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Transitions from a pre-school setting to primary school

"Children entering school face a setting that is qualitively different from their previous experiences in terms of the curriculum, the setting and the people" Margetts (cited in Fabian and Dunlop, 2002, pg.111). Transition is the term used to describe the period of time before, during and after the move that children make from a pre-school setting into primary school. In 2004 there was a Curriculum Review in Scotland which led to the development of Curriculum for Excellence which covers learners aged 3-18 years. The Scottish Executive have produced experiences and outcomes that are designed to ensure continuity within the education system and to create young people that are ready to face the challenges of the 21st century. The Scottish Executive stresses the importance of continuity in the curriculum between pre-school and primary school in Building a Curriculum 2. This essay will look at how active learning can be used in both pre-school settings and the primary classroom to engage and challenge learners. The essay will discuss the communication between parents, pre-school staff, primary teachers and any other professionals involved in the transition process and will discuss the Scottish Executives views on the communication between these parties. This essay will look at the needs and wellbeing of children and discuss the challenges that children may face when they make the transition from a pre-school setting to primary school and it will discuss some of the key issues which should be considered when planning an effective transition programme in Scottish schools which meets the needs of every individual pupil. The essay will also look at assessment of learning in the early years and look at the different approaches to assessment, how is assessing done and the importance of sharing assessment information. Throughout the essay examples of practice will be examined and their benefits will be discussed.

Children's needs and wellbeing

In every pre-school setting there are a wide range of needs that the children will have. When practitioners plan for the transition from a pre-school setting to primary school they need to take into consideration the needs and wellbeing of each individual child involved, especially the children that have additional support needs (ASN). There are six basic needs that should be met to achieve high wellbeing. If any of these needs has not been fulfilled then the wellbeing of the child involved may be affected and this could cause disruption to their transition.

Laevers (1997) believes that how well a child performs at school is affected by their wellbeing. It is therefore vital that early year practitioners work with children and their carers to promote a high level of wellbeing. Some of the attributes that Laevers (2005) associates with high wellbeing are: feeling great and enjoying life, exuding vitality, having an open and receptive attitude, having good self esteem and being resilient. The Scottish Executive (2006) recognised the importance of wellbeing when they published Building the Curriculum 1 which supported Laevers' perspective. "Good health and wellbeing is central to effective learning and preparation for successful independent living". Educators can develop these attributes in young people to help children to become confident individuals, successful learners, responsible citizens and effective contributors and to help them get ready for the transition. Role play is often used in nursery and early year settings to prepare children for changes such as transitions. Role play can help children to develop skills such as listening and showing empathy towards others which will help them to make new friends and build relationships when they make the transition to primary school. Role play can also be used to help children to learn how to deal with new situations and conflicts in their lives.

The transition from pre-school to primary school can be a difficult time for many young learners as they have to cope with the differences and challenges that school may pose. Many children worry about making new friends and it can be intimidating for them to enter a new environment without knowing anyone. Some early years practitioners work with the feeder primary schools to try to ensure that the children making the transition are put into a class with a familiar face. Research by Margetts (1997) found that children who started primary school with a playmate were more sociable and progressed quicker than the children who did not have a familiar face in the class with them. Fabian and Dunlop also agree with Margetts and believe that children get more from school if they have friendships. Not all children will come from a pre-school setting that will enable them to be put into a class with someone who they know. To target this problem Hawthorn West Primary School run a valuable mentoring programme that relies on partnerships between parents of the children involved in the transition. The families are matched and the parents and children meet to build friendships and this means that every child entering the primary setting will have a familiar face in the class with them. This approach can also be beneficial to the parents as they can support each other during the transition and have someone to talk about any worries that they might have.

To ensure that children have the smoothest transition possible it is crucial that early year practitioners, primary one teachers and parents work in co-operation to share information and knowledge about the children's lives. "The continuity of parental involvement in their child's education benefits the children and a joint effort between school and home helps effect a smooth transition." (Fabain, 2002, pg.49).Children that have ASN may find transitions more difficult to deal with than others. It is therefore crucial that there is an effective transition plan in place to support these pupils and their parents in the process. Communication between parents, pre-school staff, the primary one teacher and any other professionals involved is vital when planning a transition for a child that has an ASN. The more information that is known will help everyone involved to develop strategies to support the child. Some children may need extra time to adjust to the new environment and extra visits may be arranged to support them, other children may benefit from resources that could be recommended for them but it is important to recognise that every child will have different needs and it is important that each child is treated as an individual in order for them to have the smoothest transition. For some children with ASN there will be very little need to alter the transition programme and for others it may be necessary to change it significantly. If there has been good communication between everyone involved the transition should be effective and the children should settle into school life. The Scottish Executive (2007) stresses the importance of educators getting parents' to be involved in their children's education in Building the Curriculum 2: "they can encourage parents to be involved in all aspects of their children's learning from pre-school education and into primary school'.

The importance of active learning

One of the challenges that children often face when making the transition from a pre-school setting into primary school is the change of structure in the way that they learn. Pupils might find themselves sitting at a table doing work and listening to the teacher for longer periods of time which contrasts with their previous experiences of learning that are more practical in most pre-school settings. The Scottish Executive recognised the contrast in the way that these stages plan and developed a new curriculum that promotes active learning, especially in the early years. "Active learning is learning which engages and challenges children's thinking using real-life and imaginary situations" Scottish Executive (2007). Learners get more from their education when a variety of teaching approaches are used particularly if they involve the children in the learning process. Scottish Executive thinks that children learn better by doing practical tasks, exploring things and being supported if necessary. Piaget shares similar beliefs to the Scottish Executive regarding active learning when he said "children learn from actions rather than passive observations" (Smith et al, 2003, pg.413).

Many pre-school centres and primary schools work together to plan transition programmes which aim to make the process of transition smooth and easy for everyone that is involved. The Scottish Government has recognised that communication is important: "Close communication about children's previous experiences and learning is crucial at the time of transition" (Scottish Executive, 2007).The nursery staff and Primary one teacher at Lainshaw Primary School and Nursery, Stewarton, have developed a partnership which aims to give nursery and the primary one class more continuity in the curriculum while promoting active learning. Throughout the year the classes share topics and both the primary one class and the nursery class visit each other regularly in the different settings. The visits help the children in the pre-school to familiarise themselves with the setting of a primary classroom and also gives them a chance to get to know the teacher and become confident about the environment. The primary one class also benefits from the visits as they get to use materials and resources that they normally do not have access to in their classroom.

The Scottish Executive believes that some classes need to review the structure of the P1 day to make active learning more achievable. Some schools start the day with a "free choice" session where the children get to choose what activity they would like to do. This type of plan is similar to pre-school setting. This activity may seem completely child led as the child is taking responsibility and choosing the activity they would like to do, but there is room for changing the activity into an activity that have been set up by the teacher. For example, a child may choose to visit the water station and play with the toys in it and they realise that some of the items float and some sink. It may be a coincidence that the materials in the water table share these properties but it is possible that the teacher had set up the resources to allow the children to explore and investigate items that float and sink. It may also be appropriate for the teacher to join the child playing at the water table and do some focused learning and teaching. Fisher (2004) argues that "The minute an adult has a predetermined task or goal in mind, then that activity cannot be play". The activity could be classed as play even if the teacher has an idea of the learning outcome which they hope the child will meet before the activity because the children will be actively involved in their own learning, experimenting and having fun as they learn.

It is important that educational practitioners are able to be flexible and reactive to the children in their class and make learning meaningful to the pupils. Active learning could be based on events and pupils experiences. For example, the teacher may have set up the water table activity as a reaction to an event or activity that the children are interested in, such as boats. "Parents are the first and most influential educators of their children" (Scottish Executive 2007). Parents can help to make learning relevant to their children by communicating with teachers about their children's lives. Some children might be shy and not want to speak to their teacher about their interests which could make it difficult for the teacher to build up a relationship with them. If a teacher is able to cater lessons and show an interest in their pupils lives the children may be more motivated to learn as they feel included in the lessons.

In many pre-school settings the children spend a lot more time outdoors than they will when they make the transition into primary school. The Scottish Executive has recognised the benefits that the outdoor environment can have on learning. The outdoor environment can be used to make learning active and motivating for children in a number of ways. A lot of the learning in all curricular areas that takes place inside a classroom could be taken outside and made active and enjoyable while still achieving the same learning outcomes. To make the transition smoother from pre-school to primary school teachers can make use of the outdoor environment and take learning outdoors. Maths lessons on shapes can be made active and be taken outdoors by having a shape hunt. This is a relevant learning experience because the children are identifying shapes in the environment and meeting the learning outcomes while having fun and being motivated to learn.

The importance of sharing assessment information

Assessment in the early years setting plays a big role in making transitions smooth. The Scottish Executive is working on developing the fifth part of Building the Curriculum which will concern assessment in the education system. At present many schools are teaching towards a Curriculum for Excellence experiences and outcomes but still using 5-14 levels and national testing.

Assessment can be an intimidating word for children and many pupils will fear being 'assessed'. Children can be assessed on a number of different criteria in the early years before they make the transition to primary school. Some areas that can be assessed are wellbeing-emotional and physical, use of fine motor skills and gross motor skills, social skills. There are many forms of assessment that are appropriate to use in the early years and they all suit different activities and experiences. Observation is a method that practitioners use to assess children and it is used most often as it can be done in everyday activities and contexts. Effective practitioners use the information that they gather through the observations to identify the strengths and needs of the children and to identify the next steps. The Scottish Executive has recognised that it is important for practitioners to share assessment information with parents: "To help parents support their children's learning, it is important that teachers share full and open accounts of each learner's progress" (Scottish Executive, 2009). It is also important that parents are informed of any difficulties that have been unearthed through assessment because they may be able to offer suggestions that can help their child overcome the difficulties.

When children make the transition from nursery into primary one it is necessary for the primary one teacher to receive as much assessment information as possible from the early years practitioner and parents of the children to enable them to plan and cater for the individual needs in the classroom. In some authorities the assessment information that is received by the primary one teacher is basic and consists of a simple checklist that states if a child can do a task such as complete a jigsaw. This information is valuable but a more comprehensive way of sharing assessment information is needed to enable teachers to get the full picture of each individual child and plan lessons which meet their needs. Communication is essential in every transition programme and a relationship has to be built between the parents, early years practitioner and primary one teacher to ensure that assessment information is clearly shared and that the interests, wellbeing and education of the child is the main priorities in ensuring a smooth transition.

A Curriculum for Excellence has made a big difference to the way that some pre-school staff and primary one teachers plan for learning as they are now both using the same experiences and outcomes. Some pre-school centres and primary schools are using team planning effectively to ensure that the children will be receive an education that has continuity and builds on their previous learning experiences. This approach works on the basis that each child has their own set of CfE outcomes in their learning file and when they have achieved them or made some progress on them it is highlighted. The file is normally started in nursery and can be carried through the rest of their learning years. Documentation such as pictures, photographs and recordings of some of the learning experiences is also kept with this file as evidence of the learning outcomes being met. This method of record keeping and passing on information fits in well with the CfE design principle progression and gives each child a record that is flexible and individual to their achievements.

Conclusion

It is clear that there are many factors that need to be considered when planning a transition programme that allows for a smooth transition. The health and wellbeing of a child is important aspect that determines how successful the transition will be and appropriate strategies need to be in place to ensure that high wellbeing is being promoted. Friendships and relationships help to smooth the transition process. To decrease the contrasting environments of the nursery setting and primary one classroom the Scottish Executive are encouraging more active learning and outdoor learning to take place in primary classrooms. Assessment is a fundamental part of the learning experience and it is appropriate to assess in the early years in order to identify strengths and next steps. It is important that assessment information is shared with parents and others that are involved in the transition of the child to make sure that the needs of the child are being met and the more information that is known about the child then the easier it will be to create a transition programme that meets their needs. It is important that parents are involved in their children's transition as they will be able to contribute and share information about the child. The transition from a pre-school setting to primary school is a time of anxiety and contrasting experiences for some young learners. The Scottish government has now recognised this and designed a curriculum which aims to stop this. 'Young people should experience continuous progression in their learning from 3 to 18 within a single curriculum framework. Each stage should build upon earlier knowledge and achievements" (Scottish Executive, [accessed 19/11/09]).

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