Transitions in Early Childhood - Making the First Days of Preschool a Success
Those first days and weeks at preschool can be very unsettling for young children where everything is new – teachers, other children, and the preschool environment. We know early years practitioners are constantly looking for ways to ease this transition from home for preschool children and their families.
As the commencement of the preschool year is nearly upon us, we thought we would share with you how we have changed our practice of settling children into preschool and the results we have experienced.
Supporting children and families transition from home to pre-school and making those first days of preschool a success can make the start of the preschool year a truly positive event.
The Research behind Transitions
At Portobello Montessori School, we have children whose families originate from all corners of the globe. For many, their first language is not English, in fact, last year we had 16 different languages spoken. Mindful of this diversity, we constantly seek out new ways to work collaboratively with the children and families in our service.
The starting point for us is introducing children to the routine and environment of attending a preschool and making the transition from home to preschool.
Our aim is to make this transition as stress-free as possible for the children, their families, and the practitioners in the setting.
On reviewing the industry best practice and the theory presented, we considered several strategies. We wanted to eliminate the negative impact of this transition on children.
Transitions happen throughout life, they signify a move from one situation to another. Some are major such as starting preschool, primary school, secondary school, starting college, moving to a new house, job, etc. These mark milestones in life. However, smooth daily transitions, moving from one activity to another or to another room are significant.
To allow for this, children need stable and reliable relationships, continuity of care, and a secure base.
The key person approach nurtures secure, responsive, and respectful relationships with children, parents, and other significant adults.
Connecting with parents to create effective lines of communication encourages positive relationships and sharing of information.
At Portobello Montessori School, we took from the research that meeting the child beforehand, in the natural environment of their home was a very effective strategy for supporting the transition and making those first days in preschool a success.
It allowed the practitioner to get to know the child, establishing a relationship with them in the security of their own home. Consequently, on that all-important first day – they had a friend at preschool!
How did we implement our transition strategy?
In June, we sent out a letter to the parents and guardians of our existing and new children starting in our service offering a home visit from the room leader in our Montessori school.
To our surprise, every family welcomed this opportunity. The early years practitioner scheduled meetings over the month of August to fit in with the family’s availability. She had early morning breakfasts, lunch, and teatime invitations.
The remit of the visit - get to know the children in their homes, in familiar territory to them, and establish a trusting relationship between the practitioner and the child’s families.
What happened on the first day of preschool?
Parents reported the visits as a really positive first step in getting to know the practitioner and allowing the practitioner to get to know their child’s individual likes, dislikes, and needs.
The practitioner reported a very positive experience and felt very welcomed by all of the families.
The most important outcome however was on day one. It was a revelation - there were no visibly upset children or distressed parents.
The children arrived that morning to be greeted by a person who had been to their home and whom they knew to be a friend.
The scenes of crying children clinging to their parents, upset parents not wanting to leave them, and stressed practitioners trying to cope had been avoided.
Instead, we had a calm environment where children and parents were interested and happy to meet their practitioner again.
The practitioner links this seamless settling-in period to the home visits and the establishment of a relationship with the child and parents.
Since then, these visits have become a yearly set of events. We have just finished this year’s visits and the existing children were so excited for the practitioner to re-visit their homes this summer.
One child met the practitioner in the street and called her to ask,"when are you coming to my house?".
Our success in adopting this approach verifies the positive benefits outlined in the research. These visits support the transition making the first days of preschool a success for everyone – the child, the parents, and the early years practitioner.
Carr et al’s (2002) work use the Te Whariki curriculum framework to develop five key questions to ask newly enrolled children and families areexplored.
Check out also vimeo on aistearsiolta.ie where Dr Margy Whalley describes her perception on “The role of the practitioner in loco parentis” through the lens of the ancient African proverb of it taking a village to raise a child.https://vimeo.com/290279325
Further information on research in this area is available by clicking the links below.
Hickey, C., O’Riordan, A., Huggins, S. and Beatty, D. (2018).National Evaluation of the Area Based Childhood Programme: Main Report. Dublin: Department of Children and Youth Affairs, The Atlantic Philanthropies, and the Centre for Effective Services.