Starting a conversation about school with your child
There are so many things that your child might need to talk about before they start school and they’re sure to have lots of questions! Try using fun, everyday play to start talking about the school day, feelings, making friends and talking to others about their deafness. For example, play role-play games or use toys to act out what will happen or to introduce new ideas and language visually.
Playing role-play games and with toys together might be a good way to introduce or explain what will happen, for example, one toy could be the teacher, with the other toys acting as the pupils. You can use the toys to act out what might happen in the classroom or during playtimes.
There will be lots of new things in the school that your child won’t have seen before, for example, desk, whiteboard, dinner hall. Help to familiarise them with new things and introduce them to the new language about school by showing them picture cards to build up their vocabulary.
Explain to your child some of the activities they might do at school and encourage your child to draw pictures of them. They could then make a book of these activities and add more as they try out new things once they’ve started school. You could also make a book about home, with pictures of your home and the activities you do together to help your child to tell their teacher and friends about their home life.
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Make sure your child knows that the school day will be different from a day at home or nursery – split into different lessons, set times for break, playtime and lunchtime etc. These changes may be a surprise to your child unless you help them to get used to routines likes the ones they may have to keep to in school. Use a visual timetable or weekly planner with your child to get them used to daily and weekly routines and activities – write and use pictures and photographs to show what will be happening and when. You could also arrange a taster day at the school so your child gets to know the routine.
Your child will need to get changed for PE, so it’s a good idea to get them used to dressing and undressing themselves before they start. Practise at home with different types of clothes and with different fastenings – buttons, zips, laces, so that they’ll be able to do it themselves at school. Make it fun – race to see who can put their coat on the quickest! It’s also a good idea to start getting them to take ownership of their hearing aids or implants (and any other equipment), so start teaching them about how to dress to avoid knocking their hearing equipment (pulling neckholes wide, pulling jumpers gently over their head?), how to keep it safe (in a special bag?) and what to do if the batteries need changing (tell the teacher?).
Helping your child learn the words for different feelings and understand how that emotion makes them and other people feel is excellent preparation for school life and beyond. It will help them to build relationships with staff and pupils.
- reading stories together to introduce ‘feeling words’ as well as discussing how different characters might be feeling
- encouraging your child to let you know how they’re feeling – if they feel comfortable sharing with you, they’re more likely to share their thoughts and feelings with school staff
- talking to your child about different situations, for example, you could tell your child that a boy is colouring in a picture. He wants to use a red crayon, but he hasn’t got one. Ask your child how they think the boy feels or what they would do in that situation. You could act out situations using toys
- helping your child recognise emotions in other people – find pictures of people with different facial expressions and ask your child to tell you which one is happy, angry, bored and so on. You could also act out emotions using facial expressions and ask your child to guess what you’re feeling.
Download or order our booklet What are you feeling?
Children sometimes have to make choices at school. For example, their teacher might ask them to choose between two activities, or a lunchtime supervisor might ask them if they want mashed potato or roast potatoes. Give your child some experience of making choices at home, like asking them to choose between two different pieces of fruit or if they would prefer to colour in a picture or play outside. This will help your child to feel confident when they’re asked to make choices at school.
Deaf children may have trouble making friends in school because of communication barriers. If your child has already been at nursery or playgroup they may already be fairly used to being with large numbers of children and different adults. If not, clubs, playschemes and playdates with other parents and children can help with this. See if there’s a local support group in your area.
When your child starts school:
- invite classmates round so that your child has time outside school to form friendships
- meet up with other parents and children in your local park
- volunteer to help out on school trips where possible so you can meet other parents, teachers and your child’s new friends
- chat to other parents about your child’s deafness for when they go round to play or go to a party.
- use toys to help develop your child’s social skills – for example, you could act out a situation where there are a group of toys together and one toy standing separately. Show how the toy on its own asks to join in and then they all have fun together!
If your child’s starting a new class or a new school, it’s important they feel confident to explain to staff and classmates about their deafness.
Although your child will still be very young when they start primary school, start to encourage them to start to speak up for themselves and ask for help when they need it. A lot of the suggestions above will help give your child the tools to do this when they feel ready. Try to get them involved with activities at school as this will show them and others that deafness isn’t a barrier to taking part.