Transition Strategies

Transition Strategies


The following aims to provide an insight into useful strategies to use when beginning to transition children and young people with SEND into the next phase of their education. I have tried all of the following strategies at some point over my career as a SENCO and Assistant Head Teacher all of which I believe really do support children in these difficult transitions. Some of these strategies can also be used to transition during day to day activities and also for wider world experiences.

Visual aids are paramount to supporting children and young people with SEND. These take form in many ways, the first of which I will discuss is the transition key ring. These are a tool that every professional should carry on them as a visual aid to support children during a change of activity. I find small pictures on a keychain which match the required action work well. The pictures on the key ring will vary depending on the needs of the child however as a guide an adult who supports a child with ASD may have the following images; stop, snack time, tidy up time, coat on, box time, home time, outside time, sensory room, assembly, group time. These act as an immediate visual reminder for children and young people to guide them to their next activity or give a specific required behaviour eg use of a ‘no hitting’ reminder card . These can be useful when transitioning into the next phase or year in education and they are quick visual reminders for children which can be used instantly to support the child’s understanding of the activity or routine.

A pictorial daily routine also enables children to feel secure when transitioning into the next phase so that they can see what the daily routine will look like so nothing is unexpected which may cause distress. These work well if you use a long piece of card which is either transportable or attached to a wall depending on the child’s needs. On the card you could Velcro images of the daily routine which can be removed as required. I have previously took real photographs of the different parts of the routine and then placed them on the visual timetable in a line, in the correct order. These work by taking the child to the visual daily routine as an activity is completed and allow them if possible to remove the activity picture and place it in a completed basket. Then review the next part of the routine and carry it out, repeating the removal so the child can see the parts of the day being completed as they are removed.

A ‘first and next board’ is also a useful transition tool. This usually takes the form of a piece of card which has a different colour on the left side as opposed to the right side. One side is ‘first’ and the other is ‘next’. On the first side you place the first activity picture and the other side is the next activity picture. This in practice may look like first – posting activity, next – bubble time. The next activity is usually a motivator of the child’s interests to enable the first activity to be completed. This can be used in transitions and during activities. For example in use for transitions when the child is entering a new classroom it could be used as first – register, next – literacy. This instance is not necessarily a motivator for the child but it gives a shorter daily routine if a whole day one is not appropriate for the child’s needs. It can also be used to focus a child in ‘play time’, eg first – cars, next – play dough. These are a good variable resource which can easily be tailored to suit transitions of all kinds.

Social stories are a fantastic way for children to experience new places, settings and people. These can be used in an unlimited amount of ways to prepare children for events. Rather than using generic books about going to the doctors or hairdressers, you can create a story personalised to the child which includes their picture and the real place they are visiting. Previously I have created a story for a child with Autism who was visiting the dentist for a check up. I created a short simple story about the child going to the dentist and included pictures of their dentist surgery and pictures of the child. I also gave their story to parents to read at home with a new toothbrush to play with. This helped prepare the child for the new experience more than any other book could. These can be used for transitions by taking photographs of their new classroom, teachers, support staff, dinner hall, playground, coat peg, toilets, simply everything new a child will experience in their next transition. This can really help a child make sense of the world around them when they enter it for the first time having seen many images of themselves already there before. It creates a calmer transition when they have an understanding on some level of what is going to happen and what it really looks like. In my professional and personal opinion these are paramount to new experiences for children and young people with SEND. A picture book of any sort which is personalised to the child is invaluable. I have also created picture books with new staff images, classrooms etc simply as a picture guide if making a story is not appropriate which has the same impact as a social story to prepare the child fully in the best possible way.

Eventually the time comes where a physical transition is needed into a new classroom. Again in my experience there are many ways to do this and at the forefront of every decision must be the needs of the child and what will work best for them. The three best tips I can give is to have a familiar adult initially or permanently if possible, familiar objects and complete staggered intakes. This means taking the child to the new setting with a familiar adult for visits and again in the new school year until the child is settled. This will ease transition as they have someone they know with them which will create a calmer experience for the child. Then build slowly up the time that the child is going to spend there until full hours are achieved. Familiar objects, toys, comforters should be taken during transition to give the child a sense of feeling safe and secure in the new environment. For these transitions it is important to go at a pace which suits the child’s needs to ensure that a smooth transition is completed as successfully as possible.

Faye Waterhouse

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  • Sarah

    Faye, thank you so much for this blog. I really like your strategies as they are really easy to put into place and will prevent anxieties arising. I think what struck me is how you also work with families to support the child outside of school (with the trip to the dentist). I am sure the parents were grateful for your efforts with the social stories.

    If anyone has any questions for Faye feel free to post here, thanks!!!

    Our very first SENCO blogger,

    The blogs will be used for discussions with the SENCO new starters October 2019!