New Children, New School Year, New Transitions

Transitions can be difficult for adults and children alike. Children leaving the care of their families for the first time, moving up to a new age grouping, or leaving child care for elementary school need the comfort of knowing what to expect along the way. Transition plans can help reduce adjustment challenges for children and also for parents, who may be leaving their children in your care for the first time. Transitions are a process, not single events, and they involve careful planning, preparation, and implementation.

Transitioning from home to a program begins with the family. Families and providers can build positive relationships through communication. Programs and providers can allow parents to visit with their children before their first day or offer gradual enrollment.  For some children and families, an open-door policy can also add a level of comfort. Additional transition strategies include allowing a child to bring a special book or other item from home for the first few weeks and having a family photo wall or an “all about me” wall for new students.

Building times for transition into the daily schedule is also an important part of this process for all children. Keep in mind, most young children can’t tell time – they rely on the order of activities throughout the day to be their clock. Having a predictable schedule brings children a sense of security. Too many stops and starts can frustrate children, but seamless transitions can become part of the routine and create extended learning opportunities.

Do you plan for transitions in your daily schedule? Consider including transitions in your written daily schedule. For example, use a simple verbal countdown for cleanup time. When preparing to wash hands, sing a fun song about germs. Including transitions in the daily routine can help children to understand your expectations as well as encourage positive behaviors and greater success. Using transitions in your program also demonstrates the effective use of teaching strategies, which is part of the Developmentally Appropriate Learning and Practice content area within the Maryland EXCELS Standards.

Moving up an age group is another important time of transition for a child. Children will likely be changing classrooms and teachers, and helping them feel comfortable in their new environment is necessary. Talk with families about their expectations and goals for their children. Provide the opportunity for the children to meet with their new teachers and to spend time in their new classrooms. Give teachers a chance to discuss learning strategies for the children who are aging up. With everyone involved with the transition to a new age grouping, children will feel the support and have confidence in their new environment.

Another good time for a transition plan is when children leave their child care providers and enter elementary school. Providers can help connect families to their local elementary schools and offer registration date reminders. With the family’s permission, providers can also share assessment and observation information with the child’s new school. This relationship provides an opportunity for a collaborative effort when preparing the child for elementary school. Inviting elementary teachers and administrative staff to child care programs provides opportunities for children to ask questions and to get to know everyone.

You will also find some children will need individualized transition plans. When teachers and families work together to address a child’s needs, the child will feel more comfortable and better prepared to learn.

Helping children and parents through transitions is an important part of having a quality program. Developing transition plans will not just help families adjust to the necessary changes in their child’s life, but will also give children life skills that they will take with them as they grow.