The transition to school

Early Childhood Australia has many print and online resources to assist parents, carers and educators in helping children make the transition from child care to preschool, and from preschool to school. All links and resources on transitions to school have been quality-assured by Early Childhood Australia.

Starting school can be stressful for children. The buildings are bigger, there are more children and they are the smallest in the playground. There are fewer adults and more rules which they don’t know and for many the classroom will be more formal.

A successful first year of school is the foundation for:

  • children’s successful learning
  • a strong school–parent relationship.

Starting School

Click here to view a comprehensive examination of the pressures, stresses and joys of starting school for both children and their parents. This resource has been developed by the Women’s and Children’s Health Network (SA) and includes information about transitioning to school.

What parents need to know

The Centre for Community Child Health has a fact sheet about what parents and carers need to consider when thinking about whether their children are ready for school. Click here to view the fact sheet.

Your child’s first year at school: Getting off to a good start is the ideal book for parents facing the often daunting task of navigating through the first year of school.  This book talks about what parents want to know as their child starts school, to make the first year a good experience for everyone.

YCFYAS

Packed with helpful tips, written by early education experts and endorsed by the Australian Primary Principals Association Your child’s first year at school: getting off to a good start is great value for only $19.95. To read more or order your copy now please click here. To view a sample chapter of this book click here.

For families of children with disabilities, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and positive as possible. The Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA) NSW chapter has a new resource to help children with disabilities make a smoother transition to school. The website is categorised into information for families, schools, services and communities to ensure that everyone has the resources required to get ‘school-ready’. Click here to view the resources.

Links for parents

Going to school: Starting school
Handy step-by-step advice for parents, from preparation and the first days of school, to settling in and dealing with separation pangs.

School readiness
A practical analysis of what school readiness means, including examples of children’s social and emotional maturity.

Starting school with a smile (PDF)
Important things children, parents and teachers can do together to prepare for school.

Starting school
A helpful list of things for parents to do with their children just prior to starting school and during the first few weeks.

Quality-assured resources to purchase

The ECA Online Shop offers a variety of books and resources for parents that all been quality-assured by early childhood experts. Below are our recommendations for school transitions.

Transitions for families

The following content is an article from ECA’s Every Child magazine.

As children grow and develop, families make adjustments and changes. One of the major adjustments families make is in response to children starting school. Even when children have attended prior-to-school settings, starting school remains a time when families, as well as children, experience a great deal of change.

Families promote many experiences and interactions to prepare children for school, including providing a range of resources, engaging in particular routines and interactions, and creating home learning environments that support children’s engagement in school.

Starting school is a time of change for children and for families, as they experience a specific set of demands and make adjustments to meet those demands. Three levels of change during the transition to school have been identified (Griebel & Niesel, 2009): change at the individual level; the relationships level; and the contextual level. Each of these changes impacts on how children and families experience the transition to school. Educators who are aware of these changes are well placed to create responsive and supportive educational environments for all involved in the transition to school.

Individual changes

Often, children are very clear about what changes they have made as they start school. The major change they report is that they are ‘big’ and now at ‘big school’. This change in identity is marked by the school uniform and children’s adaptation to the routines and expectations of school. Parents also experience changes at the individual level as they become the ‘parents of a school student’. This identity change requires parents to adjust to a range of school expectations about attendance, uniform, possible involvement at school and homework. It is also a time when parents feel they are being judged—are they ‘good’ parents? Have they prepared their children well? Do they get them to school on time and in the correct uniform? Do their children ‘fit into’ the school environment?

Everyone involved in transition to school experiences changes at the relationship level. As children leave prior-to-school settings they, and their families, may lose contact with staff, children and other families from those settings. Some children start school with friends, but their friendship groups may change considerably as they adjust to school. For children with special education needs, and their families, the changes in relationships are often major, as prior-to-school support ceases and new relationships with new resource staff need to be built.

As some relationships are lost, others are built between and among children, families and school staff. Building these relationships may require new strategies—for example, communicating with teachers at school can be different from communicating with educators in prior-to-school settings. Many parents also seek avenues to build relationships through parent councils, school canteen or volunteer class support. However, for many working parents, or parents who feel uncomfortable in school settings, these options may not always be available.

Relationships within families also change as children start school. For example, children often seek greater independence to match their changed status. At the same time, they may also seek greater support as they navigate the expectations of school. Many parents report mixed feelings as their children start school: often a sense of pride and achievement, coupled with a sense of loss as children move into different worlds beyond the family.

Contextual changes

When children start school, families need to coordinate school, family and work responsibilities. Making sure that children are at school at specific times may mean that schedules for other family members need to change. This can be quite challenging if different children attend different schools, or if work, family and school schedules conflict.

Sue Dockett
Professor, Early Childhood Education, Charles Sturt University

Bob Perry
Professor, Education, Charles Sturt University

Emma Kearney 
Research Officer, Charles Sturt University

References

Dockett, S., Perry, B., Kearney, E., Hampshire, A., Mason, J., & Schmied, V. (2011). Facilitating children’s transition to school from families with complex support needs. Retrieved 11 January, 2012, fromwww.csu.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/154899/Facilitating-Childrens-Trans-School.pdf.

Griebel, W., & Niesel, R. (2009). A developmental psychology perspective in Germany: Co-construction of transitions between family and education system by the child, parents and pedagogues. Early Years29(1), 59–68.

Acknowledgement

This research was supported by the Australian Research Council Grant LP0669546.