EVENT KNOWHOW Special School Visits



In a new Event Knowhow series, Elaine Cline, Fiona Barker and Sarah Morrell have come together to pool their knowledge on visits to special schools. First up: preparation.

Every author visit to a school is special but some schools are more special than others. We thought it would be useful to pool our collective experience and give some hints and tips for making author visits to special schools go smoothly.

BE PREPARED

Find out as much as possible in advance about the school and the learners you will be meeting.

· What are the additional needs of the learners?
· How big are the class sizes?
· Is it residential?
· Where will your event take place?
· Which staff will attend?
· What are the developmental levels of the groups you will be working with?
· Help the staff prepare by letting the school have a copy of your book in advance.

Plan short, flexible sessions
This will engage the learners’ senses. Thirty minutes is probably a good benchmark for the limits of concentration. Older, more able learners might be able to follow a single thread or activity for that time. With younger learners and those with additional needs, splitting your content into bite-size chunks will really help. For example, you might prepare a drawing activity, then some reading and then perhaps a song or other audience participation activity. If you know the school uses Makaton then it can be fun to learn some of the signs that link to your story.

Have a craft activity? 
Bear in mind that some learners might struggle with fine motor skills. Probably better to avoid complex origami! A craft that can be tailored to the student is ideal. For example, could they complete an activity using collage if they don’t have the fine motor skills to hold a pencil/crayon? Prepare as much as possible in advance so that the teachers can just get going with the activity. They will be really grateful.

Make use of the school staff
Special school staff are equipped with seemingly limitless reserves of patience and ninja behaviour management skills. They know their individual learners really well and will be able to give you advance information and support you on the day. Place yourself in their capable hands and concentrate on delivering your content.

Main Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

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L-R Elaine Cine, Fiona Barker, Sarah Morrell

Elaine Cline (pictured left) is an unagented member of SCBWI. She has taught for nearly 30 years in primary mainstream and also across all key stages in specialist schools (broad spectrum, PMLD/SLD, MLD, ASD).

Fiona Barker (pictured centre) writes picture books and is represented by Alice Williams. Her picture book, illustrated by fellow SCBWI member Howard Gray, Danny and the Dream Dog is published by Tiny Tree Children’s Books. Fiona enjoys sign language and leads a pop-up sign language choir. 

Sarah Morrell (pictured right) is a self-published picture book author with one book in print (The King and the Cockerel) and another due out early Autumn (Molly’s Magic Brolly). She is a Criminologist, mum of three and currently on a career break from HMRC to focus on her writing. 

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Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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