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Early Years Diary: Working With SEND Children in Early Years

Anna McCallum, in her latest Early Years Diary, explores the ways to work with SEND children in your setting.

The rate of children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) is steadily increasing and the number of specialist nurseries does not reflect the increasing demand, therefore every nursery should be equipped to cater for a vast range of requirements to meet the needs of every child.

I have worked in a number of settings, each with slightly different approaches to working with SEND, but all just as capable and all with one thing in common: having a SENCO, or Special Educational Needs Coordinator. This is often a designated staff member, perhaps the manager, deputy or an experienced room leader, whomever the selected candidate is it is essential that each setting has one.

Not only is it a legal requirement, but it is also best to have at least one person (depending on the size of the setting) responsible for following the SEND Code of Practice, implementing teaching approaches, helping with referrals and assisting with early identification. By having one clear leader in this subject, it keeps things simple, clear cut and staff know who to turn to should they have a SEND related enquiry.

Despite having one person acting as SENCO, all staff should be aware of basic teaching practices, as each child is unique and every requirement will be different. While there may be 4 children in a setting whom, for example, are autistic, they are all likely to have very individual and specific needs and so a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. By regularly training staff on how to best facilitate a variety of needs, they can further develop their skill set and grow as practitioners.

Some cases of SEND can be very extreme and working with them may be quite a daunting task, especially for new or young staff members. By working closely with families and parents, allowing them to hand over useful information and tips that work for them at home, we can create a holistic idea of how best to help each child. Uncovering how best to handle each case will give staff members more and more confidence in their abilities, leading to better outcomes for every child.

It is also important that all staff members recognise how to identify SEND early on, as the earlier it is noticed, the sooner we can put steps in place and the quicker the child can continue to reach their fullest potential. This is why it is so crucial to carry out regular and accurate assessments, as this is how we can highlight those potential areas of learning in which a child needs more support. Allowing each staff member to complete the assessments and review them also takes pressure off the SENCO, as it is not their job to identify every educational need in the setting, but rather to support those with SEND by assisting the staff members caring for them and to put referrals through.

It might be difficult working effectively with outside agencies as a lot of the time it may feel rather one sided. We can spend weeks and weeks chasing a referral and it can be frustrating, but what should be remembered is how overwhelmed some agencies can be. As I stated, the rise in SEND seems to grow by the year and just as we do not receive any extra staff to assist with the increasing demand, often neither do they. We should be mindful that more often than not, people are doing the best they can, so by being respectful and patient we can work successfully with local agencies.

However, we do not always have to wait for a referral to go through to start making a difference. If it is clear which area a child needs assistance in, and we have the correct tools at our disposal, we can adapt our teaching approach as early as possible. For example, if you know a child is behind with their language development, then why not start using visual cards and Makaton to help them communicate with you sooner? We can make educated decisions and instinctively know how to help our children without always waiting for outside help to intervene. It may also help agencies to see what has already been put in place and how the child responds to it, allowing them to make a more accurate evaluation of their needs.

Some resources will be generic and possibly helpful for many children with SEND, but some may need a more personal approach, and no, not all resources need to cost money. Don’t be afraid to encourage staff to think outside the box and create resources that will work for one particular child, for example, a child may be really interested in ‘hot wheels’ cars, so a simple matching game doesn’t take long to make.

Margot the Car
Photographer: Jelleke Vanooteghem | Source: Unsplash

Getting to know each individual child, their likes and dislikes, makes our job easier regardless, but we should be especially mindful of this when working with children with SEND. If we unknowingly expose a child to something they dislike it can be incredibly traumatic for them, alternatively if we identify a strong interest, we can use this to encourage them to learn in other areas they may otherwise show no curiosity in.

No matter what learning difficulties young children face, we need to be equipped to manage them and adapt our approaches to fit around them. Families should feel confident sending their children to any nursery and trust that we can give them the best possible outcome.