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ECE Resources

Key insights on transitions from Sally Peters and Hazel Woodhouse

By Dr Vicki Hargraves

In our webinar on transitions in the early years, Sally Peters and Hazel Woodhouse from the University of Waikato share ideas from their research for supporting transition experiences for young children and their families. In particular, Sally explores the use of the transition pathways framework in Te Whāriki and Hazel, the potential of digital spaces for enhancing practices facilitating effective transition to school.

The key insights from the webinar include:

Transitions are an important part of life that begins in early infancy. Children experience many kinds of transitions in their early childhood years, including transitions into an early childhood setting, between groups in that setting, and from the early childhood setting to school. Transitions can also occur within the home setting, such as moving house or the birth of siblings. Children also make small transitions everyday such as the daily transition from home to early childhood setting and back. Children often have little choice about the transitions they make, so adults should take care to ensure these transitions are as supported as possible.

Transitioning to a new place and space entails taking on a new role and it can take some time to learn, adapt to and fully integrate into that new role. This means that transitions offer children an opportunity for learning, with some scaffolding and support from the adults around them. Transition provides an opportunity to think about how to foster resilient, resourceful learners who are empowered to benefit from their transition.

Transition experiences vary with a child’s personality and with the transition environment. Each child experiences transition in their own way, and different aspects of the transition process can affect children at different points. For some children, discussion of the changes that are coming can be quite unsettling, whereas other children are not affected by the transition until after they have physically moved from one context to another. Building connections with families prior to and throughout the period of transition helps to support the child’s individual needs.

Communication between the transition settings is essential. A strong connection between school and early childhood settings gives families a feeling of trust and reassurance that they will be welcomed in the new space. When working across sectors, it is important to try to understand the other teachers’ perspectives, which can be aided by visiting the other setting and getting to know each other. Most teachers are keen to do this but it requires the safe space provided by strong relationships. It is also useful to spend time exploring the curriculum documents of the other setting.

Te Whāriki provides a useful framework. With the revision of Te Whāriki in 2017, teachers now have a sound framework for understanding links across curriculum in ECE, schools and kura. Te Whāriki (2017) includes the image of an unfinished whāriki, with loose strands still to be woven, to acknowledge the child’s potential and their ongoing educational journey. The Pathways to School and Kura section of Te Whāriki (pp.51-58) offers examples of the the way school learning can be woven on to the learning outomes in Te Whāriki, which provide teachers in ECE and school a place to to begin exploring links between their own and the other sector’s curriculum in order to better support children’s learning journeys.

Families are transitioning too, taking on new roles and a new set of responsibilities. Research shows that teachers are important for helping parents to make transitions, particularly when they are proactive in offering timely information and support, and in sharing details about the child’s experience. Building trusting and respectful relationships with families is found to play an important part in successful transitions. It can often be better to focus face-to-face time on relationship-building (both between teachers and families, and between families), and find other creative (often digital) ways to share information.

Digital tools and technologies can be powerful tools to support transition, as they can provide supportive and collaborative spaces for families and settings to share information that supports transition. Social media spaces in particular can encourage dialogue and enable families to ask questions. Digital technologies can also familiarise children and their families with the new environment through short digital (video) stories which provide opportunities for new situations to be rehearsed and talked about at home and in the early childhood centre. These videos can help to pre-empt those difficult situations that children might face in a busier or unfamiliar environment.

Experimentation and shared inquiry into transition practice is important. Much research into successful transition practice has occurred within teachers’ action research projects. Important to these projects are the shared thinking and experimentation across settings, involving, for example, focusing on children’s wellbeing and engagement, the importance of the familiarity of resources, language or cultural practices across settings, or capitalising on the enjoyment of reconnection with friends and whānau that had already moved to school.

Further resources.The Te Whāriki Online website in TKI has some good ‘Pathways and Transitions’ resources, including stories of practice, reflective questions and implications for leadership.