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Guest blog: Returning to and starting school in 2020, by Karen Wickett

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Thursday, 30 April, 2020

Normally, during the summer term parents, early years (EY) practitioners and teachers are preparing their child/ren to be "ready" for the next phase of their education and care. These preparations are likely to intensify as the term progresses.  This year, however, these preparations are likely to be different, which may cause a  concern that children will not be "ready for school" or "ready for year 1" (DfE, 2017).    The political emphasis on the preparation of children to ensure their school readiness overlooks that a transition is a process and comprises of different phases. A transition comprises; a phase of preparation, the move between settings and after the move a phase of adjustment. During the phase of adjustment, children learn to make sense of "differences and discontinuities" (Margetts, 2002:105) that they encounter in the new context.  They are also, constructing an understanding of their role as learner/pupil and the expectations of learning in the new setting. 

Key to supporting children’s adjustment to the new setting/class are the qualities of relationships between parents, EY practitioners and teachers (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Rimm-Kaufman & Pianta, 2000).  My research, which explored the relationships between parents, EY practitioners and teachers when they supported children during the transition from an EY setting to reception class, found children did adjust quickly to school when the adult’s relationships had qualities of a collaborative relationship (Wickett, 2019).  The qualities of a collaborative relationship were:

  • respect for, each other’s experiences with children and their funds of knowledge
  • holistic learning, discussions about children’s learning focuses on the cognitive, affective and attitudinal domains
  • empathy: parents, EY practitioners and teacher are empathetic to each other and each other’s life experiences
  • learning with each other, communication is two-way and understandings are co-constructed and continue to be co-constructed throughout the transition (Wickett, 2019). 

The study highlighted a range of strategies that supported parents, EY practitioners and teachers to foster the qualities of a collaborative relationship.  These included:

  • informal and formal opportunities to talk to each other.  Informal opportunities included at the beginning/end of the day, outside in the playground or beyond school in the community.
  • opportunities for teachers and EY practitioners and their children to move back and forth between each other’s settings.  These visits enabled children to catch up with old friends, show each other around their new setting/class, check they are OK and also say good-bye. (This could be particularly important this year, as children may have left settings abruptly) 
  • home visits but also a community open day for children to show parents and other family members around their new classroom.
  • a specific role for EY practitioners is to support and encourage parents to establish relationships with teachers and school personnel, particularly those parents who may be less confident about approaching teachers and school personnel.

The list above is not exhaustive, but includes examples of the strategies that fostered qualities of a collaborative relationship between parents, EY practitioners and teachers in the study. There is no doubt that the current situation is unsettling for all, but it also offers possibilities.  This is an opportunity for EY practitioners and teachers (ideally together) to reflect on their current practices and notice the practices that are more likely to foster the qualities of a collaborative relationship.  Bringing these practices to the foreground, acknowledging and planning for the phase of adjustment will strengthen the qualities of a collaborative relationship.  By fostering the qualities of a collaborative relationship between parents, EY practitioners and teachers, the differences and discontinuities children encounter will be minimised, which will support their adjustment to their new role and learning in the new setting.  

Karen Wickett is Lecturer and Joint Programme Lead BA Early Childhood Studies at the University of Plymouth

References

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development: experiments by nature and design. London: Harvard University Press.
Department for Education (DfE) (2017). Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage Setting the standards for learning, development and care for children from birth to five. DfE: Cheshire.
Margetts, K. (2002). "Transition to school - Complexity and diversity", European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 10(2), 103-114.
Rimm-Kaufman, S. E., and Pianta, R. C. (2000). "An Ecological Perspective on the Transition to Kindergarten: A Theoretical Framework to Guide Empirical Research",  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21(5), 491 - 511.
Wickett, K. (2019) An Empirical Approach to Preparing Children for School: Exploring the relationships between parents, practitioners and teachers, London: Routledge

Further reading on transitions