A time for joy and adventure: supporting the transition from EYFS to KS1
In this blog, Debi Keyte-Hartland, an early years expert with over 25 years’ experience working with schools across the UK, the PVI sector and educational organisations, explores how to ensure effective transition from the early years foundation stage to year 1.
Transition involves supporting children through a period of significant change in their educational journey, including from the EYFS to key stage 1. This time of change can be both uncertain and unsettling for children who are nervous of what is to come and where they will be after the summer holidays. It means that, as educators, we need to consider transition as a formative time of learning about how change can be exciting and rewarding, and not something to be worried about.
Transition from the EYFS to key stage 1 is less an event in the reception year calendar as much as an experiential process of learning and development that is as significant as developing social skills. It’s about children developing their resilience, and maintaining a can-do attitude and a confidence in trying out something new and different. It’s about remaining calm and thinking flexibly to be able to enjoy experiencing something new with wonder and awe. Transition is a life skill, and we don’t want our children to learn that change is worrisome experience, but rather that it can bring joy and adventure!
Children need to feel like a fish in water
It’s important that children avoid spending the first day in year 1 as strangers. Anne Connor says in ‘Understanding transitions in the early years: supporting change through attachment and resilience’ (2018), that children need to feel like a fish in water during transition and to develop a strong sense of belonging.
She says we need to hold children in mind throughout this process so that they are willing and able to make the most of their new situation. A ‘good’ transition requires preparing for it much earlier than you think, ideally in the autumn term, which means you are not squeezing it into an already full summer diary in which you will have to make compromises. Set transition from reception to year 1 as a priority.
To feel like a fish in water, children need to become familiar and ‘at home’. This means spending time together as a group, visiting their new classroom and feeling comfortable within it. This can be done by ensuring that children get to experience familiar routines, activities and materials in their new space. We can ask children what they want to take with them, actively involving them in decision-making about what transitions with them. It could be a favourite story, a particular resource or something they have made as a memory of their time in the EYFS.
Children who are leaving year 1 for year 2 can also be involved in the transition process as transition experts. In the book ‘Advisories’ by Reggio Children (2002), the 6-year-old children who were leaving their pre-school to go to elementary school offered up guidance and information for the new children who would take their place. The 6-years-olds shared their thoughts about their learning environment, made drawings about what they did, constructed maps, and took photographs of all the things they considered important for the new children to know.
For example, they told how the tree near the gate was like a great rock for climbing on, they described how they would be able to make big, colourful paintings, how to make friends, as well as useful advice on how to respect certain new rules that they might not have known about before. The book was shared with the new children and their families, and has become a tradition in the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy.
It’s a way of thinking deeply about transition by those who have experienced that transition for themselves, and thus they know how it feels, and can speak to the new children of the challenges and pleasures that they encountered at this time. It also provides a concrete and meaningful expressive opportunity for English, art, and design and technology, and for thinking about positive relationships for those current year 1 children.
An important story is about to begin!
For the children who are leaving the EYFS, a new and important story in their learning journey is about to begin. Like any good story, educators need to consider how to begin it in a way that keeps them engaged and excited. Therefore, year 1 and reception teachers must think and plan together to consider how to welcome the children into year 1 to offer them a continuity of experience, not just in terms of familiar materials and resources, but also in terms of curriculum design and content. This means getting to know the children as individuals, their curiosities and interests, and not just as a cohort.
Visiting and observing children in their reception class over a period of time is a valuable way to learn about who they are, how they learn, and where they are in their learning and development. This is so that, as their new year 1 teacher, they will have a good idea of where, how, and what to begin with. Having conversations with the reception teacher and other members of the teaching team and using the EYFS profile as dialogic tool will help in discussions about the uniqueness of each child. This is to ensure that their new classroom and what you start learning about together can reflect their curiosities and enquiries, and thus be more inviting and welcoming from the start. It is important to start from where the children are, and the EYFS early learning goals will need to have been met and mastered by each child before moving them onto the content of the primary curriculum.
Challenges and considerations to navigate
To avoid September being a time of anxiety for children or their families and carers, there are some challenges to navigate in practice. These include avoiding long teacher-led, carpet sessions and formal table provision, practices which some children might not be familiar with, and which may cause distress if introduced too soon.
As Julie Fisher points out in ‘Moving on to key stage 1’ (2010), some children are particularly vulnerable in times of transition, whether because of home and family circumstances, or behavioural or special educational needs. These children will need extra support to help them feel secure about the changes they are experiencing, even if practice between EYFS and year 1 feels similar. Styles of teaching and learning should always meet the needs of children and not preconceived notions of what is or isn’t appropriate for key stage 1.
Effective transitions that support children’s wellbeing only occur when communication between children, their families and carers, teachers, and other professionals working with the children take place, and where knowledge is exchanged about the children, their strengths, as well as any challenges. It is a time of meetings, drop-in sessions, phone calls, class swaps, and visits, which all take time and effort to organise and do well, hence the need for a good lead time in terms of planning.
When you get it right, all children feel welcomed, flourish, and ready to take on the challenges in year 1 with an eager excitement to continue in their learning journey. As Loris Malaguzzi said, “Nothing without joy!”, so ensure that your children’s transition is time of joy for all involved.
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