This message was contributed by Manuela Sanches-Ferreira, from Escola Superior de Educação, Instituto Politécnico do Porto.
When Manuel is upset, he throws a tantrum, cries and tosses objects, he may even hit his class mates. He is impatient, and his attention span is short, which makes him shift activities frequently; he seldom communicates and usually doesn’t initiate interactions.
Imagine a 1st grade teacher receiving such a description. Her/his first reaction would be “how will I have time in my classroom for this student? How will I manage this situation with the other 25 students?”
Transitions from Preschool to Primary School
Every transition is an important moment in a child’s life, e.g. the first time attending childcare or preschool. Primary school entrance is particularly important for children who need additional support . Therefore, the transition should be prepared with the teacher, the family and the child.
Children, like the one on the description above, exist, and sometimes use behaviours like those to express their desires and emotions. Nevertheless, it’s clear that such a description will not be useful to support the child’s transition, because it doesn’t provide information about how the family and/or the teacher already addresses these behaviours.
FAP – Family Assessment Portfolio
A FAP is defined as a set of materials created by the family to communicate with the school the information they considered most important.
In general, a portfolio should include :
- information about the child to share with peers and future teachers;
- pictures of the child in different contexts;
- a list of things about the child (the 10 most important);
- participation of the family, friends, or others that might be relevant (through text or pictures);
- a description of the child’s favourite activities;
- some examples of the work already developed and of what the child can do.
The idea of the FAP, the Family Assessment Portfolio, was introduced to us by James R. Thompson, ex-president of the the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, while visiting the School of Education of the Porto Polytechnic. He explained that FAPs emerged from a mother’s necessity, after seeing her son’s admittance request being rejected based on the medical reports of her son’s additional support needs. As she didn’t recognize her son in those reports, the mother decided to build a portfolio with situations from her son’s daily life to deliver at school instead of the medical reports (and the son was accepted). From this example, Thompson  developed a teacher training project to help families create their child’s portfolios.
Considering Manuel’s case, his parents and teacher could have shared on the portfolio:
Manuel needs someone to explain calmly what he must do and what will happen next. As he really likes using the computer, his teacher used this interest to create a document with the sequence of activities and daily routines, where Manuel indicated with enthusiasm what he was doing throughout the day, sometimes with the help of his teacher, others with the help of his peers. Together with his parents, Manuel selected some photos of himself to share with the new teachers a little bit of his story.
How to Build a Family Assessment Portfolio?
Recently, we built a portfolio  that can be a useful example of a transition strategy for additional support needing children. This portfolio  was built by Simão along with his family and teachers.
[Hi! My name is Simão Pedro… I was born on May 1st 2006, so I’m 6 years old.
I’m very kind, friendly, and happy. I really like using gestures and pointing at things I want. But if you ask me to talk, I can do it as well! And by doing so, I’m improving my communication with you and others.]
[I love playing games on the computer. My favorite fame is Need for Speed Undercover.
I love car races and Lightning McQueen.]
[At school I learn many things! For example, I know how to count to 10, name some objects and animals, and recognize shapes.
Look at the quality of my works:
I already can use scissors, know how to paint and make collages. I can also recognize primary colours.]
From here, your imagination is the limit. You can build a portfolio in various ways, never forgetting what is essential, but allowing the child to participate, so he/she can make it his/her own, with a small movie, drawings or decorations, works, stories that the child wants to share, or other details that reflect the child’s likes and dislikes. After all, we are talking about the book of this child’s life!
What about your school, how do you prepare the transition to primary school, particularly for children with additional support needs? What suggestions could you give for building portfolios?
References Fabian, H., & Dunlop, A. (2006). Outcomes of a good practice in transition processes for children entering primary school. Education for All global Monitoring Report, 13, 1-21.  Pinto, J. & Sanches-Ferreira, M. (2013). O Envolvimento da Família na Transição do Filho com Necessidades Adicionais de Suporte: a Contribuição de um Portefólio [Family Involvement in the Transition of their Child with Additional Support Needs: the Contribution of a Portfolio], Sensos.  Thompson, J. R., Meadan, H., Fansler, K., Alber, S., & Balogh, P. (2007). Family Assessment Portfolios. A new way to jumpstart family/school collaboration. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39, 6, 19-25.