Thursday, 13 May 2010

Transition issues in the early years: changing places

This is a time to think about changes children will soon be experiencing. In particular, many nursery children will be thinking about the move to “big school”, and children in reception will soon be leaving the EYFS and starting the primary curriculum.

If any of us stops to think about major changes in our lives – moving house, getting a new job, having a baby or seeing a young person grow up – waves of mixed hope, fear, optimism and apprehension will probably follow. Yet this can only give us a little bit of insight into what change is like for children, who have so much less experience than us, and so much less say in what happens. We cannot properly understand what four and five year olds experience as big transitions loom, come and go.

Early years practitioners tend to help children prepare for certain aspects of the changes to come, and give much less attention to others. Typically, a lot of emphasis is put on providing for the child’s emotional and social wellbeing – and quite rightly. But I wonder whether we think enough about consistent and continuing support for each child’s development and learning? Experiencing interesting and challenging activities, and having the satisfaction of making progress, can help young children a great deal as they settle into a new class.

It is also common to prepare children for new routines, like lining up, assemblies and carpet time. This can be helpful, but it can also raise some difficult questions about what is in children’s best interests. When the researcher Gabrielle White spoke to two boys about their Year One class, she was told by the first boy that spending so much time on the carpet was a waste of time which could be spent playing. His friend was more forthright: “it wastes your life.” (You can read the full report here).

We need to think about everything together: continuing with consistent support for the child as a learner, helping with new routines (providing that they are necessary), and offering reassurance and emotional support. Whilst transition tends to be thought of as something difficult for young children, it is also worth remembering that change can offer children a chance to make new friends and to find a new way with things. There is pleasure in growing up and moving on, as well as the sadness that comes with leaving things behind.

First published in Nursery World