This time of year can become stressful for young children, and for us all, as they approach big changes in their lives. A major change for young children is when they leave your setting to start school. Some children will cope with this transition easily whilst others will really struggle with it; especially if they are the eldest child or only child in their family, therefore they haven’t had the advantage of watching an older sibling go to school every day.
Here are some tips to help children cope with the transition into school:
Put school uniform in the role-play area
This is such an effective yet simple way of helping children get use to one aspect of school life – the uniform. Ask around and see if anyone has any old uniform and book bags that they no longer need. The children can then role-play schools – if you observe this play carefully you may become aware of any worries that some children have that they are not otherwise able to express. Another great thing about this is that children can practise getting changed in and out of their uniform – something that they are going to need to do at school when getting changed for P.E. (The reception teachers will really appreciate this!)
Create a transition book
With the help of the school, create a transition book that tells a child, in very simple terms, what their new school is going to be like i.e. I am going to ____ school. I will be in the ___ class. My teacher will be ____ . This is where I will hang my coat etc. Put one sentence on each page and include a photo above each sentence. That way, the book is clear and simple yet very, very effective. If you then give this to the family, they can read it with the child over the summer or at any point that the child may be having a ‘wobble’ about starting school.
Most parents will be keen to take their children to all school visits, and I’m sure that you will welcome school staff who would like to visit your setting (most reception teachers will do this at some point during the summer term, if they haven’t already). If you have a child that you think is going to particularly struggle with transition, then it would be worth having a chat with the school to see if you can arrange some extra visits for them.
Help the child understand when the changes are happening
One of the problems with an upcoming change is that young children have little concept of time, so they don’t really understand when it is happening. In this case a visual calendar can help. Just use a calendar or print a calendar month off the computer. On it, highlight any key events that the child knows of such as a holiday or a family birthday, plus mark their last day with you and their first day at school. You might need to use visuals to highlight these such as a visual symbol, drawing or photo. The child can then cross off, either week by week or day by day, the time until they start school. This allows them to visually get an idea of when they start school, thus removing the unknown and easing anxiety.
"One of the problems with an upcoming change is that young children have little concept of time, so they don’t really understand when it is happening."
Help children prepare for school expectations & routines
Gently helping children to learn some simple skills that they will need to use at school such as lining up and not calling out at carpet time is a great way of helping them understand what school is like. That way, the expectations at school won’t come as such a shock to them.
Be positive about school – this may seem obvious but it is very easy to slip into lines such as ‘you won’t be able to do that when you start school’. This just instils fear into children and even if the child you’re saying it to isn’t that bothered, there may be other, more sensitive children listening in.
Whilst the big upcoming change that we know about is starting school, there are often other big upheavals in a little person’s life that can benefit from the same support – the birth of a new sibling, moving house etc. You can apply many of the tips above to these sorts of scenarios. There are also excellent books available to support children through different changes in their lives.
As well as being hard for children, change can also be tough for adults! I’m sure you will be sad to say goodbye to some of the characters that you have got to know so well, but by putting steps like these into place, you can be sure that you have done your best to help them transition into school happily.
About the author
Gina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.