How does school differ from early childhood education and care?

 How does school differ from early childhood education and care?

There are a number of differences between early childhood education and care (ECEC) services and mainstream schools. See activities to help prepare your child for school for some ideas on how to make the transition smoother.

Things that may differ

Early childhood education and care services

Mainstream schools

Ratio of adults to children

The maximum adult to child ratio for children aged between 3 and 6 years is 1 adult to 10 children.

This will vary from one service to another, with many ECEC services having a lower number of children to each adult.

For Kindergarten: 1 teacher responsible for teaching the whole class.

There may be a school learning support officer (also known as an SLSO or teacher’s aide) employed in the class for some of the time.

NSW public schools recommend class sizes to be around 20 children. Catholic schools
maximum class sizes will vary between schools. Independent schools maximum class sizes will vary between schools.

Structure of the day

Varies from one service to another. In general:

  • more time is allocated to play-based learning experiences which follow the children's individual interests
  • there is a routine, but this can be adapted to meet the needs and interests of the children each day

Day usually has some structure. Usually selected times within the school day to do certain things such as:

  • listen to the teacher
  • complete work individually or as part of a group
  • have free play time
  • eat
  • use the toilet

Regulatory guidelines

National Quality Standardsets consistent, quality standards for ECEC services, and outside school hours care services.

Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) provide a basis for ECEC staff to plan and report on education programs.

All children enrolled at school in NSW follow the curriculum developed or endorsed by the NSW Board of Studies.

Approach to learning

Learning is largely facilitated through play.

Children's participation in activities tends to be driven more by their interests.

The main emphasis of the EYLF is on the child “being, becoming and belonging” rather than on a set of specific educational outcomes.

This is achieved through helping the child develop:

  • a strong sense of their identity
  • connections with their world
  • a strong sense of wellbeing
  • confidence and involvement in their learning and
  • effective communication skills

Click here for more information about the EYLF.

There are usually more teacher-led learning experiences as a large class group and in smaller groups.

Play continues to remain an important part of learning in

The main learning focus is on thecurriculumand teaching outcomes across the 6 Key Learning Areas (KLAs).

These are:

  • English
  • mathematics
  • science and technology
  • human society and its environment (HSIE)
  • creative arts
  • personal development, health and physical education (PDHPE)

Click here for more information about the NSW syllabus KLAs.

Family-centred / curriculum focus

Prior to school, it is generally best practice for ECEC and ECI services to focus their programs on areas identified as priorities to families. This is known as family-centred practice.

You may have been actively involved in most aspects of planning and your child's learning prior to your child starting school.

Schools are generally accountable firstly to the school curriculum. Much of teacher training is focussed primarily around teaching children.

While it is of great importance for teachers and families to work in partnership, there may be somewhat less time to provide individual feedback to parents on a daily basis than there may have been in ECEC.

It is possible and valuable to continue to be actively involved in your child’s education at school, but this may look and feel somewhat different from the family-centred  practice you may have experienced prior to school.

Rules and boundaries

The types of expectations may be more flexible.

Children are able to interact informally with one another and with adults more often during the day.

Adults are generally able to respond to children more quickly.

Expectations, social rules and boundaries are usually more defined.

Children are usually taught age-appropriate rules.

For example:

  • Raising your hand and waiting for your turn to speak
  • Not talking to your friends when it is quiet work time
  • No talking in assembly

What happens in the playground?

ECEC services generally have a wide range of learning experiences available in the outdoor playground including: cubby houses, tents, climbing equipment, a sand pit, table-top activities, and sensory play.

ECEC educators may lead games and activities in the outdoor playground and facilitate children’s social play at times.

School playgrounds tend to have less obvious structured activities available. Children’s play in the school playground tends to be based around imaginative play, and group games such as chasing, skipping, and hand ball.

Teachers who are “on duty” in the playground monitor children’s play to ensure they are safe. As a result of the larger number of children in the playground, they may have less time available to facilitate children’s social play than in ECEC settings.


What to find out about the school

What to find out about the school

Before your child starts at their new school, it can be helpful to find out some information about the school.

You may like to collect this information gradually or ask at a planning meeting with the school.

Taking photos (or video footage) may help your child become familiar with the school. You can use these to make a "My new school" story for your child about starting school. It is important to ask for permission from the principal before taking photographs or video footage.

Things it might help your child to know about

  • people at school
  • school environment
  • playground
  • school routines

Things parents should find out

  • kindergarten start and finish times
  • uniform details
  • what additional items to bring to school

Click here to download a PDF checklist of things to find out about school which you can complete on-line, download and complete on a computer and/or print.

Specific information about starting school for families of children with developmental delay or disability in each state and territory
Australian Capital Territory
New South Wales
Northern Territory
South Australia
Western Australia

Who is who at school?

Who is who at school?

Listed below are some of the professionals you may come into contact with in NSW schools.

The school principal has overall responsibility for the whole school.

Responsibilities include:

  • education programs
  • learning outcomes
  • welfare of all students
  • management of staff and staff welfare
  • financial management of the school
  • management of the school property
  • development of partnerships between the school and the community

In larger schools, an assistant principal has specific areas of responsibility within the school and supports the principal with school management. There may be an assistant principal who has specific responsibilities in the area of support for students with disabilities.

The classroom teacher is responsible for the education of all children in their class.

Responsibilities include:

  • assessing children to find out what they know already, and what their current learning needs are
  • programming for the learning activities in the class based on the NSW curriculum
  • communicating with parents and carers about children’s progress
  • co-ordinating particular activities in the school (e.g. sport carnivals or music)

School learning support officer (SLSO)
(also known as a teacher’s aide) is employed to support the teacher in their teaching role.

School counsellor
Assists in supporting the well-being of students in the school. The school counsellor may be invited by the school principal to be involved as part of the team, with consent from a parent.

Responsibilities include:

  • counselling around individual student needs
  • student welfare
  • cognitive, social, emotional and behavioural assessments
  • working collaboratively with your team to develop appropriate school based support for students

A learning and support teacher is attached to every public school for an allocated period of time each week. The amount of time this teacher is available to the school varies based on the number of children enrolled in the school.

Responsibilities include:

  • providing direct specialist assistance to students in regular classes with additional learning and support needs and their teachers
  • collaborating and consulting with parents and teachers
  • assisting classroom teachers to develop, monitor and assess individual education programs

The administrative officer supports with the administration of the school.

Responsibilities include:

  • administrative support for the school
  • providing and receiving forms
  • receiving payments and fees
  • providing first aid to children as needed
  • attending to children in sick bay
  • telephoning parents if their child is unwell

The out of school hours (OOSH) coordinator leads an OOSH service.

Responsibilities include:

  • providing care to children before and/or after school hours
  • supervising (OOSH) staff who are caring for children before and / or after school hours
  • ensuring that an education and care program is in place, based on the National Education and Care Services Regulations and the framework for school aged care
  • communicating with parents and carers about their children’s care
  • communicate with school staff as needed
Click here for further information about disability support through the NSW Department of Education.

Activities to help prepare your child for school

Activities to help your child prepare for school

Getting ready for school is the responsibility of your whole team

There are a range of specific activities which can help prepare your child for school.

See also the community-wide approach for information about how your team can assist, rather than feeling it is all your responsibility as a parent to prepare your child for school. A community-wide approach to starting school where all involved in a child's team work together, rather than placing the main emphasis on the child's readiness skills is the most successful approach.

Specific activities to assist your child to develop school readiness skills

School readiness groups may be offered by an early childhood intervention (ECI) service. These are groups where children can practise the skills they will use at school. These include:

  • following a routine
  • lining up to go inside/outside
  • sitting and attending to group time
  • completing table-top activities

School orientation sessions provide a great opportunity for:

  • staff to get to know your child
  • your child to meet other children who will starting school at the same time

You may like to arrange play dates with some of these children over the summer school holiday period. As with any child starting school, supportive relationships with other families and children can take time to develop but they can be worth the effort in the long term.

Additional visits to the school which may help prepare your child for elements of school which may be new experiences for your child. For example, watching a sport lesson or school assembly.

Other opportunities to socialise in your local community, for example attending playgroups or story-time at the local library.

Things you can do at home

As parents you can make a big difference in helping to prepare your child for school.

Consider these suggestions:

  • Talking
    •  talk with your child in a positive way about starting school
    • monitor your child’s response to conversations about school. Do they react enthusiastically, or with confusion or anxiety? Do they seem to want more information?
    • talk in a way that is meaningful to your child
    • keep in mind that children may find it hard to think ahead about future events in terms of weeks and months. To help your child to understand time concepts, it can help to talk about days of the week and use a calendar to count down the days until school starts
  • Books are a great way for your child to become familiar with new routines, including school. Many children benefit from sharing a book that has been made especially for them, about starting school. These are sometimes known as “social stories™”

You can create a story for your child about starting school by:

  • downloading the “My new school” story template and personalise it with photos of your child and his or her new school. See what to find out about the school for ideas of what to include
  • reading the  “My new school”  story with your child regularly during the weeks before school commences
  • being prepared to answer questions that your child asks about school. If you need help with making the book, ask a member of your support team

Children may also benefit from looking at published books about starting school.

Click here for a list of useful books and resources.

Encouraging positive or appropriate behaviour will help your child’s learning and social interactions

At school your child will need to be able to do what the teacher asks, follow rules, and interact appropriately with both adults and other children.

One of the most effective ways to encourage positive behaviour is by reinforcing or rewarding behaviour that you want to see This is known as “positive reinforcement”. By rewarding desired behaviour it is more likely to happen again.

When your child behaves in a positive way, try:

  • giving specific praise (e.g. “great taking turns!”)
  • showing affection and positive emotions (e.g. big smiles, hugs or high fives)
  • tangible rewards (e.g. stickers, stars on a chart, a special game with Mum or Dad)

Challenging behaviour is usually a way that children try to tell us something (e.g. seeking attention, requesting or avoiding something). It is important to determine what the behaviour is telling us so that we can then try to teach the child a positive behaviour to replace the challenging one.

If you have any concerns about your child’s behaviour, get support as early as possible. Your early childhood intervention (ECI) or early childhood education and care (ECEC) service can help you find some assistance or training about how to set up a positive behaviour support plan.

Click here for more information on services.

  • set up routines which help your child to go to sleep and wake in time to get ready for school. It may help to use visual supports for these routines. Click here to download a sample visual routine schedule for after school
  • practising skills

Help your child to practice:

  • using public toilets and explain that at school there are separate toilets for girls and boys
  • skills such as opening and shutting toilet locks, pulling up pants before leaving the toilet cubicle, and for boys, using a urinal
  • packing and unpacking the backpack they will be using for school. A visual support can help break down the steps of teaching your child these skills. Make sure that your child’s backpack can be easily recognised as theirs by attaching something they will recognise to the bag
  • eating recess and lunch foods out of their school lunchbox (use a lunchbox which is as easy as possible to open and close)
  • opening any packaging that will be used for food at school
  • wearing school uniform
  • taking on and off their school shoes and sports shoes (shoes with velcro rather than laces are easiest to fasten)
  • travelling to and from school during the summer holidays prior to the start of the school year
  • games where people have to raise their hand to say something and wait for their turn to participate. Help them understand that not everyone gets a chance to talk every time in a classroom even though they may put up their hand
  • calming themselves when they are upset using age appropriate activities which are soothing (e.g. cuddling a soft toy, squeezing a stress ball, having a drink of water or learning to wipe their own eyes with a tissue)

It is helpful to discuss your child’s preferred calming activities with the new teacher.

Click here to read more about calming activities.

Finally, when the big day arrives:

  • be as prepared as possible for the “before school” morning routine
  • remain as calm as possible in your interactions with your child. This will help to reduce additional stress which may be caused by being rushed or agitated
  • remember that children pick up on their parents’ feelings and behaviour

You will have your own emotional responses to your child starting school, so it might be helpful to have spent some time considering the suggestions to support you and your family. What to expect also provides useful information about school which you can use to prepare you child.


"My new school" story

"My new school" story 

How to use the “my new school” story template

This template is designed for you and your team members to use as a basis for gathering information about your child’s new school. This information can then be shared with your child in a story.

Many children with and without disabilities learn well through visual information such as pictures. Visual supports such as this story provide:

  • a way of preparing your child for a new situation that is easier to understand than using words alone
  • a great way of reminding your child about their new school over the school holiday period
  • opportunities to talk with your child about their feelings about starting school, as you look at the story together

Individualising the story

This template is intended as a guide. You may like to change the wording of the story to use language you feel your child will best understand.

The reason we have not included pictures in this template is that actual photographs of your child’s new school will be more meaningful to your child and prepare them better for their new school.

It is important to ask for permission to take photographs on the school grounds from the school principal.
You may like to take some of the photographs yourself and/or ask a member of your team to help.

Introducing the story to your child

  • You can:
    • download this story so you can use it on a smart phone or tablet device when you are out and about
    • print the story so you can read it with your child like a real book
    • combine looking at the “my new school” story with talking about or practising some skills or activities (e.g. driving or walking past school, wearing the uniform, or packing their school bag or eating lunch out of the new lunch box)
    • have familiar adults or friends look at the story with your child. Sharing their “news” with others may help their confidence and understanding

Note: It may be more meaningful to your child to look at a couple of pages each time, rather than all in one go. Be guided by your child’s response as to how much information to share each time you read the story.

Click here to download the "my new school" template in Microsoft Powerpoint.

Click here to view and download other stories about school.

Click on the links to visit the App Store or Google Play to download free story and visual support applications for your smart phone or tablet such as "Flipagram™" or "Smilebox™".


Click on the links below to download story templates for specific routines at school in Microsoft Powerpoint.

Other stories about school

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.