It's that time where most practitioners get a little teary. The little angels (or monsters) that we have had in our care for a year (in pre-school) or maybe from birth in other settings are ready to spread their wings and fly. We have helped them, loved them, taught them and nurtured them and now they are facing their first big challenge without us. If you want to support the parents of these children then read the earlier post on transitions for parents to help. This post should hopefully help you to help the children in your care as you get them ready to leave you and become grown up schoolies.
1. Do Your Research
Whether you visit the school yourself, talk to parents or look at the website, try to learn about the school each child is going to. This will arm you to chat to the child as if you have personal knowledge of the school. For example tell them how much you love the school's outdoors area, that you like the colour of jumper that they will be wearing or that you have heard that Mrs/Mrs.... is a really nice teacher. Hearing these comments from an adult they know and trust will help create a sense of trust and comfort for the child as they face this step. Find out when the child will have transition days and chat about all of the lovely things they did when they get back.
2. Make a Fuss
The temptation may be to avoid the subject of starting school altogether. You don't want to upset or unsettle the child in your care. Avoid this temptation. You are the adult and it is your duty to put on your big girl/big boy pants and crack on with it. Tackle this head on. Make a big fuss of the child or children in front of the other children in your care. Make a crown, have a party, do anything! Encourage the mindset that this is an exciting time to celebrate and for this time the child is very special. Avoid the mindset that it is something to be feared like a trip to the dentist.
3. Social Stories
Read as many stories and watch as many cartoons and TV shows as you can about first days at school. The children in your care may not be able to visit their new school every day to prepare but you can provide opportunities for the routines and events of starting a new school to begin to feel more familiar and predictable (and so less scary and out of their control). These stories also provide a great opportunity for children to voice their concerns or excitements. Embrace these opportunities.
4. Liase With The School
Each child's new teacher should get in touch with you at some point to find out a bit more about the child and family that are transitioning to them. If they have not contacted you by mid-July then contact them. Try to arrange a time to meet face-to-face but if this is not possible have a chat on the phone. In either case also send or handover a transition document with a brief overview of what the child is like when in your care, their personality, likes and dislikes, fears and comforts. Give a brief overview of any family issues the school need to be aware of and give a judgement of where the child sits developmentally, using the Early Years Foundation Stage Development Matters as a reference point (if in the UK).
5. Keep Parents Informed
Keep the parents or carers informed of the things you have done each day so that they can be reassured of your contact with the school and also so that they can carry on at home with any learning or conversations that you have had with their child.
6. Expect Changes in Behaviour
Children due to start school will often show changes in behaviour. They may have interrupted sleep, suddenly begin to cry when left by mum or dad after leaving them happily for many years or begin to push the boundaries. This is all to be expected. Whether it has been explained to them well, badly or not at all children will sense that a big change is coming and it is one that the adults around them are finding difficult or emotional too, even if the emotions being displayed by the adults around them are happy or excited ones. Continue to have the same rules, boundaries and expectations as you always have had with the children but be ready to give extra reassurance and be extra patient during these tricky times.
7. Be Proud
Well done you! The child may be leaving you but look how far they have come. That is the product of your hard work, love and care over the past year or more. Your job is done. Take a deep breath of self-satisfaction, be proud and congratulate yourself on how far you have come together.