Starting school is an important milestone in any child and family’s life. For families of children with developmental delay or disability, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and as positive as possible.
You might be:
All children arrive at primary school with knowledge and experiences from growing up within the context of family, neighbourhood, service and community environments. Traditional concepts of school readiness have placed emphasis on a child's skills; however, preschool skill-based assessments of children's functioning have been shown to be poor predictors of subsequent school adjustment and achievement (La Paro & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & La Paro, 2003). More recent thinking about the transition to school recognises that "school readiness does not reside solely on the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves" (Kagan & Rigby, 2003, p. 13).
Reference: (Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p45).
ECI professionals play an important role in this community-wide approach to children’s transition to school.
Research, as well as feedback from parents, carers and professionals across Australia, have identified some useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school.
What types of assistance do families find useful?
What types of information should I share with families?
Click here for more information about assessments.
“One of the most helpful things for us was listening to a number of parents talk about their experiences of different school options: mainstream, Catholic, special schools and support classes through a panel workshop set up by our Early Intervention service. This really helped me to consider all options. Hearing from another parent was the most valuable thing in terms of hearing that I needed to really look at my own child’s needs. There were families there who had started with one school and then moved onto another, which also helped me realise that any decision we made didn’t have to be forever.”
Dianne, mother of Michael
How can I support families to work in partnership with the school and advocate positively for their child?
Working with teachers in schools
“Meeting with the therapists prior, and once child starts, to know the needs in advance, that is really helpful. A combination of info. Medical reports aren’t that helpful. Talking to therapists and parents is the most helpful.”
What do teachers in receiving schools find helpful?
How can I work in a collaborative role with the teacher to build his or her capacity to include children with a developmental delay or disability?
Tips for working in partnership with teachers in schools:
Working with families, ask yourself:
In terms of the provision of Information, ask yourself:
In terms of advocacy, ask yourself:
In working with schools, ask yourself:
You might be an educator who works in:
All children arrive at primary school with knowledge and experiences from growing up within the context of family, neighbourhood, service and community environments. Traditional concepts of school readiness have placed emphasis on a child's skills; however, skill-based assessments of children's functioning have been shown to be poor predictors of subsequent school adjustment and achievement (La Paro & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & La Paro, 2003). More recent thinking about the transition to school recognises that "school readiness does not reside solely in the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves" (Kagan & Rigby, 2003, p. 13 and Dockett & Perry, 2006).
(Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p45).
As an early childhood education and care (ECEC) educator, you play an important role in this community-wide approach to children’s transition to school.
“ECECs need to explain to families how they (ECECs) might be able to assist and be involved in transition to school. For example, as an advocate with an educational background in meetings, who can share what works for the child now and what might work at school.”
Child Care Centre Director
Many practices associated with a successful transition to school are outlined as part of the National Quality Standard and Early Years Learning Framework, which are requirements for all licensed ECEC services.
As an ECEC educator you:
These are all priority areas identified by kindergarten teachers in terms of children’s adaptation to school life.
It can be helpful to have some understanding of the application processes, in order to support families in this area as needed.
When to start
Support families to make contact with the school to allow the school time to submit and process funding applications as well as to build relationships to support planning and the transfer of information:
As it is every child’s right to attend their local public school, the starting point for families should be to contact their local public school to make an appointment to meet with the principal.
Advise families of the following:
For families interested in their child attending a Catholic school, advise them that the first point of contact should be the principal of their local Parish school.
Independent or private schools
If the family is interested in an independent or private school, advise parents will need to contact the specific school directly.
Click here for information on school options in all education sectors.
“The more the ECEC staff know about the system, the better they can support families. Families then learn to trust the ECEC. We can help by advertising transition to school workshops and what these are about. We have attended these workshops, so we hear the same information as families.”
“Our preschool teacher really helped me. She made time to come along to the transition meeting with me and even had a coffee and a chat with me afterwards. This support helped a lot because I was so stressed about school, I was everywhere.”
Kylie, mother of Alex
What do families find useful?
“Because we had such a good supportive experience with the regular preschool this helped me to feel ready for my daughter to go to school.”
Janine, mother of Molly
How can you, as an educator, support families?
What do teachers in receiving schools find helpful?
Interviews with teachers have identified helpful transition practices including:
The most successful transition to school programs occur through a collaborative team approach.
While you are experts around child development, early childhood education, and the Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standards, it is well recognised that parents are experts on their own individual child.
Most children who have identified disabilities or developmental delays prior to starting school, will have early childhood intervention (ECI) professional/s involved.
Ask the family about the ECI professionals working with their child and whether they are able to spend some time in your ECEC setting.
There may also be other specialist professionals within your community who are able to help. They may be able to work with you to build your capacity to adapt and adjust programming and teaching to support learning for children with additional needs. They may also be able to link families to support and assistance.
Transition support might be available from:
Training and/or funding support may be available to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in your service through the following programs:
Inclusion and Professional Program (ISP) for federally funded long day care, family day care and out of school hours services.
Preschool Disability Support Program (PDSP) for preschools.
“Preschool was the most important thing. Getting into a routine and learning to sit down for a story and things like that helped prepare our little girl for the school routines. She knew a few kids from preschool who were going to her school too.”
Ricardo, father of Angelina
Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Community Child Health (2008) Rethinking the transition to school, Curriculum leadership, Vol.6, issue 34.
Click here to access this article online.
Working with families
Working in partnership
Supporting the child’s development
QA 1: Educational program and practice
1.1 An approved learning framework informs the development of a curriculum that enhances each child’s learning and development.
Jai has been attending the same long day care centre since he was 6 months old. His development across all areas has been delayed since birth. He is about to turn 4 and his parents have expressed concerns about how he will cope with starting school next year. The family are considering moving him to a preschool as they are worried that he isn’t being prepared for school enough. Centre staff have noticed that Jai has made some positive gains in increasing his independence and interacting with other children and is now participating in all aspects of the programme with limited support from staff.
Centre staff identify that they need to find a way to share the ways that their programme helps prepare children for school, the progress that Jai is making and how this will assist Jai when he starts school, to help the family make an informed decision about whether or not to move him to another centre.
QA 3: Physical Environment
3.2 The environment is inclusive, promotes competence, independent exploration and learning through play.
Jeyda who is starting school next year, regularly chooses the sandpit as her preferred play space. In this space, she is developing imaginative play skills such as creating a home for a toy dinosaur and with staff support. This activity provides opportunities for developing her social play skills by learning to include her peers in sharing and taking turns to use play materials.
QA 4: Staffing Arrangements
4.2.2 Professional standards guide practice, interactions and relationships.
“It is a key priority at our preschool for staff to be very involved in transition to school. This priority is outlined in our policy documents. We invite the school to come and see the child in the preschool setting prior to starting school. We have relationships which have been ongoing once child has started at school, so the teacher can call if there is any assistance they need.“
Teaching Preschool Director
QA 5: Relationships with Children
5.1.3 Each child is supported to feel secure, confident and included.
Jamie has always arrived at child care needing lots of emotional support and comfort. He seemed anxious about what was happening next and would often stand at the gate watching for his Dad. Staff worked with Jamie’s family and the Inclusion Support facilitator to determine what might help make this transition smoother for Jamie. The centre have now set up a photo board to show the main routine events in a day at our centre. Some kids call this the “day clock” and many children other children refer to it at various times throughout the day.
5.2.1 Each child is supported to work with, learn from and help others through collaborative learning opportunities.
Samira loves to pick up leaves and twist them in her fingers. Preschool staff made this into a collaborative learning experience when other children noticed her interest in this and were encouraged to collect different types of leaves around the outdoor area. Over a few days the leaves were used to create a large group collage. All children were given opportunities to contribute in their own way. Children commented, shared ideas and added to the artwork.
QA 6: Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities
6.1 Respectful supportive relationships with families are developed and maintained.
“As we get to know families, we try to develop an awareness of what families want for their child. We need to keep our knowledge of school systems up to date so we can support families to feel confident to make the next step towards school. Acknowledging that parents are the ones who know their child the best is a very important start.”
Combined Preschool and Early Childhood Intervention Service Director.
6.3 The service collaborates with other organisations and service providers to enhance children’s learning and well-being.
6.3.1 Links with relevant community and support agencies are established and maintained.
6.3.2 Continuity of learning and transitions for each child are supported by sharing relevant information and clarifying responsibilities.
“The strong collaboration with different agencies is essential. We work very closely on family priorities with our local Early Childhood Intervention service and we also aim to develop connections with local schools.”
6.3.3 Access to inclusion and support assistance is facilitated.
“We access whatever help we can and put together what we know about the child and our centre’s community with other professional’s expertise such as in inclusion, physiotherapy or speech therapy. We know we can call on these people when we need their input and also have regular meetings to check we are all on the same track.”
Long Day Care Centre Teacher.
6.3.4 The service builds relationships and engages with their local community.
An example of a preschool/school partnership:
The year 5 class from school located next door to a preschool interacts with the preschool children through weekly visits to the preschool or school visits in terms 3 and 4. Each child is connected with a year 5 buddy and fun group activities are offered such as art/craft or sport based games where the children are able to build connections with older school-aged children. The buddy relationships can be ongoing for any children who commence at this school next year. This has been particularly beneficial for a couple of children with additional needs who have transitioned into this school. School staff have also spoken about benefits for their Year 5 students.
”In partnership with families, early childhood educators ensure that children have an active role in preparing for transitions. They assist children to understand the traditions, routines and practices of the settings to which they are moving and to feel comfortable with the process of change.”
(Being, Belonging, Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, 2009, p16)
Inclusion in community and educational settings is fundamentally tied to a sense of belonging. When children “belong” to a place, they are able to develop a sense of an identity.
Children develop capacity to enjoy the present moment when they have a sense of belonging.
Given that children’s development, identities, levels of self-esteem and confidence depend on a strong sense of belonging, collaboration between prior to school and school settings is essential to ensure that children continue to feel they belong in their new school.
Inclusive education, therefore, creates a situation where all children can be valued and experience a sense of belonging and where all children are encouraged to reach their full potential in all areas of development (Cologon, 2013).
For any child, being in the present moment, and developing a sense of self are vital.
From the development of their own identity, children begin building and maintaining relationships with others, engage with both positive experiences and complexities, and learn to cope with challenges in everyday life. It is widely accepted that the quality of the relationships between children and those around them shapes learning and development.
There is a commonly expressed concern in ECEC that a child’s experiences in ECEC should not be focussed purely upon preparing them for the next step to school.
For young children with disabilities in particular, there does need to be a longer term focus on planning and collaborating around transition to school in order to make the move to this next setting as seamless as possible. Planning and preparation, does not, however, need to be at the expense of spending time in the present moment.
“Children’s identities, knowledge, understandings, capacities, skills and relationships change during childhood. They are shaped by many different events and circumstances. Becoming reflects this process of rapid and significant change that occurs in the early years as young children learn and grow. It emphasises learning to participate fully and actively in society.”
(Being, Belonging, Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, 2009, p8)
In relation to “becoming” in the transition to school process, children need to be able to transfer their learning from one environment to another in order to be able to adapt to a significant change. This requires effective planning and collaborative partnerships between you as an ECEC professional, families, and other specialist services.