As adults we know the effects of a major transition in our lives: getting married, changing jobs, starting a new relationship, going for an interview. We are very familiar with the feelings of being scared: butterflies in the tummy, knocking knees, feeling sick. Usually, we are able to draw on previous experiences to help us control our feelings, but sometimes – usually when the transition is out of our control – we can become very stressed and fearful.

Young children experience a number of transitions as they move from place to place and adult to adult, most often controlled by more powerful adults and institutions. The most obvious transitions are between home and nursery or nursery and school and most research has concentrated on the preparation needed and effects on children.

However, at Acorns Nursery in St Albans the team are considering more deeply how children can be supported to manage transitions within the setting without experiencing too much distress. Staff felt children could be supported more proactively and sensitively rather than seeing these transitions as a normal phase of life and something to be got through. Perhaps we were underestimating the effect on children of change?

A number of key transitions were identified including:

  • leaving parents/carers
  • being collected from nursery
  • moving between indoors and outside
  • going for walks
  • different staff being in the room
  • changing keyworker
  • changing group etc.

The key one for our nursery, set in an old manor house, was the transition between the baby rooms downstairs and the two to three’s room upstairs.

Dunlop, A and Fabian, H (2002) comment that ‘Children need to be able to be agents in their own transitions, rather than undermined through change’. How could we, as practitioners, engage the children in the process of transition and enable them to be as fully prepared as we would like to be as adults?

Firstly, we considered transitions from the child’s point of view, to put ourselves in their shoes and consider what is scary about moving upstairs. Practitioners soon realised that there were a number of things, including:

  • Different staff and names to learn
  • Older children they didn’t know
  • More freedom to move between rooms
  • New rules to learn (Why can’t I go in the toilets and run the water until it overflows?)
  • A mountain of stairs to climb
  • Accelerated expectations of development from staff

Identifying these stressors enabled us to reflect on the actions we can take to help children and to ‘hold their hand’. We now arrange for the children to have more visits upstairs, making it more like starting a new nursery with planned settles. The staff upstairs come down to the baby room more often in order to get to know the children before they move. The younger children go upstairs for tea or to have a play with their keyworkers.

The biggest change has been in the way we involve parents/carers. We now invite them to visit the room before their child moves. We ask them to find out about the routines and discuss their child with the new keyworker as though they were just starting at the nursery. We haven’t made big changes to practice but our emphasis has changed; we now think more about the effects of all transitions on children and the impact on their parents.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the transitions in your nursery?
  • What is the impact on the children and their parents?
  • What can you do differently?

About the author

wendyWendy Taylor has 40 years’ experience of working with young children, including early years teaching, lecturing, deputy manager of a local Children’s Centre and as the Chief Examiner for CACHE. She is also a co-author of books for students on foundation degree courses and currently manages a day nursery in St Albans, which is attached to Oaklands College.


Dunlop, A and Fabian, H (2002). Transitions in the Early Years: Debating Continuity and Progression in Children in Early Education. Abingdon: Routledge. p 148.


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