Do you work in a community organisation?

Is there a child with a disability who is getting ready for school included in your community organisation?

You might be a:

  • playgroup leader
  • sports coach
  • martial arts instructor
  • music teacher
  • dance teacher
  • librarian
  • scouting group leader
  • out of school hours (OOSH) service co-ordinator

This section contains:

Community organisations’ roles in transition to school

Why do community organisations play an important role in the transition to school for young children with disabilities?

Community organisations can:

  • develop relationships with children and their families over a period of time
  • provide an opportunity for:
    • children to meet and interact with other children
    • children to practice social interaction skills, generalise their skills, and learn to regulate emotions and behaviour in another environment
    • connections to be made with other parents
  • extend children’s interests and skills

All of the above areas are relevant to helping children adapt and adjust to starting school.

“ We have been going to our local library almost every week since Ari was 2. He used to get upset when we first started going, but over time it has become part of our routine which he enjoys. Jan, the librarian there knows him and is always friendly and welcoming to us. Now he is able to put books into the returns chute and choose new ones to borrow. Next school holidays we are going to try taking Ari to craft time at the library because some other kids from his school will be going too.”

Shanti, mother of Ari

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Working with families

What do families find helpful from community organisations?

  • Parents report that knowing that their child has participated in a regular community activity gives them confidence around their child’s capacity to adapt to starting school
  • Learning about and having the opportunity to visit or trial activities prior to starting their child on an ongoing basis.
  • Initiate communication:
    • about any positive participation by their child in activities
    • about challenges as they arise
    • that their child continues to be welcome even when things don’t go as planned
    • about ideas that might be tried in order to address any challenges
  • Information about other community activities which might suit their child.
  • Confirmation that their knowledge of their child and priorities for their child have been heard
  • Opportunities to make connections with other families in the community

How can community organisations support families around transition to school?

  • Welcome families of children with disabilities who approach your organisation
  • Ask for and listen to ideas from parents about what might make their child’s experience of your activities as positive as possible
  • Introduce parents to other parents with children of similar ages
  • Link with early childhood intervention (ECI) services
  • Explore opportunities to work in partnership to co-locate services with ECI services, early childhood education and care (ECEC) services and schools
  • Find out if there are any skills the child needs to practice that can easily be incorporated into your activities
  • If requested by the family, contribute information to transition planning about:
    • the child’s strengths and needs when participating in your organisation’s activities
    • what strategies have worked (and not worked) for the child in in your organisation’s activities

“Because we had such a nice experience with the local playgroup and preschool, this helped me to feel as though my daughter would cope with starting school. Some of the children from the playgroup also started at the same school as Heidi, which made her feel more relaxed.”

Marion, mother of Heidi

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Tips for making a child’s experience with community activities successful


  • Encourage some short visits to your organisation to help the child become familiar with the environment and any routines
  • Explain the main things that usually happen during activities
  • Parents may like to take some photos so they can talk about and prepare their child for a new environment
  • Ask whether there is anything which might make this child feel more comfortable in your environment, for example, their likes and dislikes
  • Ask whether there is anything which might be better avoided or that might be difficult or stressful for their child when they are first starting your activity

Making the child’s experience positive on an ongoing basis:

  • Speak with parents about what might motivate their child to continue to participate in your activity
  • Consider how ongoing achievements might be recognised e.g. awards or stickers for trying something new or more difficult
  • Ask the parents whether there are specific goals or strategies which you might incorporate into your activity to support the child to participate more actively

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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, preschool 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).

(Sayers, M et al Starting school: A pivotal life transition for children and their families Family Matters 2012 No. 90 p.45)

Community organisations play an important role in this community-wide approach to children’s transition to school and inclusion generally.

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Useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school

Research, as well as feedback from parents, carers and professionals across NSW, has identified some useful practices and potential barriers in the transition to school for children with disability.

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 child’s kindergarten teacher

Potential barriers

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

“Effective transitions consider children’s and families’ identity and a sense of belonging in the new context and are supported when discontinuities (e.g. differences in curricula and teaching strategies, changes in relationships between children and adults, and changes in peer groups) are attended to and minimised.”

(The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health, p2)

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Support and resources

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

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 setting. This can help to build your capacity to support participation for children with disabilities or to link families with other support and assistance.

Support might be available from:

  • ECI professionals such as early childhood special educators, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, speech pathologists. These professionals may be able to meet with you or visit your organisation to support you with information, tools or resources that could be trialled in your setting. 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 the ECIA NSW Does this Child Need Help? resource and training package for more information on identifying and discussing concerns with families

“We really wanted Anh to do some type of sport like his brothers do. We were a bit worried that he wouldn’t be able to do everything that he needed to, but our physiotherapist was able to talk with the coach of a soccer team and give him a few ideas. Anh was able to join in with the other kids. He might not kick the most goals, but he has a lot of fun and is part of the team!”

Van and Le, parents of Anh

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Self-Reflection questions

Working with families

  1. Does our organisation welcome children and families who have disabilities?
  2. Do we ask parents what their priorities/goals and aspirations are in terms of their child participating in our activities?
  3. Do we ask parents what interests their child and what might make their experience of our activity a positive one?
  4. Do we discuss any concerns in a sensitive and confidential manner with families?

Working in partnership

  1. Do we link with other professionals to support the inclusion of children with disabilities in our activities?

Supporting the child’s participation

  1. Does our organisation ask parents and any ECI professionals (with parent permission) for ideas on encouraging a child’s participation in our activities?
  2. Do we actively assist the child to build positive relationships with other children within their local community?

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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