Building ongoing relationships between parents, early childhood professionals and teachers at local schools is at the heart of the Blue Mountains Transition to School Project. Under the auspice of Possum Children's Support Service (PCSS), this Families First project commenced in January 2004 with the aim of developing a model to promote a smooth adjustment to school for parents and children. The model aims to address the needs of all families experiencing transition to school, however those families with children unable to access early childhood services prior to starting school are being targeted.
â€˜Starting School' playgroups
Central to the development of this model has been the establishment of three â€˜Starting School' playgroups which provide parents and children with the opportunity to gradually experience the school environment together. These supported playgroups commenced in term three in local schools and are facilitated for two hours each week by qualified early childhood teachers from PCSS.
The playgroups can be attended regularly or on a drop-in basis and children do not need to be enrolling in any of the particular schools. At present, an average of 32 families attend on a regular basis and of these, half do not access prior-to-school services.In addition to providing supportive early childhood learning environments, these playgroups are providing many incidental opportunities for children and their parents or carers to meet and build relationships with teachers and other school students, and for families to explore the feelings associated with a child beginning school.
The playgroups are being held in school halls or classrooms and casual visits to other parts of the school such as the library and kindergarten classroom give teachers, parents and carers the opportunity to reach a shared understanding of the education system that children are about to enter.
BenefitsThe following anecdotal evidence from parents, carers, early childhood professionals and school staff, highlights the important role that facilitated playgroups can play in supporting all stakeholders in the transition to school process. As mentioned earlier, half of the children currently attending the playgroups are not attending any other early childhood service. These playgroups are therefore providing children with high-quality early learning experiences that are known to be important to later educational success. They are also providing the opportunity for all children and their families to develop realistic expectations of school, another contributing factor to positive educational outcomes (Glazier, 2001; Elliott, 2004).
Parents have also noted the value of being able to observe their children's interactions with other children and with adults other than themselves. This is an aspect they believe to be important in assessing their children's ability to cope in the school environment.
Similarly, parents have commented that the family-centred nature of the playgroups allows both parents and siblings to â€˜share' the older child's experience of starting school – which assists in the promotion of continuity between home and school.
From a professional perspective, early childhood and school staff who have collaborated closely during the development and implementation stages of the playgroups, continue to express their satisfaction at contributing to a project that furthers the growth of social capacity by bringing the broader community â€˜into' the school environment.
ConclusionThe Blue Mountains Transition to School project is demonstrating that facilitated playgroups can play an important role in the transition to school process, especially for children who are unable to access other early childhood services. The ongoing relationships that have resulted from collaboration between local families, early childhood professionals and teachers is a powerful demonstration of what can be achieved when a community works together for the benefit of its children.
Manager, Possum Children's Support Service
Coordinator, Blue Mountains Transition to School Project
ReferencesGlazier, J. (2001).Orientation or transition.In S. Dockett & B. Perry (Eds.) Beginning school together: Sharing strengths. Canberra: AECA.
Elliott, A.(2004).Closing the investment gap. Every Child 10(3), 2
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