Supporting School Transitions in the Early Years
The transition to ‘Big School’ is a pivotal moment in every child’s early education journey, and for many it is an exciting time and a seamless transition from setting to school.
But as with any element of children’s learning and development, this is not the case for all children nor their experiences of transitions.
As pro-active and knowledgeable practitioners we must be attuned to these differing attitudes to transitions and essentially pre-empt these occasions before they occur and have strategies in place in order to minimise the impact of the impending transition.
Transitions can be incredibly daunting, particularly one as monumental as the transition to primary school. Some children may be leaving a small setting and their receiving school is going to feel large in comparison and daunting as a result and so we must do whatever we can to make the bigger changes and differences as exciting for children as possible to try and reduce anxiety prior to the event and the settling in stages.
The way in which we talk about transitions and changes will hugely impact upon children’s attitudes and feelings towards the entire experience and so ensuring we are all consistent in our conversations and transition discussions is key.
Similarly, transitions are an important time to ensure our parent partnerships are strong and consistent as these periods are a transition for the whole family and so we should not only be supporting the child and providing tools and skills to ease the transition, but also providing support for the parents too as this builds consistency and a child-centred approach to transitions which will make the process smoother and easier for the child.
Before the transitional months begin we should already be making links with schools in and around the locality, ensuring we know key information, they are aware of your setting and that you make initial links and communication ahead of the busy transition period.
You could also ask receiving schools for examples of their uniform from their lost property, booklets or information or anything that has the school logo on it and begin to add these to your provision ahead of the transition, this will spark an initial curiosity in the children and allows them to explore the concept of school and the different elements of this transition in their own time and at their own pace.
You could also slowly introduce opportunities for self-care and encouraging and developing children’s independence in getting dressed, just by adding clothes or uniform to your dressing up area.
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Similarly, reflect upon your mealtime routines, how similar are these to school? Are you a setting that provides hot meals? If so, why not provide a ‘lunch box’ style lunch one day to allow children the opportunity to independently open packets, unwrap their food and pierce their own cartons?
These are the types of skills that are often over-looked when supporting children in preparing for a transition, but by allowing children to explore and develop these skills and promoting their independence, they will feel confident enough to adapt and apply these skills to their new environment, rather than this part of the transition being an element they potentially worry about prior to starting.
You can apply this principle and offer different opportunities for skills and events that will require children to be more independent than perhaps we’ve asked of them before and during the weeks and months leading up to the transition, offer opportunities for them to practice this within a safe space, with familiar adults and their peers, as this will significantly increase their engagement and positivity when accepting these new challenges.
The transition to school is slightly different to transitions to another setting, new room within the nursery etc, whereby the transition is happening to a larger number of children, at the same time, which many children will seek comfort from and this is an opportunity for you to make the idea of this transition as exciting as possible for all of the children leaving for school; hold group discussions about the different schools, talk about similarities and differences, look at each child’s uniforms and logos and allow time to discuss, as a group and between themselves, highlight which children are going to the same school and support these interactions and relationships in building so children know they have a friendly face alongside them on the transition process.
By making the concept of such a big transition in a child’s life into small, manageable, activities and experiences that children can explore through play at their own pace and time but also alongside their peers and trusted adults, is essential to aiding a smooth transition and building their confidence in preparation and also allows them to feel more confident to talking about their concerns and fears, which will enable you to adapt your strategy and provide different opportunities to explore and eradicate these fears and anxieties whilst simultaneously igniting excitement head of their new adventure.