Supporting a positive start to school in 2021
- Supporting children transitioning to school in 2021 will be a key priority for primary schools.
- A positive transition to primary school is always important but, given the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic response, schools should consider children’s learning experiences in 2020 and how they can meet the needs of their new children and families as they transition to school in 2021.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented change to Victoria’s education system. Children transitioning to school in 2021 may have a greater diversity of needs because of disruptions to their kindergarten year and the increasing number of families experiencing vulnerability. Effective transition practices and opportunities to improve and better support transition to primary school while always important, are now even more critical.
The following information supports schools to prepare for and engage with effective transition to school practice to support the transition needs of children starting school in 2021.
Effective transition practices and supporting continuity of learning
Good relationships between children, families, early childhood educators and schools are key to positive transitions. Positive transitions occur when children feel a sense of belonging and familiarity in their new learning environment.
A child’s provides important information about their learning and development that can help the prep teacher better plan for their transition to school. Early childhood educators write the statement in Term 4, the year before school. In 2020:
- Early childhood educators will be encouraged to include information specific to children’s learning in 2020, including attendance and participation in on-site or learning from home program time.
- Early childhood educators will provide a child’s Transition Learning and Development Statement to their nominated school. The School’s Insight administrator should link this to the child’s school record to help prep teachers effectively support them and to ensure the statement is correctly maintained. Information on how to access Transition Learning and Development Statements through the Insight platform is available in the chapter on Transition statements — information for schools.
- Early childhood educators, families, children and prep teachers could also benefit from conversations about a child’s statement and what their learning needs might be. These conversations could support the prep teacher to plan individual strategies that support children’s continuity of learning.
All people involved in the transition work in partnership together to support a positive transition. There are several transitions practices that support this, including:
- Reciprocal visits between prep teachers and early childhood educators to discuss strategies and practices that can be incorporated across settings to support continuity of learning. This might include video conferencing or phone meetings this year. Refer to the chapter on .
- Children visiting their new school to meet their prep teacher and to become familiar with classrooms, school buildings and amenities. Preparing videos or creating social stories to share across settings could be considered as an alternative.
- Families meeting with school leaders and teachers to learn more about the school and how the school will support their child’s transition and learning and development, this could be informally or through information days or school tours. Preparing 'meet the principal' videos, video conference meetings and virtual school tours could be considered as replacements.
- Families receiving information about transition to school, schools can refer families to the Department’s website and website. Schools could consider engaging families via their website, social media, newsletters, emails or information packs.
- Schools providing opportunities for families of new prep students to connect with each other through virtual forums or other avenues. ‘First-time’ families might find this especially helpful.
- Schools offering buddy programs to help improve children’s adjustment and engagement with school.
In 2020, transition programs will likely need to be adapted to align with current health advice and the needs of the local community. While it will be reasonable for some transitions activities to be hosted virtually, schools should consider equitable access in preparing transition to school activities and where possible, plan for supplementary face to face activities that could occur when restrictions have been lifted.
Online professional learning for school staff will be available this year to support transition to school. This will include information on the importance of an effective transition to school and adapting existing transition programs in a time of COVID-19.
Preparing for school in 2021
Schools will need to be prepared to adapt their programs in 2021. Given COVID-19 response related disruptions, children’s learning at kindergarten in 2020 will have looked different and schools may not have as many opportunities as usual to build familiarity with children and their families transitioning to school.
It may take extra time to establish routines for schools, children and their families. It’s important that everyone involved is aware of this.
Schools can prepare to support their prep cohort and their families by:
- developing and communicating a community-level transitions program to support community awareness of planned activities
- identifying transition coordinators, or other recognised staff, responsible for developing and managing transition processes
- actively engaging families early and regularly during a child’s transition to school to build their familiarity with the school setting
- planning for each child’s transition now, to support continuity of learning in 2021.
Having a child starting school can make some families anxious and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may mean that families will need extra reassurance. It is important that families worried their child might not be ready for school know that schools welcome and support children at different stages in their growth and no matter what experiences children have had in their kindergarten year, they will have developed a range of skills and abilities that form the basis for further learning and teaching.
As there will be less opportunity for face to face communication with families, schools should think about how they can reinforce this message to families. This could include:
- increasing your normal communications and providing FAQs
- accessing translation services and reaching out to families, refer to Interpreting and Translation Services
- using a community liaison agency in your network, or parent volunteers if suitable.
Kindergartens may experience more requests from families this year for a . Advice to kindergartens is that requests for a second year of funded kindergarten should not be based on missed on-site or learning from home program time. A second year of funded four-year-old kindergarten should only be considered where the kindergarten program is deemed to be the most appropriate learning program and environment for the child given their developmental status, and that the child will achieve better outcomes at kindergarten than if they go to school.
It is important to remind families that schools are flexible, adaptable and responsive to children, and will be considering how they meet children’s needs in their prep year in 2021 given COVID-19 related disruptions.
In addition, schools may wish to write to their feeder ECEC services to reassure early childhood teachers and families that schools are ready for the 2021 cohort of preps. A (login required) which can be adapted by each school is available for schools to use.
The start of the prep year
Despite COVID-19 disruptions in 2020, many families are engaging with kindergarten programs either on-site, through learning from home, or a mix of both. However, there will be children in the 2021 prep cohort that have not participated fully in their kindergarten year. While families have been able to access many resources to support learning from home, children will have had fewer opportunities for play-based learning with peers.
We know that play-based learning in the early school years is important to help a child’s social and emotional development and wellbeing. Children can learn and perform better when they engage in both unstructured and structured learning. Including play-based learning opportunities in the early years of school can support children’s continuity of learning through supporting them to adjust to their new school setting, and to build relationships and understanding.
Schools should consider adopting a more flexible approach in the classroom to help their prep cohorts ease into school. Some ideas and material to support this include:
- providing opportunities for play-based learning in the classroom as children adapt to the school environment
- building in frequent brain breaks and recess
- using the to help children in their emotional and social development
- using the to better support children in Prep, more information on the VEYLDF and how it can be used by prep teachers is available on the Department’s website.
Reviewed 08 February 2021