We are delighted to present this issue of the Children’s Research Digest, focusing on the topic of transitions in the settings, themes and stages of childhood and young adulthood. Transition plays an important role in the lives of all children and young people, and how they manage these transitions and the supports available to manage them can have profound impacts on their lives. 

Transition refers to movements or changes from one period or state into another and these changes can occur either suddenly or over a gradual period. Some transitions are predefined by external structures such as the education system and the law, and common transitions include starting preschool, primary school, moving to secondary school and transitions to adulthood. 

Within childhood development, children move through a range of stages and the rate of transition and the exact type of changes that occur may be unique to each child. Transition is not just temporal in the lives of children and young people, but also horizontal referring to movement across various settings that a child and his/her family may encounter within the same time frame.

In general then, transition can be understood as a change of contexts - the movement from one institutional setting to another either horizontally (within the same timeframe) or vertically (across time). It also includes any changes that may affect children. These can include events such as bereavement, loss, independence, illness, changes in family structure, changes at school or friendship. Transition, then, can be understood as a change process and a shift from one identity to another. ‘It is usually a time of intense and accelerated development demands that are socially regulated’’ (Fabian and Dunlop, 2002: 3). Recognition of the importance of supporting and strengthening effective transitions is one of the transformational goals of the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People: Better Outcomes – Brighter Futures (2014).

The diversity of transitions that children and young people may experience throughout their lives is well represented in this issue of the Children’s Research Digest. We encounter educational transitions, first into preschool and, then, from preschool to primary school and we learn of the differences and similarities in such experiences for children with special educational needs and from lower socio-economic status backgrounds. We learn of the difficult transition experiences as children enter adolescence and start their journey into adulthood; how this increases their risk of engaging in substance misuse or how these years are sometimes made especially difficult when parents become seriously ill. Again, we see how transitions become especially challenging for young people with intellectual disabilities on a daily basis as they have to horizontally transition between different settings such as the family home, transportation devices and community settings. Finally, we are brought through a theoretical investigation of how transitions impact on children’s lives, in a longitudinal research study on sick children’s engagement in Fun Camps. The term transition is commonly used and understood in the field of early childhood education and increasingly research looks at transitions from preschool to primary school. This was very much reflected in the submissions received for this Special Issue. The ‘dynamic effects model’ (Rimm-Kaufman and Pianta, 2000) of transition is clearly evident in much of the work. This holds that children’s transition to school is a dynamic process and is understood in terms of the influence of different contexts experienced by the child - the home, classroom, and the community - and the connections between these contexts over time. It helps shift the focus away from a family-based deficit perspective and instead recognises the shared responsibility of this complex transition for children. Also evident in these articles is that transition is not simply a move from the preschool to the school context, but a shift in identity from child in preschool to pupil in school. Furthermore, as in the general literature on transitions, terms such as continuity and discontinuity; ready school and readiness for school; adjustment and adaptation; coping strategies; as well as children as agents in transitions all appear. Throughout there is a preoccupation with how we can better understand the meaning and role of transitions, including through specific research methods, and develop supports to alleviate the stress and challenges of transitions, through a number of examples of good practice in successfully managing or easing transitions for children and young people.

The majority of articles in this issue focus on vertical transitions from preschool to primary school settings. There is a focus on the structural conditions for such transitions, in particular the supports required by children before, during and after the transition process. Daly and Forster discuss commissioned research which informs the NCCA’s work in developing a reporting template to improve arrangements for the transfer of information between schools and state-funded ECCE settings about the progress and achievement of students. They argue that, despite the potential offered by Aistear and Síolta, a clear national implementation plan to help practitioners and teachers to use these resources to extend and enhance children’s experiences is lacking. This is evidenced by O’ Donoghue who makes a case for the discontinuity in practice between pre- and primary school settings. In this pilot study, exploring how primary school teachers understand and implement Áistear in their practice, O’ Donoghue highlights the importance of Aistear as a tool to support the transition from preschool to primary school. Duignan and Gibbons similarly emphasise the contribution of the Aistear framework in their discussion of a Children and Young People Services Committee (CYPSC) project in Galway on supporting transitions to primary school, focusing on the development of a booklet ‘This Is Me’ which is underpinned by Aistear. Early years practitioners involved welcomed the booklet as a transparent way of sharing appropriate information with schools that could help to support children’s transitions.

Within this structural focus it is important to consider disadvantaged children’s experiences. Some of the articles highlight children’s everyday concerns on transitioning to primary school for specific cohorts of children experiencing social and economic disadvantage. Research has highlighted the links between early childhood disadvantage and adversity and difficulties during this transition (O’Kane and Hayes, 2006; Jackson and Cartmel, 2010). Here, in this Issue, we encounter the additional difficulties faced by children from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. For example, O’ Farrelly et al. discuss The Children’s Thoughts about School Study (CTSS) which sought to address the absence of the perspectives of children from low- SES backgrounds in policy and practice. Although the participant children from low-SES junior infant classes described the move to primary school as challenging they also relished the opportunities that school offers and welcomed aspects of school including opportunities to play, predictable access to outdoor space, and access to toys, books, and food. They especially sought support in language, literacy, and numeracy, toileting, motor skills, and the social skills needed to make and maintain friendships and avoid bullying. As we delve deeper into children’s experiences of transitions, Clerkin sets the scene by describing a current paradigmatic shift within the structural conditions at policy level with regards to early childhood care and education. Recent research (see O’Kane, 2015) argues the case for interactive, play-based learning in the early years of primary school and indicates that the use of more formal approaches has the potential to impact negatively on children’s transition experiences. Through tracing political developments (structural transitions), Clerkin examines play in early years, specifically, the challenge of balancing the right to protection with the right to experience ‘risky play’. We then turn to the details of the importance of play-based approaches that proactively include children’s voices. The theme of giving children a voice and enabling their active participation in transition processes runs through the remaining articles on early years transitions to primary school, starting with Ring and O’Sullivan’s article which presents the findings from a National Evaluation of Concepts of School Readiness in Ireland. These indicate that children perceived primary school in terms of the size of the buildings; the limited availability for play; the centrality of homework and the importance of making friends. The authors emphasise the importance of children being adequately informed and consulted in relation to the transition process and conclude that it should be reflective of the process quality embedded in the principles of Aistear. Reilly, utilising Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective, looks at the role of play in preparing children for ‘big school’ and describes preparation for the transition in a piece of action research in one preschool which included walking trips to the primary school, visits to the school during breaktime, taking photos, drawings, and dressing up in school uniform. Reilly recommends implementation of key strategies, including engaging play episodes, to give children a more comprehensive experience of what to expect and to support their transitions to primary school. McCormack and Cullen’s article offers an engaging examination of transitions to primary school as they explore a learning story of children helping to close their preschool experience and resituate themselves as ‘big school’ learners. They look at reflective journaling with children as a means of acknowledging their growth and acquired skills in preschool and empowering them as confident learners as they prepare for their transition to primary school. 

Next, the attention turns to transition experiences for children diagnosed with autism. Here we start with Twomey when in Transitions: Space and Place she describes innovative research methods including puppetry and role play used to elicit children’s experiences of transitions into and between early years settings. This article highlights how inadequate support and planning, including delays in diagnosis, can have negative implications for transitions and can result in exclusion for some children. Through also engaging with parents, Twomey demonstrates that parent involvement was essential to the success of transitions, as indeed do a number of the articles. Ferguson, O’Shea and McCaffrey follow up on the challenges faced by children with autism in managing transitions but move from a focus on vertical to horizontal transitions that happen on a daily basis. We also move in focus to the later years of children’s lives by following a sixteen year old girl as she has to physically transition via transportation and the authors provide us with useful, practical strategies for young people managing such daily transitions. 

Murray stays within the focus on transitions in adolescence with an examination of vertical transitions of young people navigating through their teenage years and preparing themselves for adulthood. Informed by his work as a practitioner, Murray has conducted a wideranging and enlightening literature review on the increased risk of substance misuse faced by adolescents, and again we are provided with useful strategies for practitioners to smooth the transition process and significantly reduce the risk of adverse experiences, including dangerous health behaviour. Rodriguez stays within vertical transitions during adolescence when she investigates the impact of young people learning of their parents’ diagnosis with serious illness, such as cancer, and the issues that such young people experience in transforming from being cared for by their parents to themselves becoming carers, or their parent’s parent. 

Finally, Kearney provides us with an apt detailed theoretical discussion of some of the processes at play in children’s experiences of transitions. Kearney specifically looks at the example of the power, or magic, of seriously ill children’s participation in fun camps in different jurisdictions and cultural settings. Across these diverse contexts, the powerful moments of transformation, children’s transitions from sick patients to active, empowered children who have fun, is remarkably similar and affords us a thought-provoking theoretical framework to understand such transitions.

The majority of articles in this issue focus on vertical transitions from preschool to primary school settings. There is a focus on the structural conditions for such transitions, in particular the supports required by children before, during and after the transition process. Daly and Forster discuss commissioned research which informs the NCCA’s work in developing a reporting template to improve arrangements for the transfer of information between schools and state-funded ECCE settings about the progress and achievement of students. They argue that, despite the potential offered by Aistear and Síolta, a clear national implementation plan to help practitioners and teachers to use these resources to extend and enhance children’s experiences is lacking. This is evidenced by O’ Donoghue who makes a case for the discontinuity in practice between pre- and primary school settings. In this pilot study, exploring how primary school teachers understand and implement Áistear in their practice, O’ Donoghue highlights the importance of Aistear as a tool to support the transition from preschool to primary school. Duignan and Gibbons similarly emphasise the contribution of the Aistear framework in their discussion of a Children and Young People Services Committee (CYPSC) project in Galway on supporting transitions to primary school, focusing on the development of a booklet ‘This Is Me’ which is underpinned by Aistear. Early years practitioners involved welcomed the booklet as a transparent way of sharing appropriate information with schools that could help to support children’s transitions.

Within this structural focus it is important to consider disadvantaged children’s experiences. Some of the articles highlight children’s everyday concerns on transitioning to primary school for specific cohorts of children experiencing social and economic disadvantage. Research has highlighted the links between early childhood disadvantage and adversity and difficulties during this transition (O’Kane and Hayes, 2006; Jackson and Cartmel, 2010). Here, in this Issue, we encounter the additional difficulties faced by children from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. For example, O’ Farrelly et al. discuss The Children’s Thoughts about School Study (CTSS) which sought to address the absence of the perspectives of children from low- SES backgrounds in policy and practice. Although the participant children from low-SES junior infant classes described the move to primary school as challenging they also relished the opportunities that school offers and welcomed aspects of school including opportunities to play, predictable access to outdoor space, and access to toys, books, and food. They especially sought support in language, literacy, and numeracy, toileting, motor skills, and the social skills needed to make and maintain friendships and avoid bullying. 

As we delve deeper into children’s experiences of transitions, Clerkin sets the scene by describing a current paradigmatic shift within the structural conditions at policy level with regards to early childhood care and education. Recent research (see O’Kane, 2015) argues the case for interactive, play-based learning in the early years of primary school and indicates that the use of more formal approaches has the potential to impact negatively on children’s transition experiences. Through tracing political developments (structural transitions), Clerkin examines play in early years, specifically, the challenge of balancing the right to protection with the right to experience ‘risky play’. We then turn to the details of the importance of play-based approaches that proactively include children’s voices. The theme of giving children a voice and enabling their active participation in transition processes runs through the remaining articles on early years transitions to primary school, starting with Ring and O’Sullivan’s article which presents the findings from a National Evaluation of Concepts of School Readiness in Ireland. These indicate that children perceived primary school in terms of the size of the buildings; the limited availability for play; the centrality of homework and the importance of making friends. The authors emphasise the importance of children being adequately informed and consulted in relation to the transition process and conclude that it should be reflective of the process quality embedded in the principles of Aistear. Reilly, utilising Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective, looks at the role of play in preparing children for ‘big school’ and describes preparation for the transition in a piece of action research in one preschool which included walking trips to the primary school, visits to the school during breaktime, taking photos, drawings, and dressing up in school uniform. Reilly recommends implementation of key strategies, including engaging play episodes, to give children a more comprehensive experience of what to expect and to support their transitions to primary school. McCormack and Cullen’s article offers an engaging examination of transitions to primary school as they explore a learning story of children helping to close their preschool experience and resituate themselves as ‘big school’ learners. They look at reflective journaling with children as a means of acknowledging their growth and acquired skills in preschool and empowering them as confident learners as they prepare for their transition to primary school. Next, the attention turns to transition experiences for children diagnosed with autism. Here we start with Twomey when in Transitions: Space and Place she describes innovative research methods including puppetry and role play used to elicit children’s experiences of transitions into and between early years settings. This article highlights how inadequate support and planning, including delays in diagnosis, can have negative implications for transitions and can result in exclusion for some children. Through also engaging with parents, Twomey demonstrates that parent involvement was essential to the success of transitions, as indeed do a number of the articles. Ferguson, O’Shea and McCaffrey follow up on the challenges faced by children with autism in managing transitions but move from a focus on vertical to horizontal transitions that happen on a daily basis. We also move in focus to the later years of children’s lives by following a sixteen year old girl as she has to physically transition via transportation and the authors provide us with useful, practical strategies for young people managing such daily transitions. Murray stays within the focus on transitions in adolescence with an examination of vertical transitions of young people navigating through their teenage years and preparing themselves for adulthood. Informed by his work as a practitioner, Murray has conducted a wideranging and enlightening literature review on the increased risk of substance misuse faced by adolescents, and again we are provided with useful strategies for practitioners to smooth the transition process and significantly reduce the risk of adverse experiences, including dangerous health behaviour. Rodriguez stays within vertical transitions during adolescence when she investigates the impact of young people learning of their parents’ diagnosis with serious illness, such as cancer, and the issues that such young people experience in transforming from being cared for by their parents to themselves becoming carers, or their parent’s parent. Finally, Kearney provides us with an apt detailed theoretical discussion of some of the processes at play in children’s experiences of transitions. Kearney specifically looks at the example of the power, or magic, of seriously ill children’s participation in fun camps in different jurisdictions and cultural settings. Across these diverse contexts, the powerful moments of transformation, children’s transitions from sick patients to active, empowered children who have fun, is remarkably similar and affords us a thought-provoking theoretical framework to understand such transitions.

References

Department of Children and Youth Affairs (2014) National Policy Framework for Children and Young People: Better Outcomes – Brighter Futures, Dublin: Stationary Office.

Fabian and Dunlop (2002) Introduction, in: H. Fabian and A. Dunlop (Eds.) Transitions in the early years: debating continuity and  Progression for children in early education, London, Routledge Falmer: 1–7.

Jackson, A., and Cartmel, J. (2010). Listening to children’s experience of starting school in an area of socio-economic disadvantage. International Journal of Transitions in Childhood, 4: 13-23.

O’ Kane, M. and Hayes, N. (2006) The Transition to school in Ireland: views of preschool and primary school teachers. International Journal of Transitions in Childhood, 2.

O’Kane, M. (2015) Multiple transitions: A paper prepared for the symposium, Early Educational Alignment: Reflecting on Context, Curriculum and Pedagogy, 15th October, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.

Rimm-Kaufman, S.E. and Pianta, R.C. (2000) An ecological perspective on the transition to kindergarten: A Theoretical Framework to Guide Empirical Research, Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21 (5): 491-511.