Supporting Families Through Big Transitions

Early childhood is full of big transitions for children and their families. Some transitions are developmental and redefine a child’s (and the family’s) experience – think of the transition from crawling to walking! Some transitions are unanticipated, such as having to relocate to a new town for employment.

Starting preschool is a big transition for children who are new to group care. And for those children who have been enrolled in a program for some time, transitioning to a new classroom can be challenging. And of course, there is the big transition to kindergarten/elementary school.

Regardless of the situation, there are things early learning programs can do to support both children and families as they navigate these transitions. Transitions can be exciting for some students and stressful for others and just because a child has handled previous transitions with ease does not mean that future transitions will be smooth.  Families are no different in how they experience transitions related to their children’s care and education.

Clear communication about these transitions is one way that early care and education providers can support families before, during, and after transitions. Let’s take a look at a few strategies:

Set clear expectations – It is important for families and children to understand how the new environment will be similar to and different from the current environment. In order to share factual information, it may be necessary for teachers to do some investigation, such as visiting the elementary school or having conversations with the new teachers. Some programs have invited teachers from the new school into the program to meet with families and children for an introductory meeting. Read books about upcoming big transitions and share these books with families so they can read them at home.  All of these strategies can help ECE providers give children and families a clear picture of what to expect in the new environment.

Listen and acknowledge – Sometimes, a child or parent just needs someone to listen to their concerns and validate their feelings.  This is a stressful time with many unknowns.  You can’t fix that, but you can be a reassuring shoulder to lean on.

Create tasks or goals – It may be beneficial to create goals for the children or families to work toward to get them ready for the transition.  You could provide the school district’s supply list and turn it into a fun game that children and families can play together.  In some cases, families cannot afford everything on the supply list, in which case, you could have extra supplies (donations) on hand to give children a great start to their new year.

Prior experience – It may be possible to have families and children who went through the transition during the past year return to your program to talk about the experience.  Families with older siblings, and the older siblings themselves may be willing to do this. This is a great chance for children to meet or reunite with a child who has a year of experience in the new environment under their belt.  The same is true when you encourage families to connect during big transitions.

Plan get-to-know-you activities – If you are the new teacher in the transition, take time to introduce yourself to children and families well in advance of the transition. Work out a schedule with your administration that allows you time in the classroom with the children who will be moving to your classroom. Spend that time observing, chatting, and getting to know the children. Send home introduction letters to families with an invitation for them to reach out to you with any questions they have.

Stay in touch – There may be possibilities for you to stay in touch with families and children after the transition via email, written notes, or visits. As a person who knows the children and families well, you are a valuable source of encouragement and confidence.

Keep in mind that transition periods will be different each year.  What worked last year may not be sufficient this year and what you did three years ago may not be necessary in the future.

We wish you the best of luck in the transitions you encounter this school year!