Moving from a primary school to secondary school can be a daunting prospect for children.
Whilst schools understand the need to prepare the children for the transition process, due to time constraints, the focus tends to be on group visits to the new school rather than one to one support for individual children.
The challenge therefore is to ensure that each child feels prepared for the transition and that they have the opportunity to talk about any worries they may have.
My sister is a head teacher of a small village school and was interested in finding out more about her pupil’s experience and thoughts about their impending move to secondary education.
With the permission of parents I offered a Talking Mats session to each child in the term prior to them leaving for secondary education. In total this was 8 children.
I used digital Talking Mats, choosing the “What I do and support” topic cards from the primary school pack.
The children were told that we were going to think about how each topic may be affected by moving up to secondary school. We used a happy/not happy top scale.
The level of engagement from the children first amazed me. They were all excited by the prospect of using the digital Talking Mat. All were familiar with iPad use and grasped the concept quickly.
They used the topic cards to think about areas such as playing, friends, helping in the house, looking after yourself, your safety and managing stress.
They all expressed worry about the transition process but for many it was not around areas that teachers or parents would have automatically considered. How they were going to get to and from the new school was a theme that concerned them, as well as getting up and getting ready to go to school in the morning. A large number of the children also explained that they had poor sleep due to either difficulty getting off to sleep or waking with worries. Some children also disclosed some concerns about family life.
I found that the diverse nature of the cards prompted the children to think about areas of their life that their teachers had not ordinarily thought about when considering the impact of transition.
As an occupational therapist it struck me that many of the children were expecting that with the change from primary to secondary there also came the added responsibility of having to look after themselves. For them the transition was not just about moving schools it was also about being more “grown up” and being less reliant on their parents for prompting their self care routine or accompanying them when outside.
At the end of the session a summary was agreed with each child and this was sent to both the teacher and the parent so that they could support the child with the issues they raised. The teachers remarked that even though each session had only lasted 20 minutes, and was facilitated by someone the child had never met before, it had managed to reveal a breadth of information about how each child was feeling, that they were not previously aware of.
In summary, the beauty of the Talking Mats approach is that it allows the thinker to explore a range of issues that are relevant to them and does not lead the listener down a path of asking questions they think to be relevant. This gave the child I worked with the opportunity to really say what was troubling them. They were not put off by the fact they have never met me before, they talked freely with the digital version of the Talking Mat being both a point of focus as well as in a format they enjoyed.
Whilst the theme of the sessions in this case was transition, I would commend teachers to consider using Talking Mats in schools to enable children of all ages to think and communicate their feelings on a wide range of topics.
Thanks again Rachel Woolcomb OT for a great practical example.