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Ngā ara ako, whakawhitinga hoki

Pathways and transitions

Key ideas

Children, parents, and whānau will experience transitions to and within early childhood services, and later from early childhood education to school or kura.

Kaiako in ECE settings have the opportunity to support children in developing strategies to navigate some of their early transitions – strategies that may continue to be influential in their later learning.

Transitions are an important part of life, and learning to manage different expectations, identities, and roles is an inherent aspect of development (Rogoff, 1997). Transition points may offer both opportunity and challenges in lives that are “always in a process of becoming” (Hörschelmann, 2011, p. 379). There can be vulnerability, but changes open up new possibilities for learning.

The principles and strands of Te Whāriki are relevant at all stages of life, as well as in early childhood. As Te Whāriki explains, the central elements are continued throughout an individual’s lifetime, and new strands, representing new learning, continue to be added to the weaving.

 Children reading their stories together.

  • Stories of practice

    Stories of practice Stories of practice


    Children transitioning between spaces with confidence

    Key points

    • Ko wai au? | Who am I?
    • Transition – a process with many parts

    Kaiako and tamariki reading.

    The Secret Garden Childcare is a rural early learning service on the outskirts of Fielding, licensed for fifty children, including fourteen under two years of age.

    As part of their internal reviews, kaiako at the centre have been inspired to evaluate and critique their internal transition processes using indigenous pedagogy linked to Te Whāriki.

    Their evaluation and critique set them on a path to a more holistic approach to transitions. They have placed identity at the centre and use the concept of “Ko wai au? Who am I?” as a framework guiding the way children progress from one area of the centre to another.

    Focusing on identity meant thinking about not only who the children are now, but also who they once were, and who they will become. This shift in thinking inspired practical additions to the process for children visiting their new environment at the time of transition and beyond.

    The additions include:

    • a pōwhiri to welcome each child into the new space, where whānau have the opportunity to share stories and information about their child with kaiako and children
    • a brief summary for kaiako in the new environment, written by kaiako in the room the child is leaving – handing over knowledge on routines and rhythms, settling and comfort requirements, strengths and interests, and “things I still need a little help with”
    • extending their “Ko wai au?” questionnaire (documentation held in children’s portfolios) to include things such as the “significance of my name”, “Mohiotanga – what I know or bring with me”, and “child and whānau aspirations”
    • updating the “Ko wai au?” documentation with whānau at every birthday milestone.

    Kaiako feel that having a kete of processes for internal transitions helps keep the information visible and relevant. For example, kaiako and children often pick up and extend on the stories shared by whānau at the pōwhiri. The regular updating of the “Ko wai au?” is a good reminder to draw on the information whānau provide in their curriculum design.

    “Information is not just sitting in folders, it is living! We have many examples of kaiako adjusting their practice in light of what they have learned about a child. The overall impact we have noticed is increased confidence.”

    One community whānau

    Key points

    • School – ELS mini projects
    • Model of shared power and responsibility
    • Context-specific strategies

    Two children holding hands.

    ECE and school kaiako in the Learning Journeys from ECE into School Teaching and Learning Research Initiative [TLRI] project met regularly to discuss transition to school in their community. Observations in each others’ settings provided the chance to discuss practice and develop mutual understandings.

    Joint curriculum planning, for example around themes such as Matariki or the Olympics, allowed expertise to be shared. ECE kaiako and new entrant teachers developed a range of action research “mini projects” to work on together.

    Knowing a child’s history, and seeing the transition as a small part of a rich whakapapa, helped with understanding the issues for each learner. Teachers felt able to take more ownership when there were problems or potential problems for children, and a greater sense of agency in changing patterns. Some examples include:

    • rather than predicting a child might have difficulties due to lack of friends, taking steps while the child was still in ECE to support some friendships that could be continued at school
    • understanding that the school playground could be confusing for new children and developing:
      • shared books to discuss this
      • safe and interesting play spaces
      • strategies to help children initiate play with others.

    The strategies that were developed and evaluated in the mini projects were not intended as recipes for others to follow. Instead, the key aspect was the importance of attending to the issues in each setting and offering nuanced approaches to supporting children and their families. As one kaiako concluded:

    "It’s just finding what fits. It’s not like a formula 'do this and your kids are going to transition fine.' It’s all those little things … for some kids, it will just spark something. For other kids, it won’t. You have just got to find what fits." (Teacher researcher)

    What came through strongly is that power and responsibility neither did, nor should, rest solely with ECE services or with schools. Children’s learning was supported when both sides worked together.

    Working together in communities fostered a sense of whānau that was evident to the families as well as the teachers. As one teacher noted:

    "It’s all about whanaungatanga and the importance of working together."


    Peters, S., Paki, V. & Davis, K. (2015). Learning journeys from early childhood into school. Teaching and Learning Research Initiative final report.

    Teachers who are interested in applying for a TLRI can find the details on: Apply for funding. 

    Farewell letters

    Key points

    • Linking to NZC key competencies
    • Documentation speaking to ELS and schools

    Two kaiako looking at children's artwork.

    In Petone Basin’s Teacher Led Innovation Fund Transition to School Project, ECE and school kaiako recognised that they had limited understanding of the different curriculum frameworks.

    As children moved to school, one ECE kaiako decided to document children’s learning using the strands of Te Whāriki alongside the key competencies in The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC). The kaiako wanted to produce a document that would resonate with the new entrant teachers in a format that they were familiar with. It was evident that knowing about the child in advance helped the new teacher get to know the child more quickly. It also opened a dialogue between teachers, as shown in the following diary reflection and quotation:

    "The process of changing pedagogical documentation was not an easy one. While I am primary trained, I am no longer familiar with the primary curriculum so it certainly tested my ability to adapt. I was a bit sad to farewell the use of my beloved Te Whāriki, but found that challenging myself made me connect with the NZC. I have received some great feedback from my primary colleagues and even a suggestion that I could add whānau aspirations." (ECE Teacher Journal, December, 2016).

    "Thank you for such a detailed and personal account of [Child’s name] as a learner and as an individual. I really appreciate the time you have taken in writing these documents, and they most certainly help me in terms of being able to welcome [Child’s name] to school in a way which is supportive and responsive. I love the quote you use in regards to the metaphorical image of starting school being like a seedling transplanted into new soil. I am committed to ensuring that all new entrants feel welcomed, secure, safe and nurtured as they begin school life…. I have found the detailed manner in which you link ECE experiences with the key competencies of the NZC very useful. It enables me to 'see' [Child’s name] as she currently is within a learning environment, so I can best respond to her in a new one. [Child’s name] is clearly 'ready, willing, and able', what a wonderful way to enter school!" (New Entrant Teacher, November 2016).

    Source: Petone Basin Transitions to School Project, Checkpoint notes, 2017.

    Teachers in both sectors who understand the ECE and school curricula will be able to see the connections for children’s learning as they transition to school. The section on 'Pathways to School and Kura' in Te Whāriki (2017) extends on the links diagram in The New Zealand Curriculum (Ministry or Education, 2017, p. 42) to show some of the ways in which the key competencies, values, and learning areas of the NZC might continue the curriculum weaving from Te Whāriki into school. This provides a useful starting point to explore the many connections that can be made.

    A schematic view of the New Zealand curriculum.

    Transforming learning and teaching experiences of young children entering school

    Key points

    • Introducing a play-based programme in a school
    • Increasing continuity through familiarity

    The new entrant team at Mairehau Primary School, Christchurch were interested in how they might provide greater continuity for children transitioning from ECE to school by making changes to the physical environment, the pedagogy, and what learning is valued (and how this learning happens) for children in their first years of school.

    They designed a play-based programme called, “Relating to Others Time”, to run each morning of the week from 8.30 am, when children started arriving at school, until 10.15 am.

    Kaiako believed that the familiarity of the play-based programme for children, with its emphasis on relationships and on providing children the freedom to make real choices about where, what, and with whom to participate, meant children were more relaxed and excited about coming to school.

    Kaiako found a number of benefits from this approach:

    • The predictability of a relaxed and fun start to the day seemed to invite children to engage and, therefore, helped set the tone of the day.
    • The children had time to develop a sense of belonging at school and, as a result, they actually settled more quickly.
    • The activities provided the teachers with prompts for conversations and discussions so that they could get to know the children and were able to make connections to other aspects of the curriculum.
    • There were fewer concerns with children’s behaviour than in the past.
    • The teachers were frequently surprised and inspired by the children’s creativity.
    • The children were able to pursue interests they found fascinating and motivating and were able to see themselves as successful across a range of disciplines.

    Reference: Davis, K. (2015). New-entrant classrooms in the re-making. Core Education Research Report: Christchurch: Core Education. 

    The children know the school

    Key point

    • The playcentre and the school work together to merge approaches to teaching and learning that facilitates children's transition to school

    • Transcript

      Transcript Transcript

      (Parent/Kaiako, Loreena, speaking to camera)

      Loreena Dawson: We’ve had a really strong relationship with the school, Titahi Bay School, for a long time because we’re situated on their grounds. When we do go over to the school, it’s generally just to use, maybe the library, or to roam around the playground, there’s great artwork on the playground at Titahi Bay School. There’s a lot of numbers, octopus numbers, there’s letters. We’ve done letter scavenger hunts, roaming around the school while the kids are in classes.

      (Tamariki quietly running past classrooms at the school with their kaiako)

      Loreena Dawson: We’re going to go round the school into the back, and we’re going to look for letters.

      (Tamariki looking at signs around the school that have letters)

      Student 1: We could be ninjas!

      Loreena Dawson: We could be letter ninjas.

      Student: Or we could be sneaking ninjas.

      Loreena Dawson: Sneaking letter ninjas. So let’s go. Hold on to your names on your triangles and we’ll see if we can find some letters.

      (Tamariki and the teacher gather by a water tank and see the letters that compare to their name and stick a sticker on their paper under the letter)

      Loreena Dawson: Can you see it? You’ve got it, okay stick it on. It’s an M, you can stick one on.

      (Kaiako and child look at a painted TiTahi Bay School mural on a school wall and look at the letter 't' on the wall)

      Loreena Dawson: So there’s the little one, where is it, there. And here’s your capital at the beginning of your name. Quick, come on.

      (A group of tamariki look at a sign stuck to a rubbish bin for letters)

      Student: I’ve got an L in my name.

      (Parent/Kaiako, Loreena, speaking to camera)

      Loreena Dawson: The children know the school, they know it geographically, they know what the people look like, they’ve seen a lot of the big kids. A lot of the big kids have been through Playcentre so it’s not too scary a place for them.

      (Teacher, Mike, speaking to camera)

      Mike Laing: We’ve built an area called Te Manawa which means the heart of the school. It’s basically a covered, but outdoor, Playcentre. They’ve really valued that learning through play, learning through doing, learning through developmental, and we valued that as a school and we’d had that communication but we didn’t feel we were doing it really well within our class contexts so we went to them for advice on how we can do that better. They came up with this plan, we fundraised and went through that and we think that’s had a significant impact on bringing children to the school. We’ve adapted some of the early childhood curriculum within our new entrants programme so there’s not this sudden change of learning style.



    Stories of practice

Reflective questions

Use these questions in team discussions to consider transitions to and within early childhood settings, and for kaiako and school teachers to consider children’s transition to school.

  • What do we do to ensure children and their families have a sense of belonging, wellbeing, and feeling “suitable” in this place? How do we know if we have been effective? How can our strategies to create a sense of belonging and wellbeing here be used to assist when children and families transition to a new setting?
  • In what ways do we learn about, understand, and acknowledge the culture of children and their families as they join a new setting?
  • How do we identify some of the challenges children and their families are navigating as they transition to this place? How has paying attention to children’s stories about their experiences provided us with insights into their achievements?
  • What steps do we take to formulate our approach to transitions? Who is involved in these developments and how is their effectiveness evaluated?
  • How do we establish and support respectful, reciprocal relationships between all involved in a transition?
  • How are we identifying and building on funds of knowledge from early childhood education and home? How is this information shared? What informs our expectations and are they positive for all children?
  • To what extent are children engaged in learning and able to find an appropriate, stimulating level of challenge? How does our practice support children’s learning dispositions and identities as learners?
  • How do we create a dialogue with whānau, schools, and external agencies so there is continuity for children’s learning and how do we know if this has been effective?
  • To what extent are our approaches inclusive or are they more relevant for some children? How can we provide a nuanced approach to transition that caters to individuals?

Implications for leadership

Pedagogical leaders who understand the importance of transition are important in enabling processes that are effective for children, whānau and kaiako. They recognise that their actions and beliefs shape what is possible. Some key points for leadership include:

  • identifying how transitions are understood in this setting
  • creating collaborative approaches to planning and evaluating transition practices in the setting
  • considering whose voices are heard and potentially not heard in the process, and taking steps to address this
  • implementing transition practices that are culturally responsive
  • ensuring the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi are reflected when supporting Māori whānau with their child’s transitions
  • recognising how environmental factors can be changed to assist children’s transition
  • taking a holistic approach that includes children and whānau and considers the different dimensions of the child’s experience
  • viewing kaiako and teachers in early learning and school/kura contexts as equal partners and supporting them to work together
  • fostering knowledge of Te Whāriki, The New Zealand Curriculum, and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa in both sectors
  • understanding that building effective relationships takes time and persistence.

In addition to these points, the Ministry of Education resources for leaders in early learning includes questions that are relevant to the ongoing pedagogies that empower children and families to make transitions, as well as specific questions to foster conversations about negotiating successful transitions.

Leadership in early childhood education for ‘5 out of 5’ children

Connections to the principles

The four principles underpin transition practices within early learning services and for children moving to school/kura.

Empowerment – Whakamana

As children make transitions within and across settings, kaiako ensure their wellbeing is supported and they are empowered to benefit from the new experiences on offer. The curriculum is appropriately stimulating and challenging and fosters all children’s engagement in learning and increasing agency to make decisions and judgments about their learning. Children, their parents, and whānau are respected and valued for what they bring to the new setting.

Family and Community – Whānau Tangata

Transitions involve a collective process that prioritises involvement and partnership between children, parents, whānau and kaiako. Transition to school practices are negotiated and evaluated within communities. Kaiako take time to learn about the history, current experiences and future aspirations of new children and families. Information is shared in culturally appropriate ways. Strong learning partnerships are formed with whānau to support children’s learning.

Holistic Development – Kotahitanga

The holistic nature of each child guides the approach taken to transitions so that all dimensions are considered. Getting to know all aspects of the child is important for teachers in both sectors. A broad rich curriculum fosters learning across all dimensions and this breadth and balance is maintained as children start school. During the transition to school the child’s whole experience of school, not just in the classroom, should be considered.

Relationships – Ngā Hononga

Transitions are a time when new relationships are being built. The nature of these relationships are core to the way a transition is experienced. Responsive and reciprocal relationships are linked to successful learning; this includes children’s relationships with peers and adults and between their families, kaiako and other adults. Kaiako play a key role in building authentic and trusting relationships and creating opportunities for mutual understanding, partnership and collaboration.


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