The five learning outcomes of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) guide the way Educators support a child’s transition to school. Planning is child-focused. It reflects on the challenges from a child’s perspective while helping families to navigate through the change.
At Petit Early Learning Journey, our centres’ approach to starting school differs depending on the local community and the needs of each family. There are similarities, both in the planning and in the belief that a child’s learning journey begins at birth.
As Educators, we must listen to children and their needs as we turn transitions into learning experiences, and continue to make them feel safe and secure. The opportunities we create for them can have significant effects on their emotional wellbeing and academic success.
While there has been an emphasis in the past on preparing children to be school ready, the practice now encompasses more than children learning to read and write their name.
In this article, we reached out to four of Petit ELJ’s centres (Coffs Harbour, Marian, Springfield and Forest Hill) to discuss how they support a child’s transition to school. We cover:
- The role of the Educator during school transitions.
- Incorporating school transitions into the program.
- Supporting families with transitions.
- Transition to school statements.
What role does the Educator play during a transition?
Starting school is a significant milestone for children and their families. The learning and preparedness begin long before a child leaves an early childhood education centre. Some experts, like science author, Annie Murphy Paul suggests learning starts before birth.
“Helping children with their transition to school starts when they’re babies. It’s about teaching preschoolers how to be independent and encouraging them to develop those skills,” says Amber, Centre Director at Petit Early Learning Journey Coffs Harbour. “By Treasure Cove, our kindergarten children are learning how to be responsible for their bag and hat.”
For Marian’s Centre Director, Courtney, the role of the Educator is that of an advocate. “Educators support the child and family during the transition as part of a partnership. We prepare children for the world they will face and advise families about their child’s progress.”
“It’s also about making sure the child feels honoured,” says Belinda, Centre Director, Petit Early Learning Journey Forest Hill. “Going off to school should be a positive experience. We set children up for success and get them ready for different ways of doing things, like looking after their belongings or providing them with tabletop learning experiences.”
“We’re also the link between school and families,” says Amber. “When doing transitions they have a lot of questions. We become those middle people who give them and their children the information they need. We work closely with the primary schools on transitions.”
Hailey, Springfield’s Early Childhood Teacher believes Educators impart the skills, knowledge and tools needed to help children have a successful transition. “Educators are there as an additional safe person as children navigate the changes through excursions and school visits.”
How are school transitions incorporated into an early childhood education program?
At Petit ELJ, our centres form close partnerships with the schools in their area.
“Each school has a different transition to school process. This year we had a school send buddies to the centre to make connections with the kindergartners, and we’ve also been on several excursions to different schools,” says Hayley.
Learning about school norms and expectations
Our Springfield centre started the year by asking their local schools about what expectations they had of children on their first day. We used their response to create our practices and guide different aspects of the program, such as the introduction of lunch box days.
“Kindergarten children would bring lunch boxes and make a packed lunch alongside their teacher. An excursion was planned to the local soccer field and playground to role model what a lunchtime may look like at school. This involved the children packing their lunches and water bottles into their bags and walking to the local park,” says Hayley.
The children and Educators discussed the reason for eating their lunch before they go to play and the importance of packing their belongings back into their bags. Children were able to build life skills and grow their independence. They also gained insight into the school’s norms.
“We were constantly thinking about the social, emotional, behavioural and academic hurdles or growth the children would need to make as they journeyed towards school readiness.”
School readiness is more than teaching a child to read and write their name. It includes teacher-initiated experiences within the studio that reflect a school’s educational practices, but it also involves routines and play environments.
Safe and secure: Addressing children’s fears when starting school
At Forest Hill, Educators regularly talk to children about their transition to school and read them stories about going to school. “What’s school like? What do you want to learn? Is there something about going to school that makes you afraid? These are some of the questions we ask the children, and we also discuss the child’s transition with the family,” says Belinda.
“We find out which schools each family have chosen. It helps us to learn if other children are going off to the same school who can become school buddies. Letting the families know other children are going there too eases anxiety.”
“We also run a 6-week speech program around school readiness through Communicate Speech Pathology. The program covers school expectations like sitting at a table for activities. We also send home books about school for children and families to read together.”
Petit ELJ’s centres also organise excursions with local schools. “We went to our local school for a morning session and were met by the prep school,” says Belinda. “The children did activities, ate their morning tea on the playground and visited the toilets, which were different from the toilets in the studio.
“Today, we had one of the prep teacher’s visit us from a local school. She came out to see the children in their environment to gauge their personalities and to learn more about who they are.
“We gradually phase in transition activities into our 4-year-old kindergarten program, so they are in full swing by the second term.
“Talking to families is a big part of transitions. In the middle of the year, we hold interviews with families and gauge when they are ready to do their transition statements.”
Familiarising children so they can adapt to change
At Marian, in North Queensland, it’s not unusual to do multiple excursions. “In term 3, we did a fortnightly visit to engage with four prep teachers, experience morning tea, tuck shop, sports programs, playgrounds, the hall for assemblies, the library and book borrowing and the school’s farm,” says Courtney. “Going multiple times helps children adapt to change.”
“During term 3 and 4, our kindergarten begins to reflect the school environment with uniforms, tables and tools they will use so they are familiar with them when they get to school.
“Aside from the prep teachers visiting, we even had the Year 5 IPAD class visit our centre to do digital storytelling with the children.”
How do you support families with transitions?
While we support and guide a child’s transition to school, Educators also provide support for families.
“Regular meetings and open communication with families are vital for smooth transitions,” says Amber. “We want to learn what the families’ goals are as well as any challenges so we can support them.
“Families aren’t always aware of what the schools are looking for when it comes to transitions. We speak to the schools and their principals and teachers tell us what they want, and we can communicate that to families and guide their process.”
“We talk about a child’s school transition as early as possible,” says Courtney. “We also set up school posters and uniforms in the foyer, to remind families that it’s about to happen and to prompt them to enrol. In our centre, children can try on the uniform and find out their sizes.
“In term 4, children focus on observational drawing, the attachment of friends and moving on to meet new friends and new teachers. We also communicate important dates for prep orientation day and prep interviews.
“We have a very trusting relationship with our local primary school in Marian. This partnership encourages parents to get involved early, so their children have the best starting school experience.”
“This year at Springfield, we offered advice to families on how to continue the learning we were doing at the centre at home,” says Hayley. “We also provided families with dates for school applications and what to take to prep interviews and meetings.
“At our kindergarten night, we sourced local occupational therapists and speech therapists to speak with families about the importance of pencil grip and oral language development as part of school readiness.”
How do Educators approach a transition to school statement?
Each state has different guidelines for completing transition to school statements, and in Victoria they’re called transition learning and development statements (TLDS). Educators should follow their respective state’s policies, but there are some similarities which we noted when interviewing our centres.
“We send ours off in November. Our Early Childhood Teacher writes the transition statement and sends a link to families so they can complete their information. We also attach a photo and drawing so their new teacher can learn more about the child,” says Belinda.
A transition to school statement contains important information about a child who is moving from an early childhood education service to school. It provides a summary of the child’s learning and development and benefits children by:
- Complimenting other transition to school activities.
- Providing continuity of learning.
- Using a child-centred approach.
- Encourages equity in school transitions.
“Essentially it looks at the 5 EYLF outcomes and how that translates into the school curriculum,” says Amber. “We provide a holistic overview of how we have supported the child and where they need improvement.”
“The statement is prepared as part of our one-on-one school transition meeting with families, and after they complete it, they give it to the schools.”
In Queensland, the transition statement also works alongside the Queensland Kindergarten Learning Guidelines (QKLG) discussing where children are in regards to each outcome and whether they are exceeding or exploring or emerging within this area.
“It provides families with the reassurance that we are building resilience and self coping skills for children,” says Courtney. “It also helps schools decide what sort of teacher the child might need.”
“Children’s’ voices are included in the statements through artwork and answering questions, such as: What am I good at and what do I like doing? We usually send these through to the school and place a copy in the children’s learning journals.”
Supporting children’s transitions to school
Early childhood services need to use regular, easy-to-understand documentation that reveals children’s learning to their families. Preparing a child for school doesn’t start with their transition statement or a change to programming in their final year.
There are many opportunities throughout a child’s journey during their early years where play-based learning, group games, activities and other everyday experiences can support transitioning to school. Even graduation provides a relevant transition experience.
“We had thirty children graduating, and while it looked formal it was low key,” says Amber. “We use graduation to help children recognise that change is coming. Change is a big deal and graduating celebrates what they’ve experienced and achieved over the years.
“The children practice their listening skills and learn how to follow instructions when they graduate. They also experience what it’s like to be in front of a crowd. These are things they will do at school when participating in the assembly.
“Farewells are always sad, but it’s about belonging to our local community and the Petit ELJ family. It’s about being—celebrating the everyday experiences that we have shared. Saying goodbye is a big thing, and we know a lot about these children, who they are and who they are becoming.”
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Do you enjoy creating rich and meaningful experiences for children? At Petit ELJ, we wish to expand children’s knowledge of the world and themselves. Every experience moves them towards transitioning to school as independent, capable and resourceful children.
If you enjoy partnering with families and local communities to strengthen children’s identities, and to provide them with the best possible start to their education, then we’d love to hear from you.