As the end of term approaches, settings will be preparing for September when they usually receive a large intake of new children.  This can be a stressful time for parents/carers and practitioners and it’s important we keep children’s needs at the heart of the process.   I spent ten minutes thinking about the skills our children need to settle successfully in an early years setting, it’s a long list!

  • Separate from their parent/carer
  • Form relationships with a number of unfamiliar adults
  • Express their needs and ask for help
  • Identify which resources can be used and when/how
  • Eat a range of foods at snack time and lunchtime
  • Use a “strange” toilet or accept an unknown person changing their nappy
  • Understand a different routine which changes regularly
  • Find their way around a different environment, both inside and outside
  • Understand the rules of the setting and how they are expected to behave in a range of situations
  • Meet many different children and play alongside/with them
  • Try to be as independent as possible
  • Listen to instructions
  • Learn how to seek comfort and reassurance in a new environment
  • Try to manage their anxiety, tiredness, hunger, thirst, anger, frustration, excitement and fear

Firstly, are these expectations realistic?  I have visited a number of settings where practitioners have been frustrated by children’s behaviour at the start of term.  All children’s behaviour is communicating an unmet need and it’s our responsibility to identify and meet this need, this can only be achieved by a through induction process and a shared understanding between practitioners of how best to support children in those difficult first few weeks. When adults attend training I deliver, they’re often anxious when they arrive at the venue, unsure of what to expect during the day.  Imagine the anxiety levels of the children we work with, some of whom don’t even understand where they’re going!

You might find it helpful to watch this 20 minute recorded webinar where I speak about the importance of forming partnerships with parents/carers and asking a range of open-ended questions to find out their child’s interests, previous experiences, stage of development and how best to ensure a smooth transition into the setting. 

Consider how you work together as a team to develop the skills I listed above.  Children won’t magically learn these without your support, so it’s best to prioritise what’s most important and model these skills to each child, explaining what you’re doing to parents/carers so they can ideally be followed up at home.  Time spent in this way when a child starts will reap rewards later when that child settles happily at your setting and you see them making progress.  I recommend setting up a meeting with every parent/carer within 4 – 6 weeks of their child starting, so you can address any concerns at an early stage and celebrate the many successes.

The actress Claire Sweeny once said of her first day at school, “I felt abandoned – watching my mum leave me with strangers. I’ll never forget that feeling.”   We mustn’t forget how vulnerable children are when they start at our setting and how much trust their parents/carers have placed in us.  This is a tremendous responsibility but it’s also a wonderful opportunity to set a path for learning that will make a difference for the rest of that child’s life; what a great job we have!

About the author

me2Kathryn is a specialist early years teacher and trainer who has worked with children for nearly 25 years, including 10 years as an Area SENCO. She is an ELKLAN Speech and Language Trainer and regularly writes and delivers courses for early years practitioners on all aspects of SEND.  You can follow her on Twitter @kathrynstinton2, find her on Facebook or visit her website for more information.


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