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 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 transitioning between spaces with confidence
The Secret Garden Childcare is a rural early learning service on the outskirts of Feilding, 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:
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
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."
Teachers who are interested in applying for a TLRI can find the details on: Apply for funding
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.
Teachers who are interested in applying for a TLIF can find the details at: Teacher-led Innovation Fund (TLIF)
Transforming learning and teaching experiences of young children entering school
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.
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?
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.
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.
The literature scan for the Continuity of Early Learning project focused on current practice in documenting and sharing learning progress in the early years, summarising New Zealand and International approaches.
This report provides a summary and synthesis of the findings of the data collection component of the Continuity of Early Learning: Learning Progress and Outcomes in the Early Years project.
This resource is designed to share narratives of transition that draw on the experiences and perceptions of children, families, educators, and communities as they support all those involved in the transition to school and school age care.
The Education Review Office (2015) Continuity of Learning Transitions from Early Childhood Services to Schools report includes a number of stories which illustrate effective practice. Some of these can also be found in Education Review Office’s (2016) report.
Crossing the border has been written for early childhood education and primary school teachers who are interested in the transition from ECE to school. This book offers valuable insights into the ways in which one community negotiated this transition. It provides practical suggestions for schools and early childhood centres and analysis of of the issues involved in their implementation.
A summary of the Transition to school 2018 report and PDF downloads of the full report and the report highlights.
A DVD and resource book developed in response to a strong interest in the use of Learning Stories in schools. This resource is designed to answer some common questions asked by teachers.
This project is working with two early childhood services and two schools to investigate ways of enhancing children’s learning journeys from early childhood education into school, and to explore the impact of transition practices over time.
This review’s purpose was to deepen understanding of transition to school by critically analysing research literature. The focus was on what successful transitions to school look like, the factors that play a role in how well children transition from ECE to school, and the ways in which children can be supported by teachers and families to transition as successfully as possible.
This research project contributes a perspective on how junior school teachers might improve continuity for children moving from ECE to school.
This was a collaborative cross-sector research project involving kōhanga, kura, and university-based researchers. It focused on tamariki moving from kōhanga reo to kura classrooms and examined the development of an "akoranga whakawhiti" or "transition programme" that was based across Kōhanga Reo o Ngā Kuaka and Tōku Māpihi Maurea Kura Kaupapa Māori in Hamilton.
Information and readings from the Ministry of Education for planning transitions for children with learning support needs.
Dr Sally Peters is a leading researcher in transitions from early childhood education to primary school. In this interview Sally talks about the special issue, current thinking on transitions, and where she’s headed next.
Leaders in early childhood education from Canterbury University have prepared seven pieces of thinking on Transitions.
These Guidelines are divided into three parts and include a timeline to guide transition to school activities. The first part provides the background, legal perspectives, audience and purpose for the Transition to School Guidelines, and information about inclusive and culturally responsive practice. Parts 2 and 3 outline key practices and resources to support successful transition to school.
This position statement has been developed as an aspirational document targeted to all concerned with the education, care, and wellbeing of young children. The position statement reconceptualises transition to school in the context of social justice, human rights (including children’s rights), educational reform and ethical agendas, and the established impact of transition to school on children’s ongoing wellbeing, learning, and development.
Bronfenbrenner, U. & Ceci, S. J. (1994). Nature-nurture reconceptualised in developmental perspective: A bioecological model. Psychological Review, 101, 4, 568–585.
Hörschelmann, K. (2011). Theorising life transitions: Geographical perspectives. Area, 43(4), 378–383.
Rogoff, B. (1997). Evaluating development in the process of participation; theory, methods and practice building on each other. In E. Amsel & K. A. Renninger (Eds), Change and development: issues of theory, method and application (pp. 265–285). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.