Key points:

  • Transition is a process, not an event.
  • High quality transitions recognise the importance of feeling “known”.
  • Some children are particularly vulnerable at times of transition.
  • Transitions are opportunities for professional dialogue.
  • The key person makes essential connections.
  • Transition includes moving from EYFS to KS1.

High quality transitions recognise the importance of feeling “known”. Key to a high-quality experience for all children in the early years is ensuring continuity between home, key people and all the settings that make up children’s individual learning journeys.  In today’s society children may have many out-of-home experiences, through childcare, toddler groups, family day care and more than one nursery, and they may appear to straddle change with ease. But while transitions may occur with great frequency, not all children navigate these comfortably or happily.

Transitions include not just movements between one setting and another in a linear way, but movements “horizontally” from one room to another within the same setting, moving to a more structured part of the day such as lunchtime, or moving from home to childminder, to nursery and back again all in the course of the same day. 

When transitions in the early years are managed sensitively it lays the foundations for positive feelings towards the many other transitions children will face through life.

Some children are particularly vulnerable at times of transition. Moving from a place or situation in which children feel “known” into one in which they feel “unknown” can raise insecurities about having their entitlements and needs met. While some children have the resilience to cope with change, others are more vulnerable to uncertainty.

Children who lack confidence or have low self-esteem, those who are summer-born or born prematurely, babies separated from parents for the first time, some children with disabilities or complex health needs, those for whom English is not their first language and those who have simply had to cope with too much change or loss in their young lives may be particularly vulnerable at times of transition.

Many children become particularly anxious about making new relationships, whether those are with other children or with the adults with whom they will spend their time. The support of their friends and friendship groups can help protect children from the potentially negative impact of transitions.

Transition for children who are more vulnerable is effectively supported when they are given additional times and opportunities to make the necessary readjustments to the changes ahead, and when their emotional development and wellbeing is prioritised. Practitioners help by being warm, responsive and by recognising challenging behaviour as a manifestation of feelings.

Transitions are opportunities for professional dialogue both within and between settings, as well as with the home. It is the responsibility of all early years practitioners to ensure that children feel welcomed, gain a sense of belonging and are helped to settle happily.

At points of transition it is valuable to gather the perspectives of all those who have worked with the child such as other practitioners, speech therapists, health visitors, bilingual teaching assistants and educational psychologists. These perspectives enable all those involved with the child to plan for their individual needs more effectively.

Conversations between teachers in Reception classes and Key Stage 1 are particularly valuable in order for the environment, the pedagogy and the practices in Year 1 not to be developmentally different from those in Reception. Reception teachers will have knowledge of children that can support teachers to bridge the transition into primary school effectively.

Effective transition is a process rather than an event, and should be planned as such.  Practitioners demonstrate this by enabling children and their families to become as familiar as possible with where children are going and with whom they will be building relationships, before any move actually takes place.

Expectations can be formed over an extensive period of time in the lead-up to transitions. Children’s expectations are formed largely by what their families say and how they act, so practitioners need to work in partnership with children, families and communities in a planned and proactive way to make transitions as smooth and seamless as possible.

Practitioners can make transitions more seamless by first visiting children in the setting in which they are known, confident and comfortable.  Ideally, this would be the home as the place where children feel most secure and where children can see their parents and practitioners developing warm and positive relationships. Practitioners can also visit the setting that children are currently attending so children meet new adults in a familiar place. During these times practitioners can learn about the child from the parents as well as give information, in order to be fully aware of and responsive to the needs and concerns of each child and their family. It is important that families’ concerns are listened to, but are voiced away from the child.

Children then need to visit their new setting with a parent and/or key person so their first experience of any new setting is with a familiar and trusted adult. For all children – and parents – at every transition in the early years and beyond, repeated opportunities for relaxed contact with and visits to the new setting over a sustained period of time can support a positive move. Transition processes that are tailored to meet the needs of each unique child are more effective than a “one size fits all” process.

The key person makes essential connections. When children enter their new setting the task of providing continuity is made easier by a warm welcome from responsive and available practitioners. A child’s key person is the essential link between home and the new setting, and is vital in providing reassurance and creating close, supportive, ongoing relationships with families.

It is valuable to consult both children and their parents on how they feel about any forthcoming transition and whether they need support. Parents often have a different perspective on their child than the key person, which can help enrich a setting or school’s understanding of the child. In turn, parents and carers can learn much from the setting or school to support their child’s development at home.

Connections that are maintained, where possible, with previous Key Persons can be reassuring and offer continuity for children and their families.

Transition includes moving from EYFS to KS1.  As children move from the EYFS into KS1 they need continuity of experience, with the ways in which they learn successfully in their Reception class continued into Year 1. This does not mean that what they will learn will be the same, but how they learn should be very similar and familiar.

In KS1 children’s learning experiences can remain a balance between learning led by the teacher and learning led by the children. Play is a vital way in which KS1 children continue to  learn skills, strategies and attitudes that adult-led learning does not teach.

In order for transition to KS1 to build on the best of the EYFS, it is helpful when senior leaders are sufficiently knowledgeable about child development at this age, to support their practitioners in planning a learning day that is developmentally appropriate.



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