Smoothing the transition to school

Starting school is an important milestone for all children, and when a child has a disability or developmental delay, there is an additional need for planning, collaboration, information sharing and professional development to support a child’s inclusion, writes Emma Pierce, Transition to School Coordinator from Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA) NSW/ACT.

The research says the most seamless transitions to school occur when the focus is upon readiness for the school, family, and early childhood services, rather than purely focusing upon children’s skills (United States National School Readiness Indicators Initiative, 2005). When the transition to school is positive, there are short and long term benefits for the child, family and staff in schools.

Early Childhood Intervention Australia (ECIA) NSW/ACT has developed a Transition to School Resource which contains pertinent information for teachers, and support staff, families, early childhood educators and early childhood intervention practitioners. The resource can be viewed at

Below are some practical tips about how the elements of the Transition to School Resource can be utilised by staff in independent schools.

Getting ready

The My New School story template can be used by families and schools to prepare children for school Many families use this brief ‘Snapshot of My Child’ document to provide important information about their child’s strengths and needs with the school.

The family as a knowledge base

Parents and carers know their children the best and working in partnership with them, can enable a smoother start to school. It can be helpful for teachers to let families know the best ways to communicate with them eg email, by booking a meeting, or phone. The communication pathways can be open and clear. Supporting families to understand the varied responsibilities of teachers can be helpful to promote realistic expectations. This page has been specifically designed for teachers in schools and includes reflection questions for teachers to consider about working with families.

Working together

Listening to and learning from early childhood education and care (ECEC) professionals such as the child’s preschool or day care teacher about what has and hasn’t worked in that setting can save lots of time for staff in schools. Often a child’s early childhood intervention key worker can also be available to make a visit to the school, observe the child in the class and to show and talk through strategies to support the child within the context of the whole class. Information for families about forming a transition team and the different roles which parents and professionals may play can be found here Inviting parents and carers to be involved in the school community in a range of ways has many benefits for all. More information about parents becoming actively involved at school can be found here:

Supporting families to understand the varied responsibilities of teachers can be helpful to promote realistic expectations.

When hiccups arise

When challenges arise, or new experiences come up at school such as excursions, or new extra curricula programs, it can be helpful to consider what has worked in the past and whether something similar could work to support a child in your school. The Trouble-shooting guide is a solution focused reflection tool which can be used to determine the reason for a particular challenge and to plan for positive change.

Moving on

Sharing information when a child with a disability or developmental delay moves between teachers and classes is vital. Transitions will be more seamless when successful strategies and important aspects of a child’s learning profile are shared from one classroom teacher to the next. It may be helpful to ask the family to update and use the Snapshot of my child to aide this process at the end of each school year.

Case study

Jai was diagnosed with a mild global developmental delay and had participated in early childhood intervention services since he was two years old.

Around 18 months before he was due to start school, Jai’s family started looking for a school they felt would suit Jai and their younger child. After visiting a couple of schools and meeting with principals, they decided that their local Catholic school would be a good fit for them. They were impressed by the way they had been made to feel welcome at the school, and the way in which the principal asked them about Jai’s strengths and needs and didn’t seem too concerned about needing to individualise learning programs for Jai and adapt or adjust practices to support his inclusion.

In Term 4 prior to starting school, Jai attended the orientation sessions and staff had a chance to observe him in a classroom setting. A school staff member also made a visit to observe Jai at pre school. The school identified through discussions with the family and their early childhood intervention (ECI) key worker, that it would be helpful for Jai’s new kindergarten teacher to participate in some training around using visual communication supports. Information was shared between Jai’s early childhood services and the new school about how he learns and possible triggers for behaviours of concern.

When Jai’s first day came along, he seemed excited. During the first few days, Jai didn’t tend to sit down for group but seemed to enjoy playing chasings in the playground. The teacher’s aide, Jing, assisted with all children in the class, rather than focusing purely on Jai. This freed up the kindergarten teacher, Sally, and gave her time to observe and assess all the children’s skills. Sally took some notes about the times in the day when Jai was most engaged in activities and school routines where he seemed to need more assistance.

Sally let Jai’s family know that he seemed fairly happy at school and that she was gathering information and would soon be in contact with his ECI key worker to arrange a visit. Sally asked the ECI key worker to come in to observe Jai at school and meet with her in the fourth week of term during literacy groups and recess time.

In week four, the ECI key worker came to visit and observed the kindergarten class in action. The ECI key worker and kindergarten teacher discussed a couple of challenges and brainstormed some ideas to try.

The ECI key worker offered to come back to model some strategies in the classroom two weeks later. As Jai’s mum seemed anxious to hear how things were going, the teacher set up a short meeting time for after the next ECI key worker’s school visit. Sally also emailed Jai’s mum to let her know about a positive example of Jai settling into Kindergarten as well as letting her know that they were getting some ideas from the ECI worker to make group activities work more smoothly for Jai.