Transitioning to school
Positive relationships are key to a successful start to school. Adopting a relationship-based view of the transition to school process helps dynamic, reciprocal relationships develop that enable children to enjoy their experience.
The transition from an early childhood setting to primary school is one of the most significant events in a young child’s life. Moving to a new environment with new relationships, new routines, new expectations and new experiences can be an exciting, yet daunting time for children and their families.
Establishing positive relationships between children, teachers, families, support professionals and their peers is paramount to ensure the most positive start to school.
The child is surrounded by a range of human and physical environments, each having an influence in varying capacities. Most significantly their strongest bonds are established with their immediate family or primary caregiver. The child’s extended family, early childhood educators and other professionals (eg. doctors, speech pathologists) make up many of their other meaningful relationships. Beyond the home, further environmental settings include the early childhood service, homes of other significant caregivers, parks and at times, medical facilities. As children grow and develop their network of both relationships and environments extend and expand.
An ecological approach to transition calls for a collaborative approach to planning, implementing and evaluation of transition policies, practices and programs.
The ecological systems theory developed by Bronfenbrenner provides a framework for the transition process as it views the child in relation to the human and physical environment around them. Bronfenbrenner proposed four interconnected structures that support an ecological approach; microsystems, mesosystems, exosystems and macrosystems.
- Microsystems are the interactions and activities within the child’s immediate surroundings.
- Mesosystems are the supports in the larger world outside the child’s immediate surroundings.
- Exosystems are the social settings that affect the experiences of the child such as organisational structures and policies.
- Macrosystems are the values, laws and customs within cultures.
Central to the theory is the child and each outer layer represents the progressive proximity of their relationships, evaluating the complexity of the shared interactions between the child and their surrounding environment. For example, a situation at home (one microsystem) may affect the child’s actions at school (another microsystem). The systems overlap with each other, demonstrating the intricate nature of interconnecting relationships.
Bronfenbrenner defines the interrelationships between the child’s various microsystems as forming a mesosystem. The transition process can be viewed as extending upon the child’s environments, which in turn results in new relationships with peers, teachers, support staff and principals.
Moving from an Early Childhood setting to a primary school is a fundamental shift for children. Pedagogically, there are significant changes in practices including routines, group sizes, curriculum content and most apparent to children, distinctly less play time. Children’s daily experiences are therefore distinctly different when transitioning between the two environments.
Recognising the diverse backgrounds and experiences of children and families facilitates a more responsive and inclusive approach to transition.
Applying an ecological approach into practice sees that the transition to school is supported by communication and collaboration between early childhood settings and primary schools. In order to effectively link the two settings, voices of all stakeholders need to be included. Children, families and educators need to be actively involved in practices to support a positive transition to school including:
- Reciprocal visits for children
- Reciprocal visits for educators
- Learning and Development statements and transition meetings
- Joint professional learning
- Local transition networks
- Buddy programs
- Family involvement activities
- Learning programs responsive to the child
- Social story boards
- Community level transition timetable
Both children and families build relationships through visits, buddy programs and family involvement activities which results in a far more positive outcome for all. Children gain a sense of safety, confidence and belonging and families develop a better understanding of the process and increase involvement in their child’s education. Educators strengthen relationships between children, families and other educators as well as a deeper awareness of the process and the importance of continuity of learning.
Bronfenbrenner’s ecological approach brings together the child, family, early childhood service and school to share in the transition process and builds connections between each of the systems to support a fluid, positive transition to school.
For further information:
Dockett, S. & Perry, B. (Eds.) (2001). Beginning school together: Sharing strengths. Watson, ACT: Australian Early Childhood Association.
Diamond, K., Spiegel-McGill, P. & Hanrahan, P. (1988). Planning for School Transition: An Ecological-Developmental Approach. Journal of the Division for Early Childhood, 12(3) 245-252.
OECD (2017), Starting Strong 2017: Key OECD Indicators on Early Childhood Education and Care, Paris: OECD Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264276116-en.
Smith, K., Kotsanas, C., Farrelly, A. & Alexander, K. (2010). Research into practices to support a positive start to school. Victoria: University of Melbourne.