ECE Resources

Key insights: Supporting early transitions in ECE

The International Study of Social and Emotional Early Transitions [ISSEET] was intended to address a gap in the research on the knowledge, attitudes and practices concerning early transitions. Early transitions before school have received comparatively little attention in scholarship, pedagogy and thought, and have yet to be given focus in policy. This study – which is nearing completion – focused on transitions from home into an early childhood service, within and across services, and into school. It was particularly concerned with the social and emotional experiences of children, families/whānau and teachers. In New Zealand, the research followed four children over four years as they attended ECE and started school.  Investigations of early transitions also took place in Scotland, Finland, the USA, Brazil and Australia. Infant levels of activeness, involvement, interpersonal engagement, positive mood and playfulness were observed and measured at various points during transitions. This work is ongoing.  

The research found that ‘threads of significance’ are associated with more positive transition experiences. Threads of significance in positive transitions include play and rituals such as morning karakia or prayer. Routine events such as the provision of bottles and food were also a significant thread. Holding hands, physically and metaphorically, with the right person at the right time, was found to be crucial, irrespective of age or how many transitions had been experienced previously. 

Transition has an emotional impact, but certain strategies may help to ameliorate this. The ISSEET research found that practices involving settling in, understanding routines, supporting physical and emotional cues help to minimise the stress and anxiety of transition. Getting to know children and their cues, communicating with whānau, and being aware of the wider group and how it coheres are all important. Interconnecting spaces, so that children could connect with previous spaces, or connect with peers and siblings and cousins in other rooms, were found to support positive transition experiences once infants were mobile. Having peers present also was associated with positive transitions, which suggests that having peers transition together might play an important role in creating continuity between spaces. The research found that some children were experiencing a surprisingly high number of transitions, and that success in an early transition would not necessarily carry over to subsequent transitions, as each setting and each transition had variables that impacted on transition in different ways. Where there were strong support networks and threads of significance in place, children appeared to be more able to establish a sense of security, trust and belonging. It is also important to take time over transition, so it is not rushed or forced.  

Aspects of transition unique to Aotearoa New Zealand include culturally relevant pedagogies. Bicultural aspects of transition which were found by the research to promote wellbeing include the importance of whakapapa and children’s links to the past for understanding whānau and tamariki in the present. In the Māori immersion service’s whānau caregiving approach, caregiving was reconceptualised as a collective effort using a framework of ūkaipō, which highlights the idea that infants can and should relate to multiple others, returning to the literal and metaphorical breast at night for sustenance.  

People, places and things are interconnected and integral to transition experiences. The research found that, while teachers were highly aware of the need for relationships with people, places and things were less considered. In transition, it can be important to be aware of differences between places, even seemingly small things like a different kind of cup or differing routines across rooms. Objects are particularly important in and through transitions, and, if thoughtfully considered to align with infants’ interests, they can be used to entice infants on their first day, and as bridges for building relationships.  

Dialogue with families and children is crucial to supporting positive emotional and social transition experiences. Dialogue needs to take into account cultural values, aspirations, the individual personalities and temperaments of infants, as well as the practices, routines and rituals brought from home and taken across settings. Parents seek honest dialogue, even when things are not going well. The quality of interpersonal encounters is important, taking into consideration things like positioning of the infant (on the floor, on a lap), activities such as having a bottle or sharing play, as well as the quality of arrivals and departures. Children can be offered leadership (rangatiratanga) over their transition journey too. What teachers do and say and the extent to which they can negotiate practices and priorities for each child, and each family member, are important to successful and positive transition experiences.  

You can view our Early transitions into, between and out of ECE – inter-cultural dialogues webinar here.

Further reading 

The ISSEET report will be available soon at www.cognitioneducation.co.nz 

The Aotearoa Early Transitions website.  

White, J., Hansen, K., Hawkes K., Redder, B., Lord, W., & Perks, N. (2018). Key teaching (primary caregiving?) practices during infant transitions to early childhood education and care in Aotearoa New Zealand. The First Years Ngā Tau Tuatahi, 20(2)5-14. 

White, E. J., Westbrook, F., Hawkes, K., Lord, W., & Redder, B. (2021). (In)visible perceptions of objects (‘things’) during early transitions: Intertwining subjectivities in ECEC. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhoodhttps://doi.org/10.1177/14639491211027904 

White, E. J., Marwick, H., Amorim, K., Rutanen, N., & Herold, L. (Eds.). (2022, in press). First transitions to early childhood education and care: Culturally responsive approaches to the people, places, environments and ideologies of earliest care encounters across six countries. Springer. 

By Dr Vicki Hargraves


Dr Vicki Hargraves

Vicki runs our ECE webinar series and also is responsible for the creation of many of our ECE research reviews. Vicki is a teacher, mother, writer, and researcher living in Marlborough. She recently completed her PhD using philosophy to explore creative approaches to understanding early childhood education. She is inspired by the wealth of educational research that is available and is passionate about making this available and useful for teachers.

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