Preparing for School Transitions – Covid 19.

In this blog we will re-visit our previous piece on getting children ‘school ready’ and what the much-disputed term ‘school readiness’ means for us.

In light of the current situation we will also touch upon on how we intend to work with you and the schools to support our school leaver children with their transition this year, in light of Covid-19 and the implications this could have on their transition.

Similarly, so much uncertainty still remains as to whether Early Settings will be able to re-open before these children are due to start school in September. School Transitions are always a huge part of a child’s life and in normal circumstances, we would begin supporting and preparing them for this transition as soon as they found out their receiving school, but with Covid-19, that is now incredibly difficult, and so we will also include activities that we would normally do in the setting around this time to support the transition process and make them adaptable for a home-learning environment.

‘School Readiness’ is a term widely used within the Early Years sector, but many people appear to have conflicting views on what the term actually means and what we as practitioners should actively be doing to ensure our preschool children are ‘ready’ for their transition to school.

Is ‘school readiness’ something we can easily define? And does it look the same for all children? As settings, do we have to endorse and promote ‘school readiness’ in our children? How do we know what children should be doing prior to starting school?

In this instance, and in our opinion, if children are expected to start school in September as they normally would, then there should be no expectations on any formal learning skills and emphasis should only be placed on the children’s emotional well-being and whether they are emotionally ready to start school, regardless of their developmental stage and skills.

In such unprecedented times, should we even be expecting children to be starting school after such a traumatic summer and abrupt change to their lives and routine? Would it perhaps not be better for children to return to school in September, to the classes and teachers they left in, and to perhaps transition children to their next class and to Reception in January?

Whilst this could have implications on businesses, schools and logistics, a decision like this would put the children and their wellbeing at the forefront of the devastation of Covid-19 and that should be high on all of our agendas.

We are firm believers that children learn at their own pace and should not be pushed to develop or learn faster than they are ready to or capable of, and so, ‘school readiness’ for us essentially entails providing opportunities for the children to explore and become familiar with their school uniform, dressing themselves and developing a sense of identity within their school environment, which can be easily replicated and introduced at home, should this be the case at the next lockdown review. Introducing books and stories about starting school are also a good way to support the transition, as well as watching the numerous children’s television programmes which depict familiar characters such as Topsy and Tim or the Little Princess experiencing their first day at school (even Peppa Pig covers Georges first day at pre-school!)

BBC Bitesize have some great ‘Starting School’ materials too as do Cbeebies in their ‘Starting School with Cbeebies‘ section.

You can also find some useful information here.

However the advantages of being a home-based childcare setting means that we would normally pay impromptu visits to each child’s school (sometimes pre-arranged where the school allows) to look at the school emblem, become familiar with the physical environment of the school and understand the routine of walking into the school grounds.

We also try and find the local park to the school, as the park will become an important part of the after-school routine. However, this is unlikely to be able to happen this year and so we will do all we can to contact receiving schools, make virtual links and try and gather as much information and resources on the school as we can in order to cascade this information to our children and families in a range of accessible and supportive mediums to aid the transition process from a distance.

Normally, we would  also set up a ‘classroom’ role-play within our playroom to enable the children to become familiar with the idea of how a classroom will look, what they will need to do and again explore these ideas in their own time, with their peers and through their play. This could perhaps be replicated on a smaller scale within the home environment with their parents and siblings? Activities such as these not only enable the child to process the upcoming changes in their own time and in their own way, but also enables them to do so within a familiar and supportive environment; surrounded by familiar people, whether that be at home or in the setting in this instance.

In usual circumstances we aim to ensure these experiences, exercises and opportunities are repeated throughout the summer term as we have found that by doing this as a group, regardless of whether all of the children are starting school, this enables the child starting school to develop a sense of ownership of their new school, whilst also developing a sense of ‘approval’ and admiration from their peers about the new adventure they are embarking on, if we are able to re-open prior to the September school intake, we will endeavour to make our usual experiences as authentic as we can whilst ensuring the safety and wellbeing of the children throughout. (Asking for video tours of schools that we can all watch together, looking at images on Google and the schools website as a group exercise, for example.)

Each child will react differently to this transition and period of change and so it is difficult to ensure and define ‘school readiness’ as a collective exercise in our opinion.

Essentially, we are not preparing children for school. We are preparing them for a transition. These transitions are set to be even more problematic for most children this year than normal and as such, as practitioners, this is what we need to focus on; less emphasis on writing and academic ‘readiness’ and more emphasis on change and routines and what we can do as nurturing and supportive practitioners to support the children through this period of change after an incredibly confusing and traumatic period, whilst focusing on the children’s emotional wellbeing and understanding, rather than placing emphasis on whether they can write their names. Academic skills pale into insignificance in this instance and as Early Years Practitioners and those receiving school teachers, we must remain united on this fact to ensure the smoothest transition possible for our children, who have already endured so much prior to this huge transition. School routines and practices, as well as transitions need to look and feel different this year, and for years to come thereafter. The time is now to place the emphasis on emotional and mental well-being over academic skills and assumptions on what makes children ‘school ready.’

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