Change is a constant feature in all of our lives. Early childhood, perhaps more than any other phase of life, is defined by change. Young children ages Birth-8 experience dramatic changes in physical, language, cognitive, social, and emotional development. We understand that the early years are critical because this is the period in life when the brain develops most rapidly and has a high capacity for change (World Health Organization, 2020).
While young children experience enormous changes within themselves, they must also navigate change in their social world as members of families, schools and communities. Supporting children’s health and wellbeing as they experience moments of transition and change allows for the development of healthy brain architecture. This provides the essential foundation for all later learning, and for a healthy and happy life (Harvard Center on the Developing Child, 2018).
As findings regarding the essential need to support young children and families during times of transition increase, schools, communities, social networks, and systems must respond with greater intention and more focused efforts to ensure children’s success. Understanding the evidence base regarding young children and transitions can provide all those who care about children and families with the tools necessary to solve problems and improve programs to better meet their needs.
The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive summary of research on transitions and the importance of continuity for young children’s healthy development, and to offer evidence-based recommendations for consideration by state agencies, communities, schools and other entities supporting children and families in Wyoming.
In defining transitions in the early years, it is important to include more than just those formal experiences embedded within systems, such as the transition from home to childcare, a change in family services, or the transition to kindergarten. Transitions are a part of young children’s everyday lives as members of families and communities, and children’s success during informal transitions also has an impact on their development and learning (Brooker, 2008; Dunlop & Fabian, 2007; Jozwiak et.al., 2016; O’Connor, 2018). This paper will take a holistic view of transitions (Brooker, 2008) and will examine multiple types of transitions impacting young children and families. Because of the significance of the transition to kindergarten in the lives of young children, time will be spent specifically discussing this transition. The paper concludes with strategies to reduce transitions and increase continuity in young children’s lives, and offers recommendations for supporting resilience and success during times of transition.
An early influential approach to studying the impact of transitions on children and families was introduced by Urie Bronfenbrenner in his Ecological Systems Theory. He described a transition as a time when an individual’s position in the social environment “is altered as the result of a change in role, setting, or both (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).” While a great deal of subsequent research has continued this focus on how young children’s social roles and identity change during times of transition (Fabian, 2007; Fthenakis, 1998, Merry 2007), others have broadened the definition of transitions. They include any changes in experience that come as a result of moving between different settings, or social spheres (Brooker 2008; Kagan & Neuman, 1998; Fabian and Dunlop, 2002). Pianta and Kraft-Sayre (2003) applied this focus on experiences occurring during times of change to advocate for a developmental model of transition. Their model emphasizes children’s change and development during transitions over time as a process, rather than as a one-time event. They also embrace a more holistic view of transitions that includes the systems and supports in place before, during, and after transitions. Brooker (2008) agrees with this more holistic definition, pointing out that while centering the experience of the child in research on transitions has provided significant insights, it has also resulted in the “burden of responsibility for a successful transition (Brooker, 2008, p. 6)” being placed on the child. She argues for a more holistic understanding of transitions that includes everyone who is involved in young children’s lives.
Another useful way to understand transitions is to identify the type or direction of the transition. Researchers have classified the transitions young children experience as either vertical or horizontal, and have investigated the impact of each (Johansson, 2007; Kagan, 1991; O’Connor, 2018). Vertical transitions most often occur in relation to a child’s age, and involve changes between education settings - such as the transition to kindergarten. Horizontal transitions occur every day as children move between formal networks, such as child care or school, and home. Vertical and horizontal transitions can occur separately, or simultaneously, and are significantly impacted by the systems and networks that families negotiate (Johansson, 2007). O’Connor (2018) adds a third dimension of transition: internal. She defines internal transitions as those occurring within a setting, such as a child moving from a toddler to a preschool room in the same childcare center. The experiences of living in families and communities also requires young children to navigate transitions. Sonia Mainstone-Cotton (2020) offers examples of these life transitions children may face, including: the birth of a new sibling, the death of a friend or relative, family changes such as divorce, separation, and marriage, moving to a new home, going on vacation, and illness or hospital stays. Another recent example of a disruptive life transition that has significantly impacted children and families is the social distancing requirements and closures experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The transition experience
A strong evidence-base describing the impact of transitions on young children has been building over the last 30 years. With significant advances in neuroscience in the last 15 years, linkages between children’s experiences during transitions and the impact on their developing brains has become increasingly strong. Much of the research has focused on the negative impact of transition on some children and families. However, positive impacts have also been documented. Here are some key findings about how young children experience transitions.
- Children and families experience transitions differently.
“Continuity and discontinuity depend on the people involved. They hinge on children, families, and professionals and on the spaces in which they interact. In addition, each person’s past experiences and individual differences influence any encounter… The relational nature of continuity has an impact on individuals as they move in and out of communities and cultural context and interact with the people, values, and traditions within those contexts. (Jozwiak et.al., 2016, p. 14).”
- Transitions result in a change in identity, which can have a significant impact on young children’s development.
“Children are situated in a social world, and any change in their environment (the settings in which they spend their days) will result in a change of role (the selfhood or identity they have constructed) which may have a significant and long-term impact on their development (Brooker, 2008, p.5).”
- Transitions can undermine a young child’s feelings of self-confidence and self-efficacy.
“Research has identified the ways that transitions can threaten and undermine our sense of self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy, and make us feel insecure and foolish. This may happen to us at any age, even if we have coped successfully with earlier transitions, so we can easily understand the vulnerability of children as their place in the world, and with it their sense of identity, is shaken up as them move from familiar to unfamiliar settings.(Brooker, 2008, p.4).”
- Transitions increase feelings of uncertainty, which can impact young children differently.
“A calm, regulated child can respond to uncertainty with curiosity and interest, wondering what will happen next and feeling ready for it. For a child who is already anxious, uncertainty may trigger increased amygdala activity and shut down other cognitive processes, like the urge to investigate or experiment, because the uncertainty seems to pose too much of a threat to allow new learning (O’Connor, 2018, p. 27)”.
- Change and separation can increase the developing brain’s stress response.
“Because of the strong and early alarm systems in a young child’s brain, young children can see change and separation as a major threat. Margot Sunderland (2016) describes how the same parts of the brain are activated both when a child is distressed because of the absence of a parent and when we feel physical pain. This can continue in children aged five or sometimes older… We are expecting children to make big transitions… at a time when they are still experiencing separation as a threat and painful experience (O’Connor 2018 as cited in Mainstone-Cotton, 2020).”
- During transitions, a young child’s knowledge and skills may not be clearly visible.
“… Children’s knowledge, skills and abilities [are] not just ‘there’ in the child, to be identified and assessed, but [are] present in children’s social practices, in their meaningful interactions with the world, and in their relationships. Children’s ability to demonstrate their knowledge and apply their skills is a function of their social environment, and of their own sense of belonging within that environment. The question to be asked is not ‘do they know it or don’t they?’ but ‘are they able to apply their knowledge in this setting?’, a very different matter. (Brooker, 2008, p. 8).
- Transitions are a trigger for development and learning.
“… this innate drive towards the expansion of brain capacity is both stimulated and sustained by the richness and variety of a child’s environment, which can not only support the creation of new synapses, but equally importantly prevents the extinction of existing connections, which may occur if they are underused (Bruer, 1999). It is understandable then that an environment which offers the ideal circumstances for small babies to develop their capacities may offer very few new stimuli for children of 3 or 5, who need novel experiences and challenges if they are to extend their thinking along new paths (Brooker, 2008, p. 6).”
- Children demonstrate skill and competence during times of transition.
“The breadth of change experienced by children and the ease with which many of them respond to this change, is remarkable. If anything, it should serve as a reminder to adults of the competence of young children as they negotiate an environment different from others they have experienced (Dockett & Perry, 2007, p. 102).”
- Well-supported transitions can strengthen children’s resilience, resourcefulness, and ability to collaborate.
“Well supported transitions serve to strengthen children’s resilience and resourcefulness, and enhance their reciprocity, so that they are better equipped for the changing future ahead of them. A successful transition should result in a child who feels strong and competent, and able to handle new experiences with confidence. (Brooker, 2008, p. 12).”
Factors influencing transitions between settings
The experience of transitions may vary widely across children and families depending on a multitude of factors. As Aline Dunlop states,
“For some children the winds of change blow fair, for others the passage can be stormy, for others still they drift into the new, and for some they set off on a huge adventure, as explorers in search of something new. It is this very variety of possible experience, including how parents experience their child’s transition to school, and the educators working with them that demand that we work together to support children to maximize the opportunities and learning at times of change.” (Dunlop, 2007, p. 156).
Researchers have identified factors that influence young children’s successful transition between settings. It is important to note that each of these describes factors in the environment, relationships, and systems in which the transitions take place, not skills or knowledge possessed by the child. The following factors influence the success of ALL children experiencing transitions.
- The success with which the two settings relate to each other or are similar (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Jozwiak et.al., 2016).
- The extent to which the place the child is transitioning to is open to understanding the child and family’s background and experiences (Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Jozwiak et.al., 2016).
- The number of supportive links existing between the two settings (Bronfenbrenner 1979; Brooker 2008).
- The level of communication between the two settings (Little et al., 2016; Pianta & Kraft-Sayre, 2003).
- The ability for the new location to respond flexibly to meet individual children’s needs (Nicholson, Perez, & Kurtz, 2019).
- The degree of match or mismatch between the ways in which children think and learn, and the expectations placed upon them (Dunlop, 2007).
- Parents attitudes about the transition (Pianta, 1999, Niesel & Griebel, 2007).
- The child’s sense of belonging in the new community (Dockett & Perry, 2005; Fabian, 2007).
- The child’s access to warm, affectionate and attuned responses from adults (Nicholson, Perez, & Kurtz, 2019; O’Connor, 2018).
- Whether or not the child has a friend in the new location (Pianta, 1999, Niesel & Griebel, 2007).
- The extent to which the child has opportunities to engage in open-ended learning such as play (Brostrom, 2007; Nicholson et al., 2019; Shonkoff 2020).
- The extent to which the child feels a sense of control and competence in the new setting (Fabian 2007; Shonkoff, 2020).
Strategies for reducing transitions
While experiencing transitions is a fact of life for all young children, early childhood experts agree that decreasing the number of transitions a child must navigate is an important goal (Child Care Aware of America, 2015; Jozwiak et.al., 2016). In early childhood, this focus on decreasing transitions is described in terms of continuity.
In Continuity in Children’s Worlds: Choices and Consequences for Early Childhood Settings (2016), Jozwiak, Cahill, and Theilheimer summarize the many conversations around continuity in early childhood in this way.
“Continuity in early childhood thus applies to developing individuals; their relationships with the adults in their lives as well as to connections between home and school: the programs between which children transition: and to the flow of people, data, and practices across the larger educational system. Throughout, practitioners and policymakers seem to regard continuity as generally desirable, yet it remains difficult to achieve and relatively unexamined (p. 12).”
The authors highlight the relational nature of continuity and discontinuity and stress that these experiences depend on the “children, families, and professionals and on the spaces in which they interact (p. 14).”
Continuity of Care
In discussions of continuity in young children’s lives, the term “continuity of care” may come to mind. Continuity of care describes an effort to achieve continuity in the “flow of a child’s experiences in early care and education settings (p. 17).” The concept of continuity of care includes structural mechanisms that are built to sustain continuity as well as in the relationships between children and caregivers.
Some structural mechanisms to sustain continuity of care present in early childhood programs include the primary caregiver model, mixed-age grouping, and the practice of looping. At the relationship level continuity of care is represented in teacher’s attention to the details of children’s daily lives, the daily presence of familiar adults, recognizing and supporting children’s ability to make choices, intentionally supporting attachments, and maintaining communication between adults. Practices in continuity of care positively impact both young children and the adults who care for them (Jozwiak et.al., 2016).
Continuity also applies to the relationship between the home and the early care and education program as families and teachers build bridges and establish partnerships. This requires the ability to understand and embrace differences while also finding and strengthening commonalities. Understanding, respecting, and building upon the cultural and linguistic practices in the home is a key in establishing continuity. Quality early learning programs also support educators and families as they navigate discontinuities, negotiate conflict, and solve problems together.
Jozwiak, Cahill, and Theilheimer (2016) describe ways teachers can successfully support continuity and negotiate moments of discontinuity between programs and families using the following strategies.
- Take an inquisitive stance about families
- Interrupt their own expectations
- Begin with each family’s home as a point of reference
- Listen and learn to understand
- Prepare a welcoming and engaging environment
- Build respectful relationships
Continuity in systems
Discussions of continuity also address the need for greater continuity in the systems that support children and families. Efforts to achieve continuity at the system level in states in the U.S. have included the development of statewide early learning standards, quality rating and improvement systems, school readiness initiatives, professional development and degree attainment programs, and data collection systems. All stakeholders with a focus on supporting young children and families have an obligation to improve coordination, communication, and alignment to increase continuity for the young children and families they serve.
Strategies for supporting transitions
While decreasing transitions and supporting continuity in children’s lives is a priority for healthy development, children will still be called upon to negotiate many transitions. Here are evidence-based strategies for supporting vertical and horizontal transitions.
- Engage in two-way, or bi-directional communication with families, with an emphasis on programs learning from families (Allingham, 2015; Jozwiak et.al., 2016).
- Establish a relationship with a key adult in the new setting (Allingham, 2015; O’Connor, 2018).
- Provide opportunities to build relationships with peers (Allingham, 2015; Niesel & Griebel, 2007).
- Support the emotional wellbeing of children and adults to develop resilience (Allingham, 2015; Brooker 2008).
- Use flexible, inclusive, and responsive practices to meet the needs of children and families (Dunlop and Fabian, 2007; Pianta & Kraft-Sayre, 2003).
- Give children opportunities for control and ownership during transitions (Fabian, 2007).
- Provide opportunities for open-ended learning to allow children to make meaning from their experiences and demonstrate knowledge in a socially relevant context (Brostrom, 2007; Shonkoff, 2020)
- Carefully observe children’s play to gain insight into their questions and ideas, and document their knowledge and skills (Brostrom, 2007; Gronlund, 2013).
- Plan for transitions ahead of time, and support transitions as a process extending over time (Allingham 2015; Brooker, 2008; Little et al., 2016; Mainstone-Cotton, 2020; Pianta & Kraft-Sayre, 2003).
- Build systems of support in programs and communities (Allingham, 2015; Brooker, 2008; O-Connor 2018; Dunlop and Fabian, 2007; Jozwiak et.al., 2016).
The transition to kindergarten
The transition to kindergarten requires special attention because of its unique status educationally, socially, and politically. The intense focus on the transition to kindergarten is the result of many factors.
- Entry into formal schooling represents a significant social and cultural marker in the development of the child and family (O’Connor 2018; Pianta & Kraft-Sayre 2003)
- The differences between previous schooling experiences and expectations in kindergarten are often dramatic (Brooker, 2008; Dockett and Perry, 2007; Pianta & Kraft-Sayre, 2003).
- School-readiness initiatives, in response to increasing demands on schools, have focused attention and resources on children’s attainment of specific skills before kindergarten entry (Brooker 2008; National Education Goals Panel 1991).
- The transition to kindergarten has proven difficult for up to 48% of children, with children from low socioeconomic backgrounds most likely to be negatively impacted (Little et al., 2016; Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2000).
- Delayed enrollment, retention, and alternative placements continue to be used for children deemed “not ready”, despite the lack of evidence to support such practices (Little et al., 2016; National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in State Departments of Education, 2000).
- Early school adjustment is linked to later school success (Brooker, 2008; Pianta & Kraft-Sayre, 2003; Pianta & Walsh, 1996).
- The positive effects of intervention programs for “at risk” children, such as Head Start, fade or ‘wash-out’ if those children do not receive increased support during the transition to elementary school (Brooker, 2008; Hubbell et al., 1987; Love et al. 1992).
Given these factors, it is understandable that teachers, schools, and communities continue to express concern and focus attention on children who experience challenges in the transition to kindergarten. Understanding the science of early learning can provide insights into why some children struggle. As can a deeper understanding of the experiences of kindergarten children.
The burden of change
The dramatic differences between the experience of kindergarten and children’s previous experiences in the home or preschool setting have been widely documented (Allingham, 2015; Brooker, 2008; Dockett & Perry, 2007; Little et al., 2016; Pianta &Kraft-Sayre 2003) These include
- different academic demands,
- different philosophical approaches to learning,
- a more complex social environment,
- different relationships, social standing, and identity
- a significantly larger and more complex physical environment,
- changes in physical routines such as eating, toileting, and hygiene,
- increased responsibility for self-care and care of possessions,
- different rules, discipline, and reward systems,
- increased responsibility for self-regulation and problem-solving
- larger class sizes,
- decreased individual contact with an adult,
- increased transitions during the day
- less supervision from adults,
- less communication between the school and home, and
- less parent support in day-to-day activities.
Dockett and Perry (2007) examined the individuals most directly involved in the transition to kindergarten, including teachers, families, and children to determine where the expectation of change lies. They found that of all participants in the transition, young children carry the greatest burden of change. They suggest that if adults, particularly teachers and schools, saw it as their obligation to carry more of the burden of change, a more successful transition for all children would be possible. With a focus on building meaningful, long-term relationships as essential for learning they argue,
“This cannot be done if the expectation of the most experienced participants – the adults – is that the least experienced participants – the children – will make the great bulk of the change necessary to ensure a successful start to school. While the children need to be supported in the changes they are expected to make, they also need to see that the important adults around them are also changing (p. 103).”
Brooker (2002) and Allingham (2015) make a related point in describing the experience of children in transition to kindergarten. “Brooker describes the transition to kindergarten as ‘developmentally dramatic’ because it often involves changes for children that none of their previous experiences could have prepared them for (Allingham, p. 11).” This is particularly true when there is great discontinuity between children’s social, cultural and linguistic experiences at home and the expectations placed upon them at school (Brooker, 2008).
Brooker also points out
“Like adults, children can be hampered in their ability to think clearly and act competently when they are feeling insecure or vulnerable, and their development may slow down or stop if they remain in this insecure condition for very long. Yet it is often in their first days and weeks in a new setting – in the actual process of transition- that early assessments of them are made, if only informally. Identifying transition as first and foremost a social process is an important step towards supporting children’s learning in their early days in a new environment (Brooker p. 8).”
Understanding of the enormity of the task children face as they adapt to kindergarten, and the resources they possess to navigate this change, should prompt all of us to consider ways families, schools, and communities can do more to help young children carry the burden of change placed upon them. It also calls into question screening and assessment practices that measure children’s knowledge in unfamiliar settings, with unfamiliar adults, in the midst of a complex process of change. This is even more problematic if placement decisions are made based upon assessment results (Little et al., 2016).
The factors affecting children’s experiences with transitions, and strategies for supporting transitions previously discussed apply equally well to the transition to kindergarten. A few supports are worth mentioning again in the context of the transition to kindergarten given patterns that have been established by schools and communities. As Pianta and Kraft-Sayre (2003) state,
“…The most common things that schools do during transition periods are not what parents think would be beneficial to them and their children. Thus, the challenges experienced by children are not addressed by the most common ways schools try to help them. This disconnect between schools’ and families’ needs is most often a function of the model schools use to guide their transition practices.”
Some of the common strategies used by schools to support transitions that may contribute to this disconnect for children and families in Wyoming include the following.
Schools and communities, recognizing the need for children and families to understand the changes expected in kindergarten, have focused significant attention on kindergarten preparation experiences where families and children receive great deal of information about the school and/or the expectations of kindergarten teachers. Communication from families to the school is often minimal, and specific to procedural tasks such as registration, lunch sign-up, or availability for meetings. This one-directional communication serves a purpose, but has limited impact upon outcomes for children. Use of bi-directional communication strategies opens up a world of possibilities for teachers and schools to strengthen essential relationships, build upon children’s experiences, and authentically assess children’s knowledge to better support children’s learning in the new setting.
A similar approach to communication with early childhood programs is evident in many communities. Often community efforts to support “kindergarten readiness” result in early childhood professionals positioned as passive recipients of information on school expectations and skills children need, rather than important contributors with essential knowledge about children and effective practices to share.
Most common transition practices of schools involve contact with families once school begins. These typically include one directional communication such as newsletters, notes or letters, and may also include in person events such as back-to-school nights. These transition supports frequently occur at the start of the year and end within the first month of school. While each has value, particularly for some families, the research supports a more long-term and process oriented approach to the transition. Successful transitions involve preparation and communication well ahead of time, support during induction, and extended support over months or even years. (Brooker, 2008; Jozwiak et.al., 2016; Little et al., 2016; Pianta & Kraft-Sayre, 2003).
For years an emphasis in education circles has been on teachers establishing clear expectations, schedules, and management practices beginning at the first day of school (Wong & Wong, 2009). This is based on the understanding that children feel safe and learn best in predictable environments. With relation to the transition to kindergarten, this has been interpreted by some to mean that teachers should focus on teaching appropriate behaviors and compliance in the first days and weeks of school. In order to support young children as they transition to kindergarten a more nuanced understanding is required. Children certainly need a predictable and stable environment in order to feel safe and adjust to the new setting. Additionally, children need individualized responses and guidance based upon their understandings and experiences. Kindergarten teachers must have the autonomy to respond flexibly to the needs of specific children within the predictable routines of the day. Expectations of behavior should be clear, and teachers must respond to children’s needs and concerns, while focusing on learning rather than compliance supported by rewards or punishment (Nicholson, Perez, and Kurtz, 2019). Teachers can gain important insights into children that will prove invaluable in supporting their learning during the first days and weeks of school if they focus less time on compliance and “teaching kids about school” and more time listening and carefully observing the children in their classroom.
Supporting the transition to kindergarten
The book Successful Kindergarten Transition: Your Guide to Connecting Children, Families, and Schools (Pianta & Kraft-Sayre, 2003), now in it’s seventh printing (2013), is the product of a multi-year project funded by The National Center for Early Development and Learning (NCEDL) in the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of the comprehensive Kindergarten Transition Project, was to develop methods and practices to better support children’s transition to kindergarten. Important contributions of the project include the creation of a developmental model of transitions, identification of guiding principles based on evidence, and the design of transition planning tools that for use by schools and communities. The 5 guiding principles to support children and families with the transition to kindergarten include.
- Foster relationships as resources
“Supportive, effective relationships with children and with those who work and live with children are resources for child development. When a child is involved in and surrounded by supportive relationships, the transition to kindergarten occurs more smoothly. (p. 10).”
- Promote continuity from preschool to kindergarten
“It is only through linking pre-school and kindergarten teachers in a collaborative partnership and discussing [expectations and experiences for children in preschool and kindergarten] that children’s transitions can be supported more effectively. In providing consistency from year to year, programs offer developmentally sensitive transition practices that best support young children. (p. 11)”
- Focus on family strengths
“Approaching families as resources with special strengths, no matter how these are defined or enacted allows schools to build relationships that can be helpful to vulnerable children and families. Families feel encouraged when their interactions with schools are based on their competencies, rather than on their failures (p. 11).”
- Tailor practices to individual needs
“The actual set of transition practices enacted with a given family or classroom must be based on the needs and strengths of that child, family, teacher, school, and community. This approach is menu-driven – it does not prescribe a list of things to do but instead suggests a number of alternatives that are based on the guiding principles. The approach is designed to be flexibly applied across a wide range of needs and strengths. When a rigid transition program is in place, certain needs are likely to be neglected and some efforts may be wasted, addressing needs that are not there (p. 13)”
- Form collaborative relationships
“Good partnerships and good relationships are not free of conflicts or disagreements… When key players in the transition process adopt a common way of thinking about transition, a common frame of reference within which to resolve disagreements is created (p. 13).”
Pianta and Kraft-Sayre recommend using the principles in analyzing current practices, and planning for change. They invite schools and communities to ask the following questions:
- To what extent does a particular transition practice foster relationships?
- Does it lead to a sense of continuity and stability for the child and family moving from preschool to kindergarten?
- Does a practice identify or foster family strengths, or like many assessment practices, does it focus on weaknesses and risk?
- Are the same practices implemented for every family or do professionals tailor these efforts?
- Do professionals work together to form their own collaborative relationships, or are transition practices solely the responsibility or initiative of one group?
Based on the results of the Kindergarten Transition Project, Pianta and Kraft-Sayre also offer an approach to planning and implementing kindergarten transition initiatives that has been utilized at the school, community, and state level in multiple states. They recommend a 9 step process for planning kindergarten transitions, and include tools to support each step.
Step 1 - Establish collaborative teams
Step 2 - Identify a transition coordinator
Step 3 - Facilitate regular meetings and conduct a needs assessment
Step 4 - Generate ideas for transition activities
Step 5 - Create a transition timeline
Step 6 - Anticipate barriers
Step 7 - Revise ideas and timelines
Step 8 - Implement transition practices
Step 9 - Assess, evaluate, and revise
Recommendations for Wyoming
Brooker (2008) advocates for adopting a “positive outcomes model” of transitions that,
“Takes the view not that transitions are a problem to be managed, but that transitions are an important opportunity for learning; not that the transition is a one-off event, but that growing and learning through transitions is a vital and permanent feature of human lives (p. 142).”
Embracing the positive outcomes model requires two primary strategies.
1. Mediating discontinuities between phases – Working with schools and settings
2. Supporting the development of resources for change – Working with children and families
To improve the transition experiences of young children in Wyoming teachers, programs, schools, and policy makers should consider ways to apply the evidence-based practices shared in this paper. To assist with implementation, a list of high priority recommendations are also included. These recommendations, framed within the positive outcomes model, include examples of how strategies could look in practice. Schools and communities are encouraged to develop their own practices to support recommendations based on local needs, priorities, and resources.
Mediate discontinuities between phases in schools and settings
Recommendation #1 - Build and strengthen supportive links between settings.
Example: Establish ongoing bi-directional collaborative partnerships between settings. Value and use information coming from both to design environments and learning opportunities.
Recommendation #2- Adopt a developmental model of transitions as a long-term process rather than a one-time event. Plan and support transitions over time.
Example: Develop a “bridging pedagogy” (Brooker 2008) between settings, which is introduced for a period of time prior to the change, and continues for a period of time after the change occurs
Recommendation #3- Accept greater responsibility for change in each setting.
Example: Whenever possible, adapt environments and practices based on the science of early learning and individual children’s needs, rather than expecting children to adapt to program or school requirements.
Support the development of resources for change in children and families
Recommendation #1 – Make accessing, establishing, and strengthening nurturing and supportive relationships the most important priority in any transition.
Example: Identify a “key person” (Brooker, 2008; O’Connor 2018) in each new setting to be the primary point of contact with families and to provide a consistent and secure relationship with the child.
Recommendation #2 – Create learning partnerships based upon family strengths.
Example: Explore the different forms of knowledge children and families demonstrate in the every-day experiences of their family and cultural community. Link this to classroom learning.
Recommendation #3 – Use practices that build resilience in children and families.
Example: Offer open-ended learning experiences each day that build on and support children’s interests while promoting feelings of self-mastery and control.
Given the impact transitions can have on a young child’s development, it is essential that Wyoming educators, policy makers, and other key stakeholders become well versed in the science of early learning. “Early childhood practice at both the micro and macro levels demands sustained focus on who children are and awareness of the different ways in which each of them learns (Jozwiak et.al., 2016, p. 126).” A deeper and more nuanced understanding of transitions is also essential. We must embrace transition practices that take into account the complexity of transitions and the social and cultural contexts in which they occur over time (Dunlop & Fabian, 2007). Wyoming early childhood professionals, kindergarten teachers, and school administrators need training and ongoing support in order to provide essential evidence-based practices in their settings. A particular focus of these efforts should be on improving the transition to kindergarten for all children and families in Wyoming. Decisions impacting young children, particularly when they are vulnerable during times of transition, must be made based on evidence, with attention to their current experience given priority. When we address young children’s immediate needs, and support those who they rely upon most, we ensure the greatest opportunity for their success in the future.
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