Transition to School Resource

Starting school is an important milestone in any child and family’s life. For families of children with developmental delay or disability, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and as positive as possible.


 

Are you an early childhood intervention practitioner?

Are you an early intervention practitioner?

Are you an early childhood intervention (ECI) practitioner supporting a child with a developmental delay or disability and their family to make the transition to school?

You might be:

  • an early childhood special education teacher
  • physiotherapist
  • occupational therapist
  • speech pathologist
  • psychologist
  • social worker
  • orthoptist
  • audiologist
  • other professional
 

Best practice and the transition to school

All children arrive at primary school with knowledge and experiences from growing up within the context of family, neighbourhood, service and community environments. Traditional concepts of school readiness have placed emphasis on a child's skills; however, preschool skill-based assessments of children's functioning have been shown to be poor predictors of subsequent school adjustment and achievement (La Paro & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & La Paro, 2003). More recent thinking about the transition to school recognises that "school readiness does not reside solely on the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves" (Kagan & Rigby, 2003, p. 13).

Reference: (Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p45).

ECI professionals play an important role in this community-wide approach to children’s transition to school.

Useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school

Research, as well as feedback from parents, carers and professionals across Australia, have identified some useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school.

Useful practices

  • interagency collaboration
  • timeliness of planning and activities
  • training for all involved
  • advocacy skills for parents
  • active parent involvement
  • effective communication
  • ongoing evaluation and reflection
  • support for the family
  • orientation for the child
  • teaching children skills in preparation for school
  • strategies for the receiving teacher


Potential barriers

  • administrative
  • family concerns not being addressed
  • shift in educational approach (e.g. from play-based, family-centred to academic, curriculum-based practice)
  • challenges in relation to transition processes (e.g. timing of placement offers)
  • training needs not being met
  • communication challenges


ECI practitioner’s role in transition to school

“At the transition meetings, having our early intervention and other professionals behind me was the best thing. It felt like a mini-army behind me saying the same things and putting things in the right ways to put things. I felt the school would listen to these professionals. The early intervention teacher was able to explain my son’s sensory issues and how activities in the school would support him with this.”

Sonia, mother of Zac

 

Working with families

What types of assistance do families find useful?

  • conversations about transition to school should begin by the child’s 3rd birthday if possible as part of the Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP). It is possible that some families may chosen to initiate discussions about school options prior to this time.
  • attending workshops where education systems provide information about their schools
  • ECI practitioners:
    • offering to join families on visits to prospective schools
    • discussing possible questions before and after visits to schools
    • attending transition meetings with families
    • supporting families to express their priorities
    • sharing information with the new school about the child’s individual strengths and needs prior to the child starting school
    • providing input once the child has started school
  • Help to connect families to other parents who have experience with transitioning a child with a developmental delay or disability or who are going through the process at the same time


What types of information should I share with families?

Research and feedback from families indicate that it is helpful to have information about:

Click here for more information about assessments.

“One of the most helpful things for us was listening to a number of parents talk about their experiences of different school options: mainstream, Catholic, special schools and support classes through a panel workshop set up by our Early Intervention service. This really helped me to consider all options. Hearing from another parent was the most valuable thing in terms of hearing that I needed to really look at my own child’s needs. There were families there who had started with one school and then moved onto another, which also helped me realise that any decision we made didn’t have to be forever.”

Dianne, mother of Michael

 

 

How can I support families to work in partnership with the school and advocate positively for their child?

 
  • by assisting them to identify and express their goals and priorities
  • by building on their understanding of classroom teacher’s roles
  • by linking families with training opportunities around advocacy (e.g. Family Advocacy, Resourcing Families, Positive Partnerships (autism)
  • by linking families with mentor parents who have developed positive working relationships with schools and are able to share what has helped

Working with teachers in schools

“Meeting with the therapists prior, and once child starts, to know the needs in advance, that is really helpful. A combination of info. Medical reports aren’t that helpful. Talking to therapists and parents is the most helpful.”

Kindergarten Teacher

 

What do teachers in receiving schools find helpful?

  • information about:
    • the strategies that have worked (and not worked) for the child in ECI or ECEC (this is best presented in concise dot points)
    • any possible triggers of challenging behaviour
    • what they may be able to do to prepare for potential challenges in advance
    • what might be reasonable expectations for the child’s progress
  • being consulted about the best time/s for ECI practitioners to offer their support
  • opportunities to speak with ECI practitioners and ask questions before the child starts as well as once the school year has commenced
  • ECI practitioners accompanying the child at the school for additional orientation visits as needed
  • training and support to use specific strategies in the classroom (e.g. augmentative and alternative communication systems, key word sign, assistive technology, or equipment to support mobility)
  • development of an individualised social story about the new school and other stories about school routines about the new school for the child (see "my new school" story and other stories about school)
     
    “The information is critical and the partnership is essential. The paperwork isn’t always the most important. Sometimes it’s more the social and emotional well-being of the child so it is important to be hearing directly from the practitioners. We don’t always know who has been involved until much later and this could have helped. The conversations are really helpful.”

    Assistant Principal

 

How can I work in a collaborative role with the teacher to build his or her capacity to include children with  a developmental delay or disability?

Tips for working in partnership with teachers in schools:

  • when undertaking observation visits, emphasise that you are there to observe the child and how they are adjusting to the new setting, rather than observing or examining their teaching
  • use active listening to show the teacher you have heard his or her concerns and acknowledge any challenges which have been experienced
  • respond to the issues the teacher identifies, before making suggestions to address any needs you perceive as relevant. Adults value learning that addresses their immediate needs.
  • minimise the pressure placed on the teacher by limiting the number of recommendations given at any one time. Teachers, like all adult learners need time to incorporate new practices. They also find it easier to address change in small steps
  • comment on, and provide positive feedback to allow them to identify their existing positive practices
  • ask the teacher what has and hasn’t been working well to date. This shows that you value their observations and expertise
  • with the teacher’s permission, trial and demonstrate strategies in the classroom environment in ways that are empowering for them. It is important to consider whether your strategies are realistic for them and the realities of their class
  • Collaborate with the teacher about the best way for you to keep in touch with each other, so they can trouble-shoot any suggested strategies on an ongoing basis with you
     
    For further information see the Trouble-shooting guide.


Self-reflection questions

Working with families, ask yourself:

  1. do I facilitate discussions around transition to school with families as early as possible (by 3 years if possible)?
  2. do I ask families what their priorities are for their child’s education?
  3. do I provide information to families, ECEC services and schools about how I might be able to assist with transition to school?

In terms of the provision of Information, ask yourself:

  1. do I have a clear understanding of the school options, application and enrolment processes to enable me to support families in this area?
  2. does our service provide (or link families to other services who offer) workshops and information about the range of school options?

In terms of advocacy, ask yourself:

  1. does our service provide (or link families to other services who offer) training and information about how to positively advocate for their child?


In working with schools, ask yourself:

  1. do I initiate positive connections with schools, receiving children I have worked with prior to the child commencing?
  2. do I provide concise, relevant information to the teacher about strategies which have worked?
  3. do I listen to teachers and provide a few realistic strategies based on the teacher’s priorities?
  4. do I ask how we can best keep in contact to support children’s transition and inclusion at school?

Are you an early childhood educator?

Are you an early childhood educator?

Are you an early childhood educator working with a child with a developmental delay or disability in your service getting ready for school?

You might be an educator who works in:

  • preschool
  • long day care
  • occasional care
  • family day care

 

Recommended practice and the transition to school

All children arrive at primary school with knowledge and experiences from growing up within the context of family, neighbourhood, service and community environments. Traditional concepts of school readiness have placed emphasis on a child's skills; however, skill-based assessments of children's functioning have been shown to be poor predictors of subsequent school adjustment and achievement (La Paro & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & La Paro, 2003). More recent thinking about the transition to school recognises that "school readiness does not reside solely in the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves" (Kagan & Rigby, 2003, p. 13 and Dockett & Perry, 2006).

(Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p45).

As an early childhood education and care (ECEC) educator, you play an important role in this community-wide approach to children’s transition to school.

 

Useful practices

  • interagency collaboration
  • timeliness of planning and activities
  • training for all involved
  • advocacy skills for parents
  • active parent involvement
  • effective communication
  • ongoing evaluation and reflection
  • support for the family
  • orientation for the child
  • teaching children skills in preparation for school
  • strategies for the receiving teacher

 

Potential barriers

  • administrative
  • family concerns not being addressed
  • shift in educational approach (e.g. from play-based, family-centred to academic curriculum-based practice)
  • challenges in relation to the transition processes (e.g. timing of placement offers)
  • training needs not being met
  • communication challenges

 

“ECECs need to explain to families how they (ECECs) might be able to assist and be involved in transition to school. For example, as an advocate with an educational background in meetings, who can share what works for the child now and what might work at school.”

Child Care Centre Director

 

National Quality Standard and Early Years Learning Framework

Many practices associated with a successful transition to school are outlined as part of the National Quality Standard and Early Years Learning Framework, which are requirements for all licensed ECEC services. 

 

Your role as an Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) educator in transition to school

As an ECEC educator you:

  • play an essential role in the transition to school for young children with a developmental delay or disability
  • develop trusting relationships with children and their families over a number of years, often during the critical early childhood period when families are adapting and adjusting to their child’s disability
  • have strong knowledge and experience of child development and the types of skills and behaviours which impact on children’s functioning and independence
  • observe and relate to young children in a group context, and are uniquely placed to support children with developing social interaction skills, practicing and generalising self-help skills and learning to regulate emotions and behaviour

These are all priority areas identified by kindergarten teachers in terms of children’s adaptation to school life.

The transition to school processes for children with developmental delay or disability

It can be helpful to have some understanding of the application processes, in order to support families in this area as needed.

When to start

Support families to make contact with the school to allow the school time to submit and process funding applications as well as to build relationships to support planning and the transfer of information:

  • at least 2 years in advance if the child has a physical disability, in case any building works need to be undertaken 12 months in advance if the child has any other disability


Public Schools

As it is every child’s right to attend their local public school, the starting point for families should be to contact their local public school to make an appointment to meet with the principal.

Advise families of the following:

  • for out of area enrolments, support classes and special schools, the principal of their local school is still the first point of contact
  • application for special schools and support classes is based on eligibility criteria and availability. The number of applications for support classes often exceeds availability. See types of classes for more information about public school options


Catholic schools

For families interested in their child attending a Catholic school, advise them that the first point of contact should be the principal of their local Parish school.


Independent or private schools

If the family is interested in an independent or private school, advise parents will need to contact the specific school directly.

Click here for information on school options in all education sectors.

“The more the ECEC staff know about the system, the better they can support families. Families then learn to trust the ECEC. We can help by advertising transition to school workshops and what these are about. We have attended these workshops, so we hear the same information as families.”

Preschool Director.

 

Working with families

“Our preschool teacher really helped me. She made time to come along to the transition meeting with me and even had a coffee and a chat with me afterwards. This support helped a lot because I was so stressed about school, I was everywhere.”

Kylie, mother of Alex

 

What do families find useful?

  • knowing that their child has participated in an ECEC program which is involved in their child’s transition to school
  • being invited by ECEC educators to be actively involved in planning for their child’s education
  • communication:
    • particularly during the transition planning process - agreeing on a clear system that works for ECEC educators and parents (e.g. email, SMS, regular face to face meetings or a combination of all of these methods)
    • what is working in the ECEC environment
    • challenges as they arise rather than when they have existed for a long time
    • how they may be able to help support their child in learning skills which will be valuable at school (e.g. self-help skills)
    • positive progress or events, including any challenges in relation to preparing their child for school
  • information about:
  • confirmation that:
    • their knowledge of their child and priorities for their child’s learning has been heard
    • school staff have spoken with and learned from the professionals who have been involved with their child’s education and intervention prior to school
  • emotional and practical support from trusted ECEC educators in the lead up to commencing school, particularly in transition meetings at the new school
  • access to photos of their child participating in their ECEC setting
  • opportunities provided by ECEC educators to help families make connections with other families in the community

 

“Because we had such a good supportive experience with the regular preschool this helped me to feel ready for my daughter to go to school.”

Janine, mother of Molly

 

How can you, as an educator, support families?

  • start conversations with families about transition to school by the child’s 3rd birthday
  • identify how any goal/s in the Individualised Family Service Plan (IFSP) in relation to transition to school, can be supported by the ECEC setting
  • offer to be part of the family’s transition support team
  • attend transition to school meetings if asked by the family (see preparing for meetings)
  • support effective communication between all members of the child’s transition to school team
  • Invite school staff to meet and observe the child in their ECEC setting prior to the end of the school year

 

Working with teachers in schools

What do teachers in receiving schools find helpful?

Interviews with teachers have identified helpful transition practices including:

  • information about:
    • the child’s strengths and needs from professionals who already know the child in a group context. This can include information about what strategies have been in place to support their learning before school
    • strategies that have worked (and not worked) for the child in ECEC settings
    • any possible triggers of challenging behaviour
    • what they may be able to do to prepare for potential challenges
  • making an observational visit to children in their ECEC service where possible has helped school teachers to see what practices are being used and learn about what has supported the child to date
  • observing children during general orientation sessions, and seeing how they respond in the school environment
  • having children visit for additional sessions at school during term 4 to prepare them for particular school routines (e.g. assembly, sport, music, recess and lunch times)
  • when parents and carers understand the varied nature and demands of a school teacher and how this might differ from ECEC educators
  • open, honest communication with the family and previous services

 

Support and resources

The most successful transition to school programs occur through a collaborative team approach.

While you are experts around child development, early childhood education, and the Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standards, it is well recognised that parents are experts on their own individual child.

Most children who have identified disabilities or developmental delays prior to starting school, will have early childhood intervention (ECI) professional/s involved.

Ask the family about the ECI professionals working with their child and whether they are able to spend some time in your ECEC setting.

There may also be other specialist professionals within your community who are able to help. They may be able to work with you to build your capacity to adapt and adjust programming and teaching to support learning for children with additional needs. They may also be able to link families to support and assistance.

Transition support might be available from:

  • ECI practitioners such as early childhood special educators, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, speech pathologists. These professionals may be available to meet with you, visit your service, or show you support tools or resources which may be trialled in your setting. Some families may now be able to use funding through the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) to access support from ECI practitioners on a more ongoing basis once their child has commenced school which can assist with continuity between early childhood settings and school settings
  • other staff within your ECEC service. Other members of your service’s team may have made observations or had experiences with children, which may give you an opportunity to talk through any concerns or challenges. Support professionals or networks within your community. This might include community health staff, local support groups, respite services and other community organisations
  • see also forming a transition team for members of the transition team who may be able to assist
  • see also the trouble-shooting guide
  • see the ECIA NSW/ACT Does This Child Need Help? resource and training package for more information about identifying and discussing concerns with families
  • Click here for practical information about supporting carers of children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds

Training and/or funding support may be available to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in your service through the following programs:

Intervention Support Program (ISP)

Inclusion and Professional Program (ISP) for federally funded long day care, family day care and out of school hours services.

Preschool Disability Support Program (PDSP) for preschools.

“Preschool was the most important thing. Getting into a routine and learning to sit down for a story and things like that helped prepare our little girl for the school routines. She knew a few kids from preschool who were going to her school too.”

Ricardo, father of Angelina

 

Reference

Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Community Child Health (2008) Rethinking the transition to school, Curriculum leadership, Vol.6, issue 34.

Click here to access this article online.

Self-Reflection questions

Working with families

  1. Does our service begin conversations with families of children with additional needs about transition to school by the time the child turns 3?
  2. Do we ask parents what their priorities and longer term goals are for their child and incorporate these into our programming?


Working in partnership

  1. Does our service link with other professionals to provide a consistent approach to transition to school?
  2. Does our service make contact with the school to invite staff to visit, meet and observe children with a developmental delay or disability in our setting?
  3. Does our service offer to attend transition meeting/s and/or provide concise information to the school (with parental permission) about what has worked to support the child’s inclusion in our service?


Supporting the child’s development

  1. Does our service place an emphasis on increasing a child’s participation and independence across all aspects of our program?
  2. Does our service collect information to identify differences and delays in children’s development and discuss any concerns in a sensitive manner with families?
  3. How do I engage with the child to ensure they are as prepared and as aware as possible about what going to school will mean for them?

The National Quality Framework

The National Quality Framework

Which elements of the National Quality Standard relate to transition to school for young children with disabilities?

 

QA 1: Educational program and practice

1.1 An approved learning framework informs the development of a curriculum that enhances each child’s learning and development.

Practice example:

Jai has been attending the same long day care centre since he was 6 months old. His development across all areas has been delayed since birth. He is about to turn 4 and his parents have expressed concerns about how he will cope with starting school next year. The family are considering moving him to a preschool as they are worried that he isn’t being prepared for school enough. Centre staff have noticed that Jai has made some positive gains in increasing his independence and interacting with other children and is now participating in all aspects of the programme with limited support from staff.

Centre staff identify that they need to find a way to share the ways that their programme helps prepare children for school, the progress that Jai is making and how this will assist Jai when he starts school, to help the family make an informed decision about whether or not to move him to another centre.

 

QA 3: Physical Environment

3.2 The environment is inclusive, promotes competence, independent exploration and learning through play.

Practice example:

Jeyda who is starting school next year, regularly chooses the sandpit as her preferred play space. In this space, she is developing imaginative play skills such as creating a home for a toy dinosaur and with staff support. This activity provides opportunities for developing her social play skills by learning to include her peers in sharing and taking turns to use play materials.

 

QA 4: Staffing Arrangements

4.2.2 Professional standards guide practice, interactions and relationships.

“It is a key priority at our preschool for staff to be very involved in transition to school. This priority is outlined in our policy documents. We invite the school to come and see the child in the preschool setting prior to starting school. We have relationships which have been ongoing once child has started at school, so the teacher can call if there is any assistance they need.“ Teaching Preschool Director

 

QA 5: Relationships with Children

5.1.3 Each child is supported to feel secure, confident and included.

Practice example:

Jamie has always arrived at child care needing lots of emotional support and comfort. He seemed anxious about what was happening next and would often stand at the gate watching for his Dad. Staff worked with Jamie’s family and the Inclusion Support facilitator to determine what might help make this transition smoother for Jamie. The centre have now set up a photo board to show the main routine events in a day at our centre. Some kids call this the “day clock” and many children other children refer to it at various times throughout the day.

 

5.2.1 Each child is supported to work with, learn from and help others through collaborative learning opportunities.

 

Practice example:

Samira loves to pick up leaves and twist them in her fingers. Preschool staff made this into a collaborative learning experience when other children noticed her interest in this and were encouraged to collect different types of leaves around the outdoor area. Over a few days the leaves were used to create a large group collage. All children were given opportunities to contribute in their own way. Children commented, shared ideas and added to the artwork.

 

QA 6: Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities

6.1 Respectful supportive relationships with families are developed and maintained.

“As we get to know families, we try to develop an awareness of what families want for their child. We need to keep our knowledge of school systems up to date so we can support families to feel confident to make the next step towards school. Acknowledging that parents are the ones who know their child the best is a very important start.”

Combined Preschool and Early Childhood Intervention Service Director.

 

6.3 The service collaborates with other organisations and service providers to enhance children’s learning and well-being.
6.3.1 Links with relevant community and support agencies are established and maintained.
6.3.2 Continuity of learning and transitions for each child are supported by sharing relevant information and clarifying responsibilities.

“The strong collaboration with different agencies is essential. We work very closely on family priorities with our local Early Childhood Intervention service and we also aim to develop connections with local schools.”

Preschool Director.

 

6.3.3 Access to inclusion and support assistance is facilitated.

“We access whatever help we can and put together what we know about the child and our centre’s community with other professional’s expertise such as in inclusion, physiotherapy or speech therapy. We know we can call on these people when we need their input and also have regular meetings to check we are all on the same track.”

Long Day Care Centre Teacher.

 

6.3.4 The service builds relationships and engages with their local community.

 

An example of a preschool/school partnership:

The year 5 class from school located next door to a preschool interacts with the preschool children through weekly visits to the preschool or school visits in terms 3 and 4. Each child is connected with a year 5 buddy and fun group activities are offered such as art/craft or sport based games where the children are able to build connections with older school-aged children. The buddy relationships can be ongoing for any children who commence at this school next year. This has been particularly beneficial for a couple of children with additional needs who have transitioned into this school. School staff have also spoken about benefits for their Year 5 students.

 

The Early Years Learning Framework

The Early Years Learning Framework

How does the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) relate to transition to school for children with disabilities?

 

”In partnership with families, early childhood educators ensure that children have an active role in preparing for transitions. They assist children to understand the traditions, routines and practices of the settings to which they are moving and to feel comfortable with the process of change.” (Being, Belonging, Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, 2009, p16)

 

 

Belonging
Inclusion in community and educational settings is fundamentally tied to a sense of belonging. When children “belong” to a place, they are able to develop a sense of an identity.

Children develop capacity to enjoy the present moment when they have a sense of belonging.

Given that children’s development, identities, levels of self-esteem and confidence depend on a strong sense of belonging, collaboration between prior to school and school settings is essential to ensure that children continue to feel they belong in their new school.

Inclusive education, therefore, creates a situation where all children can be valued and experience a sense of belonging and where all children are encouraged to reach their full potential in all areas of development (Cologon, 2013).

Being
For any child, being in the present moment, and developing a sense of self are vital.

From the development of their own identity, children begin building and maintaining relationships with others, engage with both positive experiences and complexities, and learn to cope with challenges in everyday life. It is widely accepted that the quality of the relationships between children and those around them shapes learning and development.

There is a commonly expressed concern in ECEC that a child’s experiences in ECEC should not be focussed purely upon preparing them for the next step to school.

For young children with disabilities in particular, there does need to be a longer term focus on planning and collaborating around transition to school in order to make the move to this next setting as seamless as possible. Planning and preparation, does not, however, need to be at the expense of spending time in the present moment.

Becoming

“Children’s identities, knowledge, understandings, capacities, skills and relationships change during childhood. They are shaped by many different events and circumstances. Becoming reflects this process of rapid and significant change that occurs in the early years as young children learn and grow. It emphasises learning to participate fully and actively in society.” (Being, Belonging, Becoming: the Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, 2009, p8)

 

In relation to “becoming” in the transition to school process, children need to be able to transfer their learning from one environment to another in order to be able to adapt to a significant change. This requires effective planning and collaborative partnerships between you as an ECEC professional, families, and other specialist services.

 

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Starting school is an important milestone in any child and family’s life. For families of children with developmental delay or disability, transition to school requires additional thought, time, planning and support to make the process as smooth and positive as possible.

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