Everyone is being affected in some way by this pandemic that is sweeping the planet. I expect many of us have found a reason to feel sorry for ourselves at some point already as we start this long journey back to what we hope will be some kind of normality. Perhaps we’re missing out on things we have been looking forward to for a long time, or just missing loved ones we see regularly but now aren’t allowed to. Lots of us will be experiencing ‘cabin fever’ – possibly magnified by having young children around the house! Or we may be struggling with the disruption to routines that help to keep us balanced. In the week where school closures were first discussed and then implemented, I found myself thinking a lot about the families of children that I worked with up until last year at Cherry Garden School in London. The school is for children with severe and complex learning needs, and as Deputy Head teacher I was acutely aware of the reliance some families had on the school community. In its simplest form, the school day often provides a level of respite for parents who have been coping with relentless nights of broken sleep for years on end, or for families whose child has energy levels that professional athletes would pay good money for! A number of children at Cherry Garden School find it hard to sit down calmly for more than 30 seconds at a time.
I discussed in my previous article, written after Gavin Williamson’s announcement that all children with an EHCP would continue to have access to school, about the practicalities of such a decision. I concluded that it was going to be almost impossible for Head teachers of specialist provisions to remain open at full capacity during this crisis – the main reason for this being the need for such high staffing levels, not only at school but also when travelling from home and back. Invariably, schools are needing to restructure what they can offer, with the outcome being that only a handful of children are actually in full time attendance. The knock-on effect of this is that huge numbers of children with additional needs are spending much more time at home than they would have done, even without taking into account the social distancing measures that we are all having to adhere to.
Thankfully, the nature of schools and the professionals working in them is that they care enormously about the children who attend – regardless of sector. It has been very apparent that most establishments are trying to provide parents with resources and activities that children can be ‘working’ on at home. This is generally a bit more straight forward for children who are engaging in ‘formal’ learning (Y1 upwards), but for those in Early Years or in Special Schools, it isn’t necessarily appropriate to send home ‘work’.
Some examples of the types of resources I felt would be beneficial to parents of children with additional needs were:
· Sensory story videos – ideally a sensory story read by a teacher with props that could easily be found around the home. The parent could then watch the video with the child or read it themselves.
· Massage stories – a similar concept, but even fewer resources needed. These could also help with children who have additional sensory needs.
· Messy/explorative ideas – creative opportunities for children who might not engage with typical ‘art’ activities, again the key is that any resources are easily found at home.
· Computer/iPad programs – it is obviously important to be aware of screen time for children during this period, but for children with additional needs, technology can be hugely motivating and important for working on early cognitive skills.
I contacted my old school and they were already working on similar suggestions. We agreed that we would share the resources on a wider scale so that others around the country could benefit. In order for the resources to be easily found and accessible, I have created the hashtag #SENDAtHome. The intention is that other settings can then also contribute any resources or ideas they have been preparing so that the bank grows. Over the last few days, the hashtag has gathered momentum and other schools and professionals are starting to add to the collection of ideas.
It would be naïve to think that a few videos or resource ideas on Twitter will make life significantly more straightforward for those parents who have children with very significant needs. As I mentioned earlier, even if a child does show a level of engagement, this might be very fleeting, which can cause despondency (anyone who has worked in a specialist setting and spent hours creating a resource only for it to be trashed five minutes into the school day will sympathise). As with many things, communication is key. I would hope that schools are maintaining regular contact, especially with those families with the most severe needs. I also hope that these families have other relatives or friends who they can ‘let off steam’ to. My current role of SEND Advisor and Outreach Teacher has changed a lot in the last few weeks. Obviously school visits and training sessions have been postponed, and much more of my time is being spent trying to support from afar. If you are aware of a family who would benefit from some support or advice, I am providing free video consultation sessions during this time. To access this service, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we can arrange a convenient time to chat.
Edited by Jules