It is a busy time of year for EYFS settings particularly reception class teachers as they help their current classes prepare for life after the EYFS curriculum and that all important transition to Year 1, ensuring they have met the Early Learning Goal (ELG) they have worked towards since birth! And then there is the essential task of ensuring that new entrants’ transition is managed sensitively. Lindsey Harris, a deputy headteacher with a degree in primary education and masters in early years, shares her experiences.
The key to a successful transition is relationships. Secure relationships between nursery settings and schools, between parents and schools, and the most important relationship to nurture, is that of the staff and the children beginning school.
A successful transition considers not just the processes and clear routines for this transition but those that do this with consideration and empathy for a child’s emotions during this time. In order for a child to seamlessly move from nursery to school, a three-pronged approach is essential:
Nursery educators have worked with, and cared for their pre-schoolers for a minimum of a year, perhaps longer. They are a fount of knowledge when it comes to that child’s wants, needs, likes and dislikes. Their insight into that child is immeasurable, therefore schools need to initiate and maintain a good working relationship and open communication with nursery teams.
In order to do this, reception teachers should conduct nursery visits during June/July to have honest conversations, and to discuss the nurseries records of achievement so far for that individual. This is also a time for the professionals to share key information that has helped them to form secure relationships with the child during their time at the setting. In addition, there should be time for teachers to observe and interact with the child at their nursery setting. Teachers should leave nursery visits with a much better understanding of where the child is academically and how to care for their emotional wellbeing in line with what the nursery has started. This continuation is essential to a successful transition from nursery to school.
Parents and carers
The people who know the child best are the parents or carers. They know all their child’s quirky ways, what makes their child happiest and what their child does not like.
In order to prepare their child for starting school, there are several practical things parents could do:
- Promote independence e.g. putting on their own shoes and coat, doing zips, eating their lunch independently.
- Purchasing and trying on uniform to help create a sense of belonging.
- Help their child to recognise their name on their school items e.g. their new school jumper.
- Spend time preparing and talking about school.
But this relationship is more than just what the parent can and will offer to their child’s learning journey as they continue their way through the early years curriculum.
The role of a parent during transition from nursery to school is not just in the form of practical support, it is about supporting their child emotionally with this next step in their education. Therefore, it is vital that parents feel secure in their choice of school and have confidence in the staff. They too are leaving the familiarity of the nursery setting, making a huge leap of faith. Parents must feel valued by their child’s new teacher and reassured.
School transition routines
There are several ways to initiate a good professional relationship with parents and carers. All schools have a slightly different approach to initiating a connection, but here are some practical things that practitioners may wish to do:
Teddy bears picnic
Children and parents are invited to attend a picnic at the school with the staff who will be responsible for the care of their child. Children can enjoy a picnic with the security of their parent being there and adults at the school can begin to support the networking process, parent-to-parent.
Schools should host a welcome meeting in June to share with parents important information about the school; this will include: what a child needs to bring to school daily, as this may differ to their previous setting; what a “typical” school day entails; any part-time starting arrangements; and information about further transition sessions (often referred to as ‘Stay and Play’ sessions). Parents will be given an opportunity to ask questions, meet staff, and purchase uniform.
‘Stay and Play’ sessions in summer
Schools should offer ‘Stay and Play’ sessions for children in the summer term. These sessions are usually an hour long and nursery children are invited to attend to play in their new classrooms. In my experience, it is better to invite ‘children only’ to these sessions as it ensures there is no confusion for the child when they are expected to leave their parent in September. As this is difficult for parents to do initially, and as an hour is a short time, I have always invited parents to have refreshments in the school hall and have encouraged them to network. During this time parents are looked after by different teams who may work with the children whilst they are at school. (e.g. SENCO and their team, the pastoral team, the Senior Leadership Team). This encourages open communication and familiarity; if the SENCO wishes to talk to the parent about a particular need later in the year, the parent already knows who he/she is and this always helps.
During the ‘Stay and Play’ session, settings should use the time to:
- Make the children’s peg labels so children know they belong.
- Share a transition book - this is a book that some schools make with photos of the classroom and the adults at school in the form of a story for children to read over the summer.
- Make notes about good friendships for class groupings.
- My school has always provided a balloon with the school logo on it in an envelope with a home visit appointment scheduled. This means the child can put the balloon on their front door and teachers can easily locate the child’s home.
Schools should arrange to complete a home visit to see the child in their most natural environment. Home visits usually occur before a child starts school, this may be in July or the first few weeks in September. Home visits are important because of how personal they are. The visits usually follow a structure - the teacher will share information with the parent(s) and then complete a questionnaire (set by the school). This gives the team a greater insight into medical needs, dietary requirements and anything else that teachers will want to know first-hand, not just from the school office. The child is the centre of the discussion. When this is completed, parents will have the opportunity to ask any questions they may still have. Whilst the discussions occur, the learning support assistant/teaching assistant will spend time down at the child’s level reading with them or looking at their toys. Some schools provide a book bag to their new entrants and this can be given with a reading record or home/school planner and a picture book for the child to share with a family member. This is helpful for providing a connection between home and school.
Part-time schedule for starting school
Finally, despite a child having gone to pre-school and perhaps even spent longer days in day care of some kind, it is essential to a child’s wellbeing to have a period of part-time attendance. This enables a child to get familiar with their new environment and their new rules and routines without feeling overwhelmed. Settings vary on this: some encourage a staggered start; some have part-time morning sessions and afternoon sessions which children are invited to attend. The best part-time approach I have ever seen is one week of part-time, all children in together from 9:00am–12pm, Monday–Wednesday, Thursday and Friday 9:00am–1:00pm with lunch. This allows a child to build up their time in school but doesn’t mean they become too reliant on a part-time schedule.