This blog post was inspired by a tweet from @LauraMcConnell about how teachers need to do things differently this September – we should probably not be asking children about their ‘holiday news’. Yes some children have experienced beaches and time with family but many children have been unable to visit their grandparents or family members, they may have been unable to go out due to living with someone who is shielding or they may have been traumatised through loss.
In Early Years and Primary schools, children come into class in September – and the whole country over teachers ask children to recount what happened on their holidays. This is thought to be a lovely transition exercise but as a neurodivergent teacher it has always been a pet hate of mine. For me this exercise segregates children into the haves and have nots and the can and can nots. It can cause real distress and this year that distress may be ten fold.
You might be thinking how could this simple exercise cause distress? Early in my career I would teach ‘holiday news’ lessons, below are some examples of pupil’s responses to these lessons (children are often asked to bring in photos of their holidays)
‘My Mum forgot my photos again!’ – 8 year old girl, with tears welling in her eyes. She was upset as this was a regular thing but her Mum was working two jobs, had four children and did not always remember.
‘Miss we didn’t do anything at all because Mummy worked so my brother looked after me.’ – 6 year old boy, while the girl next to him was drawing a sandy beach from a photo of her and her family in Mauritius.
A 4 year old girl (whose parents had recently divorced) told me she couldn’t have her holidays with her Daddy anymore, which made her sad.
‘I really cannot remember anything’ – My 6 year old nephew any time he is asked about his holidays.
My nephew is autistic he has very limited long-term visual memory this makes it very difficult for him to recall what he has done without a prompt photo. Right at the beginning of my teaching career I remember saying to some children – ‘surely you must remember one thing you did’ – I cringe now recalling that, because I now know that they were probably scrabbling around in their brains for inspiration or any fragment of a memory. They probably felt like rabbits in headlights and often ended up copying the person sitting next to them.
Quite often neurodivergent children may want to write about something out of the ordinary with regards to their special interest. I have seen many teachers discourage this, however, if this inspires the child and they are recounting something …is that not what we are asking for?
After my first year I began to consider what my goal was with this exercise, what did I want children to learn and how could I differentiate this lesson to incorporate things that every child in the class could access. I added in questions like – ‘what do you have at home that you enjoy doing? What is your favourite food? What makes you happy?’ I would also give some children multi-choice possible answers to help with their thought process.
I offered up questions which they could all access giving them all a chance to shine recounting something which gave them joy. So as @LauraMcConnell highlights, this September when teachers return to class it would be great to ask questions which fulfil the brief of enabling children to recount something, anything which made them happy or at least made things a little easier this Summer.
P.S. I am not teaching this year as I am working on a project for my ‘out the box’ children (watch this space) – but to all the wonderful teachers returning to the classroom – thank you, sending you a virtual hug.
Twitter handle: @outsidetheboxme