Transition into
Elementary School

Transition Tips and Challenges

Through Grades 1 – 8, Transition Tips for Parents

Maintain communication with teacher and other professionals

Keep notes on new learning by your child, “what’s working” at home

Read every report card (issued three times per year)

Attend parent/teacher conferences, school events where possible

Consult periodically on adjustments to the IEP (the IEP is a “living document” which should be reimagined when new learning, or other issues present themselves)

Keep teaching team up to date on child’s involvement in clubs, sports, camps, travel, religious and cultural traditions and other learning opportunities

Support child with homework and project completion, skills practice

And Then There Are Daily Transitions …

While it is important for families and the school team to think carefully about yearly transitions, the daily and hourly transitions that are an inevitable part of elementary school can also be a significant source of stress for everyone involved. Anyone who has seen a child with Down syndrome out on the playground long after their peers have returned to class must have wondered why that transition couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  

According to Dr. Susan Fawcett of the Down Syndrome Research Foundation, the average teacher makes 300 – 400 demands of their students every day1. These demands often relate to changes in plan and transitions, and immediate compliance is expected. Children with Down syndrome have traits that mean that school demands can strike them in a unique way. Dr. Fawcett offers tips and guidelines for creating better daily transitions, which are equally applicable at home and school.

Understanding Transition Challenges for Students with Down syndrome2

Down Syndrome Characteristic
Why this complicates transitions
Possible Remedy
Down Syndrome CharacteristicLow levels of intrinsic motivation
Why this complicates transitionsStudents with Down syndrome may have little desire to do the next activity

They sometimes hesitate to abandon an activity they are currently enjoying merely because the timetable requires it
Possible RemedyInject a bit of fun (i.e., “Let’s sing while we put these blocks away.”)

Bridge with enjoyable options (i.e., “Okay, Luis. Assembly is over. You can walk back to class with Renee.”)
Down Syndrome CharacteristicDifficulty processing verbal instructions
Why this complicates transitionsStudents with Down syndrome may shut down because they don’t understand
Possible RemedyAvoid lengthy explanations which may be bewildering (i.e., “It’s Science time, Fatima. Remember when we planted those beans last class? And you added water and we wrote your name on the jar? Well today you are going to make observations of your bean plants. Won’t that be fun? Come on – hang up your coat – let’s go. Everyone else is sitting down already.” should be shortened to “Coat on the hook, Fatima. Remember your bean plant?”)
Down Syndrome CharacteristicImpaired memory and inability to predict
Why this complicates transitionsStudents with Down syndrome often cannot picture what comes after the transition
Possible RemedyUse words economically to create mental images (i.e., “We are going inside now and … calculator time!”)
Down Syndrome CharacteristicGood social awareness
Why this complicates transitionsStudents with Down syndrome are often adept at distracting and wasting time to delay difficult activities
Possible RemedyUse social interactions as rewards for compliance (i.e., “When you finish your story you can read it to Mrs. Singh!”)
Down Syndrome CharacteristicEnjoy emotional exchanges of any type
Why this complicates transitionsStudents with Down syndrome may be non-compliant just for the fun of creating a stir
Possible RemedyUse a calm, neutral tone of voice when correcting a student with Down syndrome who is misbehaving during a transition, insist that they comply, and then praise them enthusiastically when they do.  Reserving your own high energy and emotion for successful transitions is a way of ensuring there will be more.

Successful transitions are crucial at school and at home. Teachers and parents of children with Down syndrome must understand why the child reacts the way they do, and structure daily transitions so that they appeal to the child’s strengths and interests, rather than directly intersecting with their vulnerabilities. Teachers and parents must also believe in their right to expect that a child with Down syndrome will transition appropriately and be consistent and firm in their approach.

1 Fawcett, Susan. Presentation, Canadian Down Syndrome Society Educator Conference, May 10, 2019
2 Fawcett, Susan. See above.