Ten tips to help with school transition

As we are aware, “children at risk of experiencing vulnerability also tend to have more complex support needs when experiencing early years transitions” (Department of Education, Victoria, 2019).

When planning transitions to school, the most effective way to support a child during this process is to work positively and collaboratively with them, their family, the school and the community they reside in.

It is important to have ongoing conversations with the child about the fact that they will be going to school in order to help prepare them mentally and emotionally for the upcoming transition. This signals to the child that change is about to occur, is positive, exciting (and maybe a little bit scary!) and that caring adults will continue to support them even as some of the kinder relationships come to an end.

Here are a few ideas to try – these work for most children, but are particularly useful for children whose experiences of trauma may make the transition to school more frightening.

  1. Try a little play. In an area of the kinder, set up a ‘school’ with some small figures, stuffed animals or puppets. Set up some places for learning and playing in the ‘school’. Ask children how the puppets are feeling and help with some of the language to help them such as “Ooh, Mr Dog looks frightened. I wonder if someone could help him? Could he ask his teacher?”
  2. Introduce and read books to them about school and have the books in the reading area for them to go and take another look. They may need to dip in and out as new questions, feelings or fears arise.
  3. Play games that offer the opportunity for role or imaginative play. Set up space in the kinder for children to act out the role of teacher and student. It can be great watching children imagine this wondrous Even those who have older siblings may have curious interpretations of what they have seen, providing a chance to step in and ask about it, and discuss what they think it might be like.
  4. Ask children to draw or paint what school may look like – some might be able to bring in photos or brochures of a school near them, or the school they might be going to.
  5. Some children may not know where they are going to school or are likely to experience changes in school (such as those living in out-of-home care or in emergency temporary housing). It’s OK to let children know that lots of others move house and change schools and not just those who are experiencing vulnerability. Just plan for the now – and help children to understand what is coming next.
  6. Are there school uniforms or bags that you can show to children to explain how school might look quite different? Have some samples of different uniforms to show that they are different, but also similar.
  7. If possible and appropriate, ask if an older sibling can come in and talk about school, or a teacher from a primary school to talk to them.
  8. Many kinders organise a visit to a local school so that they can see what it is like – this is typically schools within walking distance that children may already be passing (but haven’t noticed) on their way to kinder.
  9. If you know there are a few children going to the same school, ask the parents about setting up a play date at the local park. Even if they aren’t great friends, it may help that they know someone else when they go on their first day and see a familiar face or two.
  10. Predictable routines are comforting for children who have experienced trauma. Provide a schedule that signals to children the transition or range of activities across a day. Schools experience a range of activities and transitions at school which will feel different – the ringing of a bell, or music across the loudspeaker may signal changes across the day. The routines at kinder don’t have to be the same, but they can show children that at school there are routines too.

For children who have experienced significant trauma, this signaling of what is coming can help promote a sense of safety and reduce their fear about the change from kinder to school.

Educators can draw on existing knowledge about a child to help predict how a child may react to a big transition, such as starting school. They can help a child build on their existing strengths, coping strategies and resilience throughout the year. Some effective ways to support children who have experienced trauma during early years transitions can be “through the implementation of resilience programs, trauma healing activities, providing clear routine and structure, providing safe spaces for children and their families, and developing strong interpersonal relationships based on trust and mutual respect” (Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2009).

Educators can work in partnership with families to help support a child to feel prepared, calm and positive about transitioning to school. Through strong relationships and role modelling, educators and families can co-create a positive narrative about this transition in a child’s life.

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