Dropping a child off on their first day of school can be an exciting and nerve racking day for both the new student and the family. While the first day of school is a critical milestone, the transition process has only just begun! The Harvard Family Research Project defines this transition as a process “that begins during children’s preschool years and continues into and through 3rd grade”(Caspe, Lopez, & Chattrabhuti, 2015). Despite the fact that most children start school at a similar age, it is important to recognize that not all students will begin at the same developmental stage. Factors such as limited access to health care, poverty and poor nutrition can cause children to begin with lower achievement levels than their more advantaged peers. The good news is that transition activities such as early childhood programs (i.e. preschool) and building relationships between families and schools early on can bridge gaps in preparation for and achievement in school (Caspe, Lopez, & Chattrabhuti, 2015). In other words, the better a child transitions (with collaborative support from families, schools, and communities), the better their outcomes.
Why should transition processes in schools be warranted?
A report released in 2015 by the Department of Education, “A Matter of Equity: Preschool in America”, outlines the robust body of research showing early learning experiences and a smooth transition to kindergarten significantly contribute to academic and wellness outcomes for children. According to this report, access to early learning opportunities for at risk children (those impacted by poverty, homelessness, trauma, discrimination, and disability) can act as a balancer to help them reach the same benchmarks as their peers who may not have those same disadvantages. As a result, there has been greater focus on helping all young children reach academic, developmental, and social and emotional benchmarks through parent education and pre-kindergarten programs (i.e. preschool) to prepare them for Kindergarten (see Department of Education Office of Early Learning and Office of Special Education Programs for examples of past and proposed initiatives).
It takes more than initiatives to address inequity in early education and improve student’s transition to elementary school; Schools, communities, and families must be ready to engage in this effort with clear goals. Early initiatives such as the National School Readiness Indicators Initiative helped to establish a “comprehensive set of school readiness indicators from birth through third grade.” The research supported National School Readiness Indicators Initiative released a report in 2005 on the findings of 17 participating states. The findings not only identified five interwoven domains of readiness (physical well-being and motor development; social and emotional development; approaches to learning; language development; and cognition and general knowledge), they also developed a readiness “equation” to addresses the “range of components” children need to succeed in school:
Ready schools + ready communities + ready services = ready children.
What can be done to help children transition successfully?
If you work in a school, live in a community, or provide services to children and their families, you play an important role in the healthy transition of children into school. Your role can take a number of forms including:
- Raising awareness about services and the needs of underserved children
- Using developmentally appropriate practices
- Providing information to help families prepare their children for school
- Evaluating early childhood discipline policies
For more information, you can find a selection of resources for supporting early education and transitions to school on the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments Pre-K/Elementary School Webpage and the Department of Education Laws and Guidance Early Learning Webpage.