Kindergarten Transition – Considering All Aspects of Access for Your Child

By Alison Nutt

The transition from early intervention services and the preschool years into kindergarten and school age services is a time of many changes. Not just for you as parents but also for your kiddos!  As the school year starts, it may feel both exciting and overwhelming to adjust to these changes and make sure that all of your child’s needs are met.   

A big focus for this transition to kindergarten for deaf and hard of hearing children is on access. Access will look different for each child, particularly when talking about language and learning needs; however focusing on other areas of “access” for your child is equally important, not just in the first few years but onwards into middle and high school, and any environment that your child eventually finds themselves in. This might include visual access (not limited to ASL), social access, emotional access, and access within their school and home communities – and others!

As a professional who has worked both in early invention and in mental health, I have had the privilege and opportunity to support families in many different aspects of this time of transition and in the early elementary years. Often times the nature of my work includes supporting children in ways to increase or enhance their “access” to other areas of their school and home lives that are not tied to the traditional thoughts about education and access. Here are a few of the things I have learned and observed from working with families that may be helpful as your child transitions into kindergarten or in future elementary years:

Advocating for the use of visual supports within the classroom:

  • This can be helpful for the entire class however has the added bonus of helping the deaf or hard of hearing child more easily follow routines, rules or expectations visually even if they have misheard or missed the instructions all together.
  • For those kiddos who may have some struggles with planning or organizing their time, visuals can help them to know what steps they need to take to complete a task or can serve as a reminder of an expectation. For example, a small picture at the top corner of their desk with the picture of their FM equipment can help them with developing independence with using their equipment or reminding them of the expectation to put it away at the end of the day.
  • Some children may benefit from the use of an ASL interpreter to help with their visual learning and attention to learning material.

Small group work for classroom learning as well as social and emotional learning opportunities:

  • For children who receive “pull out” services from an itinerant teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing, or a speech therapist, or any other professional, consider requesting that some of your child’s peers join these sessions. This can help with fostering social connections as well as empathy.
  • Small groups for learning activities also provide the opportunity for more focused learning with settings that are easier to manage for listening to peers or the teacher.

Ensure there is a focus on emotion vocabulary and your child’s development of understanding emotional and behavioural responses (self-regulation and emotional regulation):

    • Social and emotional learning has become more included in the school curriculum which is great! Ask the teacher what is being taught at school and review it at home with your child – this can be particularly helpful for providing more information to specific topics (incidental learning), the opportunity for your child to ask more questions, applying it to their own experiences, and reinforcing any ASL vocabulary that might be learned.
    • Bring this learning home by discussing a wide variety of emotions and how we manage them, explaining how you solve problems, and modeling how to calm down when we feel frustrated or overwhelmed.
    • There are many books (often found in the library!) and activities that can be done at home that focus on emotional vocabulary and self-regulation skills.

Seek out social relationships with deaf and hard of hearing children and connections to programs and services within the deaf and hard of hearing community:

    • Your child may be the only deaf/hard of hearing child at their school and some children have a harder time with this experience – a connection outside of school to other deaf/hard of hearing kids and adults can help your child develop a stronger sense of identity and self esteem because they are able to connect with others who may have similar experiences as them.
    • A strong sense of identity, confidence and positive self esteem can be connected to strong self advocacy skills – beneficial skills to have as your child moves through the school years and beyond!

At times, the school environment for deaf and hard of hearing children may be overwhelming and feel very busy. At a young age, your child may not have the vocabulary or understanding to be able to explain this to you or to their teacher. When this happens, sometimes what you may see is “challenging behaviour” or showing disinterest in activities or possibly a change in their willingness to wear hearing aids or cochlear implants. Connecting with your child about their thoughts/emotions, social connections and school activities can help you to gain a better understanding of what they are experiencing throughout the day and look at making shifts or changes to better support all the areas of “access”.

If you are interested in discussing this topic or these ideas further, please feel free to connect with me at the Deaf, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind Well Being Program –  If our program is not the best fit for services or another program can better answer your questions, we can help to make that connection.


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