Are you an early childhood education and care professional?

Are you an early childhood education and care (ECEC) professional with a child with a disability in your service getting ready for school?

You might be a teacher or child care worker who works in:

  • preschool
  • long day care
  • occasional care
  • family day care

This section contains:

Recommended practice and the transition to school

All children arrive at primary school with knowledge and experiences from growing up within the context of family, neighbourhood, service and community environments. Traditional concepts of school readiness have placed emphasis on a child's skills; however, skill-based assessments of children's functioning have been shown to be poor predictors of subsequent school adjustment and achievement (La Paro & Pianta, 2001; Pianta & La Paro, 2003). More recent thinking about the transition to school recognises that "school readiness does not reside solely in the child, but reflects the environments in which children find themselves" (Kagan & Rigby, 2003, p. 13 and Dockett & Perry, 2006).
(Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p45)

As an ECEC professional, you play an important role in this community-wide approach to children’s transition to school.

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Useful practices
  • interagency collaboration
  • timeliness of planning and activities
  • training for all involved
  • advocacy skills for parents
  • active parent involvement
  • effective communication
  • ongoing evaluation and reflection
  • support for the family
  • orientation for child
  • teaching children skills in preparation for school
  • strategies for receiving teacher

Potential barriers
  • administrative
  • family concerns not being addressed
  • shift in educational approach e.g. from family-centred to curriculum based practice
  • challenges in relation to transition processes e.g. timing of placement offers
  • training needs not being met
  • communication challenges

ECECs need to explain to families how they (ECECs) might be able to assist and be involved in Transition to School for example as an advocate with an education background in meetings who can share what works for the child now and might work at school.”

Child Care Centre Director

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The National Quality Standard and Early Years Learning Framework and transition to school

Many practices associated with a successful Transition to School are outlined as part of the National Quality Standard and Early Years Learning Framework which are requirements for all licensed Early Childhood Education and Care services.

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Your role as an Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) professional in transition to school

As an ECEC professional you:

  • play an essential role in the transition to school for young children with disabilities
  • develop trusting relationships with children and their families over a number of years, often during the critical early childhood period when families are adapting and adjusting to their child’s disability
  • have strong knowledge and experience of child development and the types of skills and behaviours which impact on children’s functioning and independence
  • observe and relate to young children in a group context, and are uniquely placed to support children with developing social interaction skills, practicing and generalising self-help skills and learning to regulate emotions and behaviour

These are all priority areas identified by Kindergarten teachers in terms of children’s adaptation to school life.

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The transition to school processes for children with a disability

It can be helpful to have some understanding of the application processes, in order to support families in this area as needed.

When to start
Support families to make contact with the school to allow the school time to submit and process funding applications as well as to build relationships to support planning and the transfer of information:
• at least 2 years in advance if the child has a physical disability, in case any building works need to be undertaken
• 12 months in advance if the child has any other disability

Where to start
Public Schools
As it is every child’s right to attend their local public school. The starting point for families should be to contact their local public school to make an appointment to meet with the principal.

Advise families of the following:

Catholic schools
For families interested in their child attending a Catholic School, advise them that the first point of contact should be the principal of their local Parish school.

Independent or private schools
If the family is interested in an Independent or private school, advise parents will need to contact the specific school directly.

Click here for information on school options in all education sectors.

“The more the ECEC staff know about the system, the better they can support families. They learn to trust the ECEC… We can help by advertising Transition to School workshops and what these are about. We have attended these workshops, so we hear the same information as families.”
Preschool Director.

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Working with families

“Our preschool teacher really helped me. She made time to come along to the transition meeting with me and even had a coffee and a chat with me afterwards. This support helped a lot because I was so stressed about school, I was everywhere.”

Kylie, mother of Alex

What do families find useful?

  • Knowing that their child has participated in an ECEC programme which is involved in their child’s transition to school
  • Being invited by ECECs to be actively involved in planning for their child’s education
  • Communication:
    • particularly during the transition planning process - agreeing on a clear system that works for ECEC professionals and parents, e.g. email, SMS, regular face to face meetings or a combination of all of these methods
    • about what is working in the ECEC environment
    • about challenges as they arise rather than when they have existed for a long time
    • about how they may be able to help support their child in learning skills which will be valuable at school e.g. self-help skills
    • about positive progress or events as well as any challenges in relation to preparing their child for school.
  • Information about:
  • Confirmation that:
    • their knowledge of their child and priorities for their child’s learning has been heard
    • school staff have spoken with and learned from the professionals who have been involved with their child’s education and intervention prior to school
  • Emotional and practical support from trusted ECEC professionals in the lead up to commencing school, particularly in transition meetings at the new school
  • Access to photos of their child participating in their ECEC setting
  • Opportunities provided by ECECs to help families make connections with other families in the community

“Because we had such a good supportive experience with the regular preschool this helped me to feel ready for my daughter to go to school.”

Janine, mother of Molly

How can you, as an ECEC professional, support families?

  • Start conversations with families about transition to school by the child’s 3rd birthday
  • Identify how any goal/s in the Individualised Family Service Plan (IFSP) in relation to transition to school can be supported by the ECEC setting
  • Offer to be part of the family’s transition support team
  • Attend transition to school meetings if asked by the family. See preparing for meetings
  • Support effective communication between all members of the child’s transition to school team
  • Invite school staff to meet and observe the child in their ECEC setting prior to the end of the school year

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Working with teachers in schools

“When there is already a good relationship between early childhood and a particular school this makes an enormous difference as the information shared is valued.”

Director of a community-based preschool

What do teachers in receiving schools find helpful?

Interviews with teachers have identified helpful transition practices including:

  • information about:
    • the child’s strengths and needs from professionals who already know the child in a group context. This can include information about what strategies have been in place to support their learning before school
    • the strategies that have worked (and not worked) for the child in ECEC settings
    • any possible triggers of challenging behaviour
    • what they may be able to do to prepare for potential challenges
  • making an observation visit to children in their ECEC service where possible has helped teachers to see what practices are being used and learn about what has supported the child to date
  • observing children during general orientation sessions, and seeing how they respond in the school environment
  • having children visit for additional sessions at school during term 4 to prepare them for particular school routines e.g. assembly, sport, music, recess and lunch times
  • when parents and carers understand the varied nature and demands of a school teacher and how this might differ from ECEC professionals
  • open, honest communication with the family and previous services

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Support and resources

The most successful transition to school programmes occur through a collaborative team approach.

While you are experts around child development, early childhood education, and the Early Years Learning Framework and National Quality Standards, it is well recognised that parents are experts on their own individual child.

Most children who have identified disabilities or developmental delays prior to starting school will have early childhood intervention (ECI) professional/s involved.

Ask the family about the ECI professionals working with their child and whether they are able to spend some time in your ECEC setting.

There may also be other specialist professionals within your community who are able to help. They may be able to work with you to build your capacity to adapt and adjust programming and teaching to support learning for children with additional needs. They may also be able to link families to support and assistance.

Transition support might be available from:

  • ECI professionals such as early childhood special educators, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, speech pathologists

These professionals may be available to meet with you, visit your service, or show you support tools or resources which may be trialled in your setting.

Some ECI service providers may also have funding to provide support to the child until the age of 7 or 8 years which can assist with continuity between early childhood settings and school settings.

  • Other staff within your ECEC service. Other members of your service’s team may have made observations or had experiences with children, which may give you an opportunity to talk through any concerns or challenges
  • Support professionals or networks within your community. This might include Community Health staff, local support groups, respite services and other community organisations
  • See also forming a transition team for members of the transition team who may be able to assist
  • See also the trouble-shooting guide
  • See the ECIA NSW Does this child need help? resource and training package for more information about identifying and discussing concerns with families
  • Click here for practical information about supporting carers of children from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds

Training and/or funding support may be available to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in your service through the following programmes:

Intervention Support Program (ISP)

Inclusion and Professional Support Program (IPSP) for long day care and out of school hours services

Preschool Disability Support Program (PDSP) for preschools

“Preschool was the most important thing. Getting into a routine and learning to sit down for a story and things like that helped prepare our little girl for the school routines. She knew a few kids from preschool who were going to her school too.”

Ricardo, father of Angelina

Royal Children’s Hospital’s Centre for Community Child Health (2008) Rethinking the transition to school, Curriculum leadership, Vol.6, issue 34, click here to access this article online

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Self-Reflection questions

Working with families

  1. Does our service begin conversations with families of children with additional needs about transition to school by the time the child turns 3?
  2. Do we ask parents what their priorities and longer term goals are for their child and incorporate these into our programming?

Working in partnership

  1. Does our service link with other professionals to provide a consistent approach to transition to school?
  2. Does our service make contact with the school to invite staff to visit, meet and observe children with a disability in our setting?
  3. Does our service offer to attend transition meeting/s and/or provide concise information to the school (with parental permission) about what has worked to support the child’s inclusion in our service?

Supporting the child’s development

  1. Does our service place an emphasis on increasing a child’s participation and independence across all aspects of our programme?
  2. Does our service collect information to identify differences and delays in children’s development and discuss any concerns in a sensitive manner with families?
  3. How do I engage with the child to ensure they are as prepared and as aware as possible about what going to school will mean for them?

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