Subjects

Moving from preschool to ‘big school’ is an important, exciting but often stressful and daunting transition for young children and their parents. The first days and weeks in their new educational setting can present many challenges as well as wonderful new learning experiences, and for young children, moving from preschool to primary school can feel like a transition that brings enormous change. 

Research highlights the importance of smooth transitions between these settings, and while many children cope well with the changes that come with this transition, some children are more vulnerable than others (Cryer et al 2005). Research by O’Kane and Hayes (2006) finds that there are links between early childhood disadvantage and adversity, and difficulties during this transition. 

How children and parents respond to transitions depends on many factors, such as the resilience of the child, the development of positive dispositions to learning, children’s attributes such as self-confidence and independence, as well as the support network that surrounds the child and family. To ease potential difficulties and to promote a more successful and smooth transition between preschool and primary school, it is vital that there is partnership between both settings and that a system for transferring information is in place. It is also important that parents and children are supported during this time, as research suggests that children’s particular adjustment to the challenges of their new school environment can have a real and lasting impact on their lifelong learning journey (Morrissey, 2009). In this paper, a collaborative approach to supporting positive transitions for preschool children in Galway and Roscommon is described, and a pilot project on one interagency initiative is discussed.

Children and Young People’s Services Committees (CYPSC) Transitions Project

In 2015, a subgroup of Galway and Roscommon CYPSCs, consisting of early years practitioners, teachers, Child Care Committee and TUSLA staff was established to address the need to support transitions from preschool to primary school. The initial work of the subgroup consisted of a review of current practice, research and theory and an exploration of the models that support transition nationally. Two models that were influential in the initiative were the Child Snap-Shot, developed by Hayes and O’Kane (2013), and the ‘My ‘I Can’ Booklet from Kildare CYPSC. Working collaboratively, the sub-group developed a booklet entitled ‘This is Me’ which was then piloted in seven preschools in Galway and Roscommon in May, 2015.

Exploring a ‘transitions’ theme

Approximately 80 children from the preschools, who were transitioning into eighteen national schools in Galway and Roscommon were included in the pilot of This is Me. Each child was supplied with a Transitions Booklet that was completed by the practitioner in partnership with the child and parents. Practitioners in the ECE settings were also supported to spark the children’s interest in the upcoming transition by exploring the theme of ‘Starting Big School’. It was suggested to practitioners that following the Open Days in the different primary schools, the practitioner could invite each child to discuss their new school, their thoughts, fears, observations, new activities explored, new friends and the new teacher. This could also provide important opportunities for the practitioner to discuss and address children’s fears, anxieties and worries of the impending transition. Children could also be invited to paint, colour and draw pictures of their new school, classroom, friends etc. Age-appropriate, colourful and inviting picture story books exploring themes such as ‘new school’ and ‘new friends’ were also suggested for reading in story-time to explore the topic and enhance the children’s interest and understanding further. Role-playing the teacher in their play activities and modelling their uniform could also support the child’s interest in their transition. Parents were invited to participate in the theme, for example by talking to their child about their own positive memories of starting primary school or share photographs with their child of their first day in primary school to stimulate and encourage conversation. Throughout the pilot, the practitioners observed the positive reactions of the children, who connected immediately with the Transitions Booklet, with one child even requesting “Can I bring it home with me?” Overwhelmingly evident was the children’s positive responses, enthusiasm, interest and their distinct pride in their achievements as the Booklet provided an opportunity to reflect on their ability and capacity as a competent and confident learner subsequently nurturing further positive selfesteem and self-confidence. The key themes that emerged for the early years practitioners were that they welcomed the booklet as a trusted and reliant way of sharing appropriate information on children with schools that could help to support their transition:

It is a way of sharing “small pieces of information” on the child that the early years practitioner feels the teacher should know; it reinforces skills for school and supports parental involvement and it demonstrates that the early years service is documenting in a holistic way (Early years Practitioner).

For parents, the booklet highlighted the developmental and social areas that are needed for a smooth transition and helped them in their own preparation for their child’s move to national school:

The booklet has stuff you take for granted and don’t think about, like I wouldn’t have thought too much about his independence skills but it’s actually the important things that will help him settle in school (Parent).

For teachers it provided them with a holistic and strengths-based image of the child in advance of their transition 

It is well laid out and covers all areas. Having read it before the child started I knew exactly what her strengths were (Teacher). 

Findings from the pilot were used to finalise the design of the Booklet. Children in the preschools involved in the pilot contributed with their art, which was incorporated into the final design.

The Booklet was then translated into Irish and the two versions, ‘This is Me’ and ‘Seo Mise’, were printed and made available free of charge to every preschool in Galway and Roscommon in April and May 2016, through County Child Care Committees.

This is Me/ Seo Mise; The Transitions Booklet 

The Transitions Booklet is underpinned by the Aistear Curriculum Framework (NCCA, 2009) and, in addition, recognises each child as a unique, active, learner. ‘This is Me’ presents children’s learning through the four interconnecting themes from Aistear: Well-being, Identity and Belonging, Communications and Exploring/Thinking. Key learning dispositions, skills, knowledge and values are identified in the booklet under each theme to support children as competent and confident learners and to make a successful transition into primary school. Crucially, the Booklet supports the “Transitions” Standard 13 of Síolta, which highlights:

Ensuring continuity of experiences for children requires policies, procedures and practice that promote sensitive management of transitions, consistency in key relationships, liaison within and between settings, and the close involvement of parents and where appropriate, relevant professionals (CECDE, 2006, p. 89).

The language in the Booklet is simplified to ensure and support child participation and a rights-based and strengths-based approach. Taking a rights-based approach and supporting Article 12 of the UNCRC (UN, 1989), each child is invited by the practitioner to participate and contribute during the process of completing the Booklet. The wording of each disposition/ skill is strengths-based and describes the ability and capacity of the child in all areas of the  themes ensuring that a positive image of every child is reflected. The Booklet is universal and inclusive and practitioners who were presented with booklets were informed that every child transitioning to primary school should have a Transitions Booklet.

Standard 3 of Síolta requires practitioners to ensure parents’ and families’ involvement in their child’s early learning and development, “valuing and involving parents and families requires a proactive partnership approach” (CECDE, 2006, p.29). During the pilot scheme, one practitioner was concerned with a child displaying audibly loud vocals throughout the preschool sessions and had carried out several exercises to determine if the child had a hearing impairment. The child displayed excellent listening skills. The partnership with parent and holistic approach taken by the practitioner allowed the mother to reveal that she suffered a hearing impairment and subsequently the child was encouraged from birth to shout for her attention. The practitioner, with consent of the parent included this crucial information in the booklet, in order for the primary teacher to understand the child’s need to shout. This example highlights the powerful effect of the Transitions Booklet on practice as an important holistic tool for stakeholders to share information and work together to support the successful transition into primary school for each child.

Acknowledgements 

We would like to acknowledge the very important part played by the children, parents, early years practitioners and teachers in participating in the pilot of this project in Galway and Roscommon. For further information on the work of Children and Young People’s Services Committees please refer to www.cypsc.ie. To find out more about the ‘This is Me’ Transitions Project please contact Galway or Roscommon Child Care Committees.

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