Starting school is an important time in a child's life. Rather than a one-off event, transition is a process where children settle into learning. Children and families experience it in their own way and in their own time.
When children start school, they experience changes in:
Helping children to have positive and rewarding experiences as they move from early childhood education to school sets them confidently on a pathway of continuous learning.
The Education Review Office (ERO) reviewed how well New Zealand early childhood services and schools are helping children settle into school. We asked questions about:
Information was gathered by talking with staff, children and families and reviewing early childhood services' and schools' documents.
This evaluation told us what's working well and what's not - this is a summary of the key points.
Overall, we found that early childhood services and schools need to do the same things to support children moving to school so they can keep learning.
We talk about these in more detail below.
Early childhood services
Early childhood services that were very supportive: • had curriculum that supported children’s transitions • had supportive ways of assessing children • worked collaboratively with schools, parents and whānau• had effective self review – looking at what’s working, what isn’t and making improvements.
Primary schools that were very supportive: • had effective leaders who emphasised the importance of successful transitions • had teachers who knew about the children as learners and tailored their learning • made links to Te Whāriki • worked collaboratively with early childhood services, parents and whānau• had effective self review – looking at what’s working, what isn’t and making improvements.
Transitions to school involve the whole family. Parents and whanau play an important role in their child's ongoing learning.
Dispositions are combinations of children's emerging knowledge, skills and attitudes to learning. They include characteristics like courage, curiosity, trust, playfulness, perseverance, confidence and responsibility. They include the way children approach learning, such as persisting with difficulty or expressing a point of view. The early childhood curriculum Te Whariki encourages early childhood teachers to help children develop dispositions that help them learn.
A small primary school with many immigrant families gives parents as much information as possible to help them understand the New Zealand education system and teaching approaches.
The leaders use a range of strategies to make families feel welcome and develop a sense of belonging to the community.
The new entrant teacher displays photographs of children before they start school so that other children know they are coming. The school holds information evenings, provides comprehensive new entrant packs and has a staff member who can speak several of the families' first languages.
Leaders regularly seek feedback from families and use this to refine the transition process.
Māori children at a large primary school feel a sense of belonging through integration of te reo and tikanga Māori into school programmes and values. A strong kapa haka group is popular and teachers deliberately engage families in the life of the school.
Leaders and teachers can help children settle into school by basing transition programmes on children's interests and building on what they already know and can do.
Assessing children in supportive ways and using this information are very important to a child's continuous learning.
At one early childhood centre, an assessment at 4½ years old focuses on three strengths of each child and one area they are developing. Another assessment when they’re about to start school provides information about their learning in relation to Te Whāriki.
In some early childhood services most children move to just one local school, while in others children move to many different schools across a city. This can affect how easy it is for leaders and teachers at early childhood services and schools to build and maintain collaborative relationships, but doing so is vital for children's continuity of learning.
Teachers at a Samoan early childhood service (Aoga) meet regularly with teachers at the adjacent school. They share information about the children’s learning, language, culture, identity and family. The new entrant teacher at the school visits the Aoga to observe and get to know the children and the teachers and see the curriculum in action.
The principal reviewed transition after realising that his school’s processes weren’t working well for all children. She trialled a new process of weekly visits for children due to start and their parents. The programme involved literacy games where the children were observed, formal question sessions with parents, and feedback from participants to help identify what worked well and what could be improved.
Good leaders and systems are very important to help children move from early childhood education to school.
School leaders can:
Early childhood service leaders and school leaders can:
Early childhood services and schools need regular, robust and formal self review that focuses on practices that support children moving to school. This helps services and schools work out how well they’re doing and if they need to make any improvements.
When Brooklynn was 4½, the early childhood teacher responsible for transitions to school asked her parents which school she was likely to go to and what they could do to help. She arranged for Brooklynn and her parents to visit two schools and produced books with photos about the schools for Brooklynn to share with her friends and whānau.
The teachers at Brooklynn’s early childhood service give all parents a summative assessment report – a detailed story of their child’s learning based on the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki. Brooklynn’s parents let the early childhood service share this with the new entrant teacher at her new school. The teacher used it to talk to them in detail about Brooklynn during an enrolment interview. She also used the information about Brooklynn’s interests, strengths, ways of learning and what she already knew to plan the next stage of Brooklynn’s learning in relation to The New Zealand Curriculum.
Brooklynn’s early childhood service has a wall display with photos of the local schools and children who recently started at each. It gives children a clear sense of connection to their school before they start and is the basis of many conversations between children, teachers and parents. The head teacher at the early childhood service invited new entrant teachers to come and watch how her team teaches. This helps them connect the teaching and learning experiences for children when they start school.
The transition process at Brooklynn’s school meant that her transition from early childhood went smoothly. Through a series of information evenings, meetings and visits, Brooklynn and her whānau got to know the school and teacher well, even before her fist day. On her first day, two early childhood teachers and some of herwhānau attended the pōwhiri (Māori ceremony to welcome her into the school).
Brooklynn’s new teacher had learnt all about her and tailored her learning according to this – connecting it to how she learns, her interests, what she had already learnt and to the early childhood curriculum Te Whāriki. Being assigned a buddy helped Brooklynn to make friends, and she settled in quickly so she could get on with the important part – learning. Brooklynn is now continuing on her way to becoming a lifelong learner.