The following article comes from primary school teacher Craig Christopher, who shares his advice for a smooth transition.

Transition. The word that invokes fear and stress amongst many teachers! Transition this year has been very different (thanks COVID) but I’m hoping the much more child-centred view schools have had to adopt stays. It’s the right way to view transition. Transition is a crucial entity. If you don’t get this right, it WILL impact on the rest of the year.

Please remember that this year some children have experienced drastically increased anxiety, stress and possible grief due to the pandemic. We need to make sure settling the children back in as carefully as we can is our key priority. Forget targets and goals right now, first and foremost we need to be reintegrating the children into their ‘new normal’.

With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about how we can effectively help the transition of the children. I’ve been thinking about this from the view of Early Years and KS1 but lots of these points are applicable for KS2 also.

Pre September

Tough to address pre-September now as we’re already in September! However, a few key points to remember for next year or to implement asap are:

  • Good, professional dialogue between the old teacher and the new one. Give the information the new staff will need and always be in communication if they need to ask you any questions Term 1 (they will). Work together!
  • Have the children had a chance to meet the staff in their new class? This doesn’t just mean the teacher. Usually, we’d all have fabulous transition days planned. COVID has put a stop to this, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be creative – use Zoom to introduce the staff to the children, create YouTube videos of you reading stories for your new little ones etc.
  • After allowing the children to see you in some way shape or form pre-September, allow them to have a say too. Can they send you questions they want you to answer? Can they give you information they want you to know about them? Can they draw you a picture to show you their family or something important to them? This also applies to the parents (although I wouldn’t be asking them to draw the picture!!)

Time to Reconnect

We all got into this profession for one reason. It isn’t the money, it isn’t the holidays and it isn’t the working hours (9-3 anyone?). It is because we all care immensely about the children in our care. Now more than ever is the time to show these qualities. We need to be caring and compassionate.

Many of our children may not have seen their friends since March. They NEED time to talk to their friends and rebuild their relationships and form new ones. Our focus needs to be on developing the well-being of the children. Before anything formal can be introduced, these children need time to talk but also to play. They will need to talk about their experiences of lockdown and experience familiar situations with play-based scenarios. Building familiar situations with resources the children can play with will enable them to feel relaxed in their new classrooms.

Equally, it is vitally important to build a relationship with the new parents. They too have experienced increased anxiety and stress over the lockdown period. Some families may have found lockdown tougher than others and these families need our support. It is essential you build a good rapport so you can support the whole family. If you are concerned about how to support anyone, do speak to your schools pastoral lead.

Following Interests with Enabling Environments

Ok first off let us establish something. High level of engagement = high level of attainment. If you have an engaging and inviting learning environment, you will see the children flourish. Establish your rules and routines early on, so everyone knows what they can and cannot do. Give your children time to express themselves in a variety of ways; creative play and art therapy are wonderful for children to express themselves.

Lead with the children’s interests and have a child-centred environment. You as the teacher should be there to guide and extend their learning. I collect information on the children’s interests pre-September and aim to incorporate the children’s interests throughout the learning we do over the year.

Children learning outdoors

Is your classroom environment planned out to offer a variety of choosing activities that will challenge and excite the children? If not, have a go! Now, more than ever, we need to embrace play as a vital cog in the learning machine. Pushing children too soon in the hope they will adapt to formalised learning (I am thinking transition from EY to KS1 here) will make your job much harder. They will get increasingly frustrated as they are not used to, or ready for this right now.

As I stated earlier, talking is going to be so key for children this year (as it so often is). I’m not talking about forced talking during circle/carpet times, though this can be of use. I’m referring to those natural opportunities to talk. Places in your classroom like reading dens and corners, snack tables, play areas, all encourage that relaxed conversation. Do make use of any outdoor areas you have in this regard too. Outdoor play is a familiar and comforting aspect of most children’s lives.

Use of Books and Story Times

I’ve always been a big advocate for the use of story times to teach values and lessons as well as for enjoyment. Story time is extremely important in aiding transition. Picking the right book can be tricky (I have a book of the week and read at least 5 additional ones per week!) and I’m often asked for suggestions to use, so here are mine that you may find useful to use this term:

Ruby’s Worry by Tom Percival

The Worrysaurus by Rachel Bright

While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin

The Magic Smile by Gareth Baker

The Colour Monster by Anna Llenas

The Jar of Happiness by Ailsa Burrows

Early Years to KS1 Further Thoughts

The transition from EYFS to KS1 is often regarded as the hardest jump along with the transition from Y6 to Y7. This is because of the difference between the early learning goals and the national curriculum. It doesn’t align very well. This means that Y1 teachers are often left feeling they have the short end of the stick in September. Trust me, I’ve been there (most of my experience is in Y1!) and it’s tough.

One thing I will say that I have learnt, the more you know about the Early Years Foundation Stage and the early learning goals, the more relaxed you will be. Speak to your foundation staff. You can’t be expected to know everything about Foundation Stage but your EYFS staff will likely know an awful lot. Use their expertise!

Ideally, EYFS teachers should be having some table-based learning in the summer term to prepare the class for Year 1. This doesn’t mean you don’t use an early years approach in September though. Rather than sitting on the carpet and having purely formalised learning, adopt some key aspects from the EYFS. As I have discussed earlier in this article, play-based learning is vital. Think how you could incorporate this in your classroom in Term 1 to ease their transition and provide a familiar environment. Does your classroom have some similarity to their previous one or will they feel like they are completely starting again? Familiarity is important! Open-ended resources are brilliant here. You can extend their learning dramatically! Quality play-based learning is an effective learning tool for everyone, including the most able. So don’t be afraid to add some early years flair to your Year 1 classroom!

Final Thoughts

The entire world has had a tough time this year. There will be a time for targets and goals again but it is not now. For now we need to be sensitive, show compassion and enjoy being back together as a school! Look after the children. Empathise with the parents. Support your colleagues and of course, take care of yourself! We all need a little more kindness in these strange times. If you want to discuss transition (or pretty much anything education-related) please feel free to get in touch via my Twitter @CraigJEYFS.

Until next time!

Author Craig Christopher

Author

Craig Christopher

Craig is a primary school teacher currently working in Early Years at Coddington Primary School. He has been working in education since 2013 and has had a variety of roles. Having worked in a village school, two-form entry schools and on supply, in all different year groups, he has a varied experience!

Craig is passionate about well-being, mental health, Early Years, inclusion and mentoring! Craig tweets from @CraigJEYFS and is always looking to network with new people – give him a follow and have a chat!

Follow Craig on Twitter – @CraigJEYFS

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