The beginning of a new experience is generally an exciting time for anyone but with it also comes a level of apprehension as you take your first steps into the unfamiliar. Starting school is a big step for children and helping them transition to school is an important part of their journey of life-long learning.
The KidsMatter publication – Transition to Primary School: A Review of the literature –identifies the importance of supporting children to have a positive start to their school life and promoting children’s health and wellbeing. It recognises that the transition to school ‘involves negotiating and adjusting to a number of changes including the physical environment, learning expectations, rules and routines, social status and identity, and relationships for children and families’. 
Knowing what to expect in the school environment helps children to make a smooth transition and preparing children for this begins well before their first day of school. Success is more likely when key stakeholders, including children, families, educators, teachers and relevant community representatives work and plan this transition collaboratively. Researchers have also identified that children’s initial social and academic successes at school can be crucial to their future progress.
The Early Years Learning Framework and the National Quality Standard (NQS) recognise the importance of transitions and embedding continuity of learning as a key principle. This is acknowledged in element 6.3.2 of the NQS which requires that continuity of learning and transitions for each child are supported by sharing relevant information and clarifying responsibilities. The notion of supporting children in their transitions is woven throughout the NQS. For example, recognising the importance of supporting children to feel secure, confident and included (5.1.3), building relationships and engaging with the local community (6.3.4) and families (6.2.1), and linking with community and support agencies (6.3.1), to name a few.
The Early Years Learning Framework (p. 16) reminds us of the importance of ensuring children have an active role in preparing for the transition and building on children’s prior and current experiences to ‘help them to feel secure, confident and connected to familiar people, places, events… understand the traditions, routines and practices of the settings to which they are moving and to feel comfortable with the process of change’.
It is widely acknowledged that effective transitions require collaboration between early childhood programs, schools, families and other relevant professionals. Increasingly, we are moving away from the notion of school readiness, instead working collaboratively to ensure the transition to school is smooth and children have every opportunity to settle into their new environments and succeed. Many researchers acknowledge that children’s adjustment to school is not simply about a child’s specific skill set, but is shaped by the relationships and interconnections formed between key stakeholders (such as teachers, educators, families and health professionals).
ACECQA recently heard from principals from two schools in regional Queensland (Charleville State School and Newtown State School) who are working collaboratively to build partnerships and networks with families, health services, early childhood services, schools and the broader community as part of the Great Start, Great Futures project. The project draws on data from sources such as the Australian Early Development Index (AEDI), brain research and ecological, educational and developmental theories. It has reframed the idea of school readiness to ensure schools are ready, welcoming and engaging and children are ready for sustained school success.
So how can early childhood education and care services help support children’s positive transition to school?
Building respectful, positive and collaborative relationships with families, schools and community services is a good place to start. The Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Transition: A Positive Start to School Resource Kit reminds us that all children are different and effective transition-to-school programs recognise and respect these differences. It also emphasises the importance of involving and listening to children ‘because:
- it acknowledges their right to be listened to and for their views and experiences to be taken seriously
- it can make a difference to our understanding of children’s priorities, interests and concerns
- it can make a difference to our understanding of how children feel about themselves
- listening is a vital part of establishing respectful relationships with the children we work with and is central to the learning process
- involving children in transition planning can trigger early childhood educators and Prep teachers to think about how routines and activities can be improved’.
Parents and early childhood professionals can work together to prepare children to understand the change in environment, including providing clarity around what they might expect to see and do, what they will learn about, routines, practices and structures of the school setting. Together, parents and educators can provide consistent messages in preparing children for their transition and reduce anxiety.
Partnerships between the education and care service, community child health services and the school are equally important in supporting children’s continuity of learning, security and healthy development. When information is shared with new educators and other professionals about each child’s current development, knowledge, skills and understandings, continuity for children is enhanced.
The service’s philosophy, policies and procedures should also guide approaches and practices that promote positive transitions and support children to build on their previous experiences to embrace the changes and challenges of the new school environment.
There are a number of resources to assist in developing policies and practices that support effective transitions.
For example, Community Child Care Co-operative NSW has developed a Transition to School Example Policy which you may find helpful.
The Transition: A Positive Start to School Resource Kit (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Victoria) is relevant for long day care, family day care, occasional care, playgroups, OSHC, early childhood intervention services, kindergartens and schools.
Ready Together-Transition to School Program, produced by Communities for Children (Inala to Ipswich) and the Crèche and Kindergarten Association (C&K), includes resources which provide support, tips and suggestions to support families and early childhood professionals in preparing children for school.
The new NSW transition to School Statement is a practical tool designed to make it easier for information to be shared between families, early childhood services and schools. Use of the statement is optional and is completed by the child’s early childhood educator in cooperation with the family, before being communicated to the intended school.
Other resources include:
- Continuity of learning: A resource to support effective transition to school and school age care – https://docs.education.gov.au/node/36597
- Linking Schools and Early Years – http://www.rch.org.au/lsey/
- Illawarra Transition to School Program – http://transitiontoschool.com.au/
- International Journal of Transitions in Childhood –
- School Readiness. Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth-
- Transitions: between groups, settings and beyond. Early Childhood Australia-
Case Study 1: Macedon Kindergarten, Macedon VIC
ACECQA spoke with Macedon Kindergarten’s education leader, Julie Priest, Macedon Primary School principal, David Twite, and local mum Katie Toll about the programs and activities in place to support children and families during transition.
“Macedon Kindergarten’s participation in a local child services network has helped us establish really strong links with the schools in the community. The schools frequently drop off information about their programs and special events, which we display in our foyer and hand out to families. While it may seem like a small action, these materials are the stepping stones that begin the transition process,” Julie said.
Earlier this year, Macedon Primary started a new initiative with Macedon Kindergarten where the preschool/kinder group was invited to the school to participate in storytelling and book reading in the Library.
“These days provide an opportunity for the children to familiarise themselves with the surroundings of what could potentially be their new school the next year,” Julie said.
Macedon Primary School principal, David Twite said the sessions were a great success, with investigations underway for future events.
“As the weather warms up, we hope to extend more invitations to Macedon Kinder to participate in some outside activities,” David said.
“We are fortunate to have an environmental reserve opposite our school and it would be great to organise another event where families and children can be exposed to our natural environment and surroundings in a fun and engaging way.”
Macedon Primary also visits the kindergarten as part of a mentoring program.
“During their visits, teachers and their ‘buddies’ [year 5 and 6 students] read to the children and participate in classroom activities. This provides another opportunity for the children to meet potential teachers, peers and form relationships,” Julie said.
“We also use a ‘transition display’ as part of our program to visually illustrate the schools each child will attend. By using photos of the school, teachers, principals, and children, we are able to create a scene that the children can connect with.”
Another important component of Macedon Kindergarten’s program is the development of transition statements. The statements are completed by the educators and families to ensure useful information is captured and passed on to the teacher and principal of the desired school.
“Each child is unique, therefore is it vital our statements directly reflect their learning abilities and personalities. We have received a great deal of positive feedback from families who appreciate the effort we go to, to ensure their child is supported throughout the process,” Julie said.
Macedon Primary is also committed to supporting children and families through the transition process.
“Once we receive the statements, our teachers meet with the educators at Macedon Kinder and discuss in length each child’s learning development, friendship groups and readiness for school and any additional support required,” David said.
Katie Toll, local resident and mother of two, experienced the transition to school with her eldest son last year as he progressed from Macedon Kindergarten to Macedon Primary School.
“The children regularly attended events and activities organised by the kindy and the school,” Katie said. “A great example was Orientation Day, where the children were invited to attend Macedon Primary for a couple of hours in the morning to familiarise themselves with the school, teachers and their new surroundings.
“Macedon Primary School’s information sessions provided us with an opportunity to meet the teachers face-to-face, form a relationship and learn about the prep program first hand.”
Katie believes the smooth transition experienced by her son was due to the close relationships shared within the community.
“I also found the program really valuable because the support networks and relationships I developed with other families in the kindy were able to continue through to the next year,” she said.
Case Study 2: John Mewburn Child Care Centre, Malabar NSW
John Mewburn Child Care Centre was one of several early education services involved in the 2013 New South Wales Transition to School Statement Trial. The two-month trial was implemented by the NSW Department of Education and Communities and aimed to improve the transition process from early education to primary school. Rose Todd, Manager of Education and Care at Gowrie NSW, and Carla Patulny, early childhood teacher (3-5 years), spoke to ACECQA about John Mewburn’s involvement in the trial and the strong relationship that grew between the service and the school.
“The trial was conducted with a local primary school in November and December last year , and involved a small group of children and their families, the early childhood educators, local kindergarten teacher and principal,” Rose said.
The primary purpose of the trial was to learn how services and schools can better support children in the transition process.
“We wanted to create a smooth, stress-free transition for children and their families as they entered primary school,” Rose said. “We wanted to ensure they were entering a warm, welcoming environment where the kindergarten teachers and principal were aware of each child’s background, personality and learning development.
“To achieve this, Transition to School Statements were developed by the early childhood educators and their families. The statements provided an opportunity for the educators and families to pass on their knowledge, outline the level of support required for each child and highlight any feelings or concerns they may have about the transition process.”
Early childhood teacher, Carla Patulny, said the centre worked in partnership with families to develop transition statements that were a true representation of each child’s learning capability and needs.
“We worked collaboratively with the families, organising face-to-face meetings to develop statements,” Carla said. “Families involved in the trial said they found this process extremely valuable because they could see how their child’s learning and development tracked against the five key learning outcomes.”
John Mewburn centre also worked closely with local primary schools to ensure a smooth transition process.
“Once the statements were finalised and with the school, teachers would make regular visits to the centre to discuss each child’s needs and learning development,” Carla said. “These meetings helped the teachers familiarise themselves with each child and provided an opportunity to make special arrangements, if required.
“For children who were identified as having higher needs, we [John Mewburn centre and the primary school] also worked with the families to organise special visitations and help the transition process.”
The trial provided the foundations for a strong relationship between the educators at John Mewburn and the principal at the primary school.
“I believe the trial has helped improve communication between the service and school, and created a positive change for all involved,” Rose said. “To this day, John Mewburn regularly visits the primary school for their special events and this is due to the strong connection between the service and the school.”
 Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011) Transition to primary school: A review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, page 5.
 Fabian, H & Dunlop, A-W. (2006). Outcomes of Good Practice in Transition Process for Children Entering Primary School. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007, Strong Foundations: Early Childhood Care and Education. UNESCO
 Hirst, M., Jervis, N., Visagie, K., Sojo, V. & Cavanagh, S. (2011) A review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, page 12
 Transition: A Positive Start to School Resource Kit, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development Victoria. http://www.education.vic.gov.au/childhood/professionals/learning/Pages/transkit.aspx