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.
Early childhood intervention professionals
Specialist early childhood intervention (ECI) services are offered by a range of professionals, including: early childhood special education teachers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, psychologists, social workers, doctors, nurses, orthoptists, audiologists and others, depending on the needs of the child and family.
Sensory processing is the way in which the body's central nervous system receives messages from the senses (e.g. sight, sound, touch, taste and smell) and generates responses. Most people are naturally able to receive sensory information and organise it quickly into appropriate behavioural and physical responses. For some children with sensory processing issues however, there may be difficulties with how their brain takes in information received through the senses and produces responses to this sensory information.
Social stories™ were originally developed by Carol Gray for use with children with autism spectrum disorder. They are now also being used to help other children with a variety of learning delays, as well as with children who are developing typically.
Social stories™ are used to explain social situations to children and help them to learn socially appropriate behaviour and responses.
A social story™ can be created for almost any social situation, such as starting school, or visiting the library. They can also be used to teach children specific skills/ routines such as using the toilet.
Visual supports include pictures, schedules, choice boards, real objects and social stories™ which provide a way of communicating with a child which is easier to understand than using spoken word alone. Visual supports are not used to replace speech, but rather to support spoken language.
The following videos demonstrates a community-wide approach to transition to school. These video clips can be used to highlight effective transition practices with families, team members and partners in early childhood, schools and community sectors.
Transition to School: Early Planning
Transition to School: Getting ready to start school
Transition to School: Working together
Transition to School: Early days of school
As parents and carers you know your child’s strengths, interests and needs better than anyone. Your knowledge of and goals for your child helps you to decide what you want for your child, including the most appropriate:
In making these decisions, you may find it helpful to consider what is important for your child in the longer term.
Some parents set short and long-term goals, and some also develop what is sometimes known as a “vision” which they can re-visit and adapt as their child grows and changes. As your child gets older, you can ask them what they want or would like to do.
A “vision” is simply a description of what you want for your child in the future.
There are no right or wrong answers for your child and family. You decide how far and how wide the scope of your vision is, according to your current needs and preferences.
Begin by writing a brief outline of what is important to your family in terms of your goals for your child. By writing or describing your goals, you gain a clearer picture for yourself and are therefore better able to communicate your vision to others. It doesn’t matter how you word this. What is important is that it is meaningful to you.
What are your long term goals and hopes for your child?
Examples of “visions” parents have developed for their child include:
“Van will make friends with other children his age and learn skills so he can live independently.”
"Sarah will be as independent as possible, make her own choices, have meaningful relationships and be involved in community activities that she enjoys."
Some broad goals might include to:
For further information see the Resourcing Families website which provides information sheets, specific workshops and webinars around developing a vision for your child.
Remember, as a parent, you are the best source of information about what matters to you and your child. Information from other sources can gradually be added to your vision to develop plans.
Sharing your vision
You can use your vision for your child when participating in planning programmes, services and supports.
Prior to school this can be done at:
Once your child starts school this can be done at Individual Learning Plans (IEP) meetings.
Parents and carers know their child the best. When considering school options it is helpful to think not only about your child’s needs, but also their strengths, personality, temperament and interests.
Below are some questions to consider and discuss with other family members, friends, early childhood intervention (ECI) practitioners and early childhood educators.
All children have their own unique personality. Different types of learning environments suit different personalities. For example, a child who is easily distracted may learn better in a more structured environment.
After thinking about these questions, decide which factors are important for your child in choosing a school.
All children have learning needs. Think about the things that help your child learn best. The table below may help you to identify and share what has been helpful to your child.
Click here to view, download or print a copy of this table.
You may like to rate the areas of your child's learning needs in order of importance to you and your family.
Area of learning needs
Importance to our family (1-8)
Click here to view, download or print a copy of this table.
When you have thought about your child's personality and learning styles, their learning needs and their interests, you may like to use this template to share this information with others such as your child's teacher at school.
Click here to download a copy of the 2 page "snapshot of my child" template which you can complete on-line, download and complete on a computer and/or print.
ECEC educators in some states and territories may suggest using a Transition to School Statement to share this information with the new school with your input and consent.
Click here for more information and to download the NSW Department of Education Transition to School Statement.
Click here for more information and to download the Victorian Transition Learning and Development Statement
Click here for more information on transition statements in Queensland.
The decision about when is the best time for your child to start school is an individual one. For some children, starting school at age 6 rather than 5 may provide them with an additional year to mature and increase their independence. For other children waiting until they are 6 will not be of great benefit.
It can help to discuss the timing of your child’s school entry with people who know your child well and also have an understanding of the school system. These people could include your child’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) educators and/or early childhood intervention (ECI) practitioners.
When making this decision, it is important to think about how this decision will affect your whole family.
If your child has a developmental delay or disability, their development in certain areas may be delayed and/or different to most children of the same age.
Deciding when your child should start school should not rest entirely on your child’s academic skills. Teachers say that academic skills are one of the least important areas in terms of children adjusting and adapting to school.
Think and discuss with those who know your child’s:
It is important to also consider that in schools:
the teacher is usually shared by a larger group of children than in early childhood settings
the arrangement of the school day differs from most early childhood settings
there are increased expectations for children to be part of a group for a longer period and to follow adult-led activities for more of the day
Read more about possible differences between early childhood education and care and school.
For some children a gradual transition into full-time school attendance may help with make the transition more smooth. This needs to be planned for during transition to school meetings.
For example, your child might attend:
Ultimately your child should be attending school on a full-time basis as soon as possible. This is every child’s right and the necessary supports should be in place to make it successful.
Each state and territory in Australia has its own compulsory starting date for formal schooling.
Children must have turned five by 30th April to begin the school year.
Children can begin compulsory Kindergarten at the beginning of the school year if they turn five on or before 31st July in that year. All children must be enrolled in school by the time they turn six.
Children can start Transition (non-compulsory) at the start of the school year if they turn five by 30 June that year. To enter Year 1 (compulsory) children must turn six before 30th June that year.
Children can start Prep (non-compulsory) if they turn five by 30th June that year. Children must start year 1 (compulsory) if they turn six by 30th June that year.
Children must start school by six years. If a child turns five before 1st May they will start school on the first day of term one in that year. If a child turns five on or after 1st May, they will start school on the first day of term one the following year.
Children may attend Kindergarten (non-compulsory) they turn four on or before 1st January of the year they start. Children must turn five by 1st January to start Prep, the first year of formal school.
Children must turn five by 30th April to attend school that year.
Children must start school if they have turned 5 after the 30th June in the year prior or if they will turn 5 before the 30th June in the current school year.
Across Australia, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is currently rolling out.
The Early Childhood Early Intervention (ECEI) Approach is providing services for families of children aged birth to six years.
Click here for more information on the ECEI Approach.
Click here to find an ECEI service provider in your local area.
Other Useful links:
Parent Line (Phone: 1300 1300 52). For the cost of a local phone call, the NSW Parent Line (which incorporates the Early Childhood Intervention Info line) can provide information about a range of services for young children & their families in NSW, including those seeking early childhood intervention.
Early childhood education and care services can be found through the My Child
Community play groups can be found through Playgroups Australia