their interest.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
The routines begin to increase. One of the times children struggle to adjust to the most is mat time, or the time where all children are expected to sit quietly and listen to a story or sing songs. This is often the first time children have experienced this type of group, adult-directed activity.

While Kindergarten or prep classes often have set free-play times, the day is full of routines. It usually starts with assembly – and lining up and being orderly with the rest of the school brings unique challenges for all children new to the situation, but especially for children who have sensory sensitivities, problems staying still, difficulties following instructions and so on.

Then the day alternates between in-class, teacher-established routines, and the relative freedom and “orderly chaos” of the playground. And all these routines are determined by the clock, rather than by the preference of the child. This makes it a big change, especially if the child is coming to school having not experienced a pre-school environment.

High school:
There are added transitions and routines in high school due to the movement from class to class. And students are expected follow the routines more independently. For example, as they move through the high school years they are increasingly expected to follow timetables and get themselves to their allotted classroom at the appropriate time.

Social interaction and rules:

Social skills and expectations that might be important in the home might include politeness, sharing with siblings and following parent instructions.

Child Care and other pre-school environments:
In these settings, children will need to use further skills that relate to communal living. For example:
- sharing and taking turns with toys and equipment
- Sitting quietly on the mat during group time, waiting for their turn to talk
- Communicating using the conventions of language, rather than eccentric language or gestures used at home

From age three children are usually starting to form friendship groups as well, which requires another set of skills including empathy as children are expected to become less egocentric.

Children are expected to become increasingly self-regulating. Some skills that they will need to learn include:
- sitting quietly and working at their desks
- sitting quietly on the mat to listen to a story
- putting their hand up to speak
- lining up and waiting
- staying in the class during lesson times
- participating in activities they are not necessarily interested in
- asking to go to the toilet

Friendship skills will also be important to help them participate more effectively in the playground.

High school:
The thing that is expected more in high school than in primary school is independence and what we might call maturity. That is, the ability to judge for themselves what might be appropriate behaviour based on where they are, who they are with and their knowledge of the social rules and consequences for their actions.

So, in short, home means fewer people, a smaller physical environment, more freedom and perhaps less social demands. School can be a tiring place as children need to practice self-control, follow routines and relate to more people - both adults and children.

Throughout this month I will try to discuss ways that you can help your child prepare for the next stage in their schooling career.


Denise Hardingham October 10, 2009 at 12:00 PM  

In the next couple of weeks I will be posting a blog on the transition to work which might be of interest to some who have read this blog. I'll let you know when it's up.

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