How can primary schools be transition ready?
According to UNICEF, school readiness has three parts (UNICEF 2012). The first two are expected: that children and families should be ready for the child to move into school. But the third may be less expected – it’s that schools should also be ready.
How to create smooth transitions
That might sound odd – of course schools are ready for transition, that’s what they exist for. But the point is more subtle, and it forms the first of ten points/tips I’d like to make.
1. Have realistic expectations
Schools need to be ready for the children who will actually arrive. This means being ready for children who might arrive without the skills or competencies staff might expect.
2. Do your homework
Find out as much as you can about the children who are coming in next year. Build on what you know about this year’s cohort – what did they know, what could they do, were there gaps?
Talk to local early years’ staff. A lot of primaries do great work in this area, so it’s worth also talking to colleagues in other schools to find out what they are doing.
3. Conduct home visits
The research is clear on the value of home visits. Even if you can’t arrange these for your incoming pupils, it may be that settings have done the visits, and you can learn from them. But if you can find the time and staff for home visits, these can be enormously helpful to you and families.
4. Ask the parents
Ask this year’s parents what they wish they had known before starting and collate that into information for incoming parents. Make sure that the information is parent friendly, and is easy to access – put it on your website and make it clear what and where it is. Use the more important tips – or the ones that parents need first – to create hand outs for new parents.
5. Make some lists
Create a list of things that children will need to be able to do or know before starting school; make sure this is easily accessible to parents. Post it on the website with links to other helpful sites.
6. Tell the parents
You know you care about the children in school; it’s why you’re there. But sometimes, it helps to let parents know this as well – it can be very reassuring for parents.
Let parents know, as well, what they can do to help. For example, playing games like spotting numbers and letters on car license plates. Parents may not realise how important telling stories and singing songs are for children’s early literacy development – let them know how they can help.
One way of doing that is to personalise conversations around the child. A simple thing is to ask parents why they gave their children the name they did. (I’m indebted to Eunice Lumsden for this idea).
8. Build relationships
Another way of opening conversations is to have a poster with pictures of staff and their pets in the entry way – it can create immediate links with families. Leave space around the pictures so families can add comments – or perhaps ask for photos from families to add to the montage!
9. Welcome families
Invite families into school in good time; let them see what school is like now (as it’s likely to be very different than they remember!).
10. Acknowledge it’s a big moment
Remember that families are likely to be at least as anxious about the first days of school as the children are – it marks a very big milestone in children’s lives. Anything you can do to ease that transition will make life better for everyone!
UNICEF (2012) School readiness: A conceptual framework. United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, New York, NY.
Ring, E., Mhic Mhathúna, M., Moloney, M., Hayes, N., Breathnach, D., Stafford, P., Carswell, D., Keegan, S., Kelleher, C., McCafferty, D., O’Keeffe, A., Leavy, A., Madden, R. and Ozonyia, M. (2016) An examination of concepts of school readiness among parents and educators in Ireland. Dublin: Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Available at: www.dcya.ie