Moving on, moving up: supporting transitions
The sun is out (for today, anyway) and the summer holidays are here. The new term seems ages away but early years practitioners have been working hard on transition paperwork and helping prepare children (and parents) for new starts. They're also thinking about a new group of children settling in and starting this process again.
Starting at a new setting can bring a mixture of emotions for everyone involved and these can be heightened if a child has speech, language and communication needs. Lots of questions can come up such as 'will they make friends?', 'will people be able to understand what they're saying?', 'will they be able to ask for things like a snack or going to the toilet?' and 'how will they be able to tell me what they've done all day?’
As experienced childcare professionals you are well placed to support parents with transition. You know the child and, may have successfully seen both parent and child through one transition, so you have what it takes to support the moving on process.
How to support parents with transitions
- Encourage parents to use pictures of their child’s teacher or key person (if they have them from a settling in visit) so that they can remember who they're going to see. This can help them visualise the people they're going to meet. It prepares them mentally for what's going to happen and to recognise some familiar faces when they start.
- Encourage parents to make up their own transition document so that they can share information with the school. This could be a communication passport or an 'All about me' booklet that tells the new setting how their child communicates, what helps them feel settled (e.g. a quiet start to the day or using a visual timeline to know what's going to happen).You can both share information on the best ways to support the child.
- You can work with parents on showing children how to ask questions or how to ask for help. For some children using phrases and demonstrating gestures helps prepare for new scenarios. For other parents using signs and pictures may be more suitable support.
- Ask about the daily routine and for the first few weeks; encourage parents to talk to their child about what's going to happen and what to expect.
- Practice the child’s route to the setting. If walking try talking about all the things you see on your way, for instance, "we have to turn at the post box"..."then past the really tall tree".
What you can do to support children
- Talk about what's going to happen so that children are expecting it and it's not a shock when September arrives. This will also help you to know if they are anxious and have any questions. Sometimes children worry about what they need to do and if there is somewhere Teddy will be safe. You can discuss these things before school so that they are looking forward to it.
- Build starting school into play e.g. through making your home corner into a school. Some children enjoy planning and building their own school so they can talk about their experiences and hopes around transition.
- Sing some familiar nursery rhymes so that they are confident with these and can join in during group times.
- Let the new setting know how the child you support communicates - do they use words, are they speaking in sentences or do they use lots of gestures and signs? Do they speak different languages at home? If so let the setting know which languages and how your child is doing speaking and understanding these.
- If a child has any speech, language or communication needs let the setting know so that they are prepared to help your child. Also inform them if the child is supported by a speech and language therapist or any other professional. It's often helpful to meet with the SENCo (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) or Inclusion Co-ordinator so they are aware of your child's needs. Try to give as much information about how the child communicates children communicate so the setting carry out training assessments for instance for Makaton.
- Talk to the setting about how they can let parents know what their child has been doing - for young children and children with communication needs. Talking about their day at school or nursery can be challenging and a photo, a few words or some information in a home/setting diary can help you know what they've been doing and give you a starting point for a conversation.
You can find out more about helping children to develop their foundation language skills from the Talking Point website and I CAN websites. If you have any concerns you can contact I CAN help via these websites.
We know how important transitions are in the lives of children, parents and carers and how difficult this can be for children with speech, language and communication needs. There can be challenges in embedding best practice for these changes but childcare professionals have a wealth of knowledge, skills and resources to support families, children and new settings with new starts.
About the author
Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant.