Preschool and Kindergarten are certainly different worlds for a child.  They go almost overnight from being a big fish in a very small pond to the exact opposite.  And ensuring they are completely prepared for this transition is the best way to minimize the stress and adjustment difficulties that many children experience.

Preschool is an essential foundational year in the life of every child. The purpose of the preschool year is to transition each child from a heavy reliance on their parents to a degree of independence and social skills that is necessary to enter the schooling environment.

By the end of your child’s preschool experience, we aim for them to have accumulated a sense of self-confidence, resilience, patience and the ability to play well with their fellow children.

We aim to ensure that, on their first day of Kindergarten, you can be confident that they will be able to adapt and cope with their new, much larger, formal schooling environment.

We want to support you in transitioning your child to Kindergarten and ensuring that they are as ready as they can be to cope with a change that, for some children, can seem quite intimidating.

However, if you have any doubts as to your child’s ability to move up to kindergarten, you should raise them with their preschool teacher. As the person who spends the most time with them in the learning environment, they are best placed to advise you on the decision to either move up or remain in preschool for one year longer.

There is certainly no shame in the latter.

Children, especially at preschool age, develop at different rates and learn skills in different ways. As teachers, we endeavor to adapt our teaching to each child’s needs, which helps them to develop their skills as efficiently as possible. However, it is central to the interests of your child that you make sure they are ready to move up – and don’t simply assume they will move up because other children their age are doing so.

But rest easy; most children do settle quite happily into school. It is only natural that you have reservations and concerns – we all want our child to settle in smoothly, make lots of friends and do well. And most do.

In the transition to Kindergarten, preparedness is key; the best prepared children are the ones who find the transition to be the smoothest.

Children develop at different rates and a child’s STAGE is more important than their AGE!

What the child is is so much more important than what they know. Personal and social skills are of the utmost importance – if a child is independent and self-confident, with a positive self-image, they will be well set up for success in the first year of school.

The Journey to the ‘Big School’ – The 5 Factor Readiness Program

The transition to Kindergarten is about a lot more than just the children or even their families. Every year, the incoming children represent an investment in the future of their Kindergarten, the schools they will eventually attend and the community they will enter as adults – ultimately, to lead.

The investment we make in the successful and holistic education of our children will pay off in the future – and laying a solid foundation for the first year of formal schooling is the very beginning of this process.

It is in this context that I talk about the ‘5 Factors’ of Kindergarten Readiness (Kagan & Rigby, 2003).

At its core, this approach is simply about ensuring that all the stakeholders in the successful education of the children are involved and in place to support each incoming cohort.

The 5 Factors of Readiness:

Ready School +

Ready Families +

Ready Communities +

Ready Early Childhood Services =

Ready Children

Why is this approach important? A transition to school is not just about the child and not even just about the child and the school. As one child transitions to school, they also transition away from a host of other people and things. They transition away from you, their caregiver; their preschool, some of their friends and the comfort of the early childhood environment.

In practice, it will mean they are often transitioning from small-scale environments to larger-scale learning environments, from highly personalized relationships to less one-on-one attention, and from a small range of ages to a much broader range. Further, Kindergarten is where the focus of their education changes most significantly in a short space of time.

Studies have shown that the richness of relationships and experiences that a child takes with them into the Kindergarten year are directly correlated with their expectation of academic success. And it is those relationships that are formed with some of these other stakeholders mentioned above; primarily the community and the families, who can be the difference between a well-rounded, emotionally connected and supported child and an alienated, distant, insecure child.

So while it is clear that children who arrive at Kindergarten already with a richness of experiences behind them are likely to find the transition less difficult – and ultimately, experience stronger outcomes – it is incumbent upon the other stakeholders, early childhood services and the school, to support the child and the family to close this gap as far as possible before they arrive for their first day of Kindergarten.

This part is crucial, because research has also indicated that later attempts to help the child ‘catch up’ do not adequately compensate for a lack of readiness in the first place. Not for all children will this hold true, but in the main, starting from behind means a child will struggle to keep up for far longer than just the Kindergarten year.

Breaking it down:

Ready School:

This criterion relates to the critical elements of being at school that can influence a child’s development and, ultimately, their academic and social success.

For instance, it can encompass factors including:

– Links with early childhood services

– Transition support programs for the incoming students (including one-on-one support where required

– A range of other programs and support to cater to children with diverse needs throughout the early schooling years

– Teachers with a deep understanding of early childhood development

– The school should work closely with the preschool staff, facilitating a flow of information and ideas – generally as well as specific to particular children.

– The implementation of appropriate policies and procedures, as well as preparations for incoming children with special needs / food allergies, etc.

It is important that a child’s school, the place in which they will spend the most time developing their skills and behaviors, is well set up to support their particular needs.

It also needs to be ready. This includes having a transition/orientation program for the children in place (as well as for the parents), which at a minimum needs to cover the basics, such as showing them around and introducing them to key people whose paths they will cross in the ordinary course of events. The program should also emphasize familiarizing the children, as well as families, with routines in the school and their expectations.

Accordingly, when a parent is undertaking their school selection, it can help to ascertain and appreciate the differences among schools and how their child could benefit from available support services, either offered by the school directly or through an integrated childhood services program.

Ready Families

This is all about the child’s home environment and family ‘context’. We need to account for the fact that there will exist enormous differences in resources (both time and financial), available emotional support, attitudes to learning and education and general parenting skills and interest.

While we do our best as teachers to support the children during the school hours, we also need to lend our support and expertise to helping families prepare themselves, as well as their children, for the transition to the big school.

In practice, this will mean communicating clearly our expectations of the level of family involvement and support in their child’s learning – well in advance of the move the Kindergarten – as well as more practical, ‘hands on’ advice.

This could take the form of, for instance, helping families to provide responsive care, in support of their child’s personal and academic development. This can be achieved through setting appropriate learning experiences for their children and setting expectations of the completion of extension activities at home with their parents.

In addition, we need to strongly encourage the involvement of parents and families in ‘transition to school’ activities, like orientation meetings, to ensure they are fully informed of the services and support networks available to them.

Information gathering from parents about their child (in the form of a questionnaire or discussion) can also be very useful for the school; the usefulness of this information, however, will depend on the parents’ level of engagement (are they there every day and actively involved in the school community? If so, they probably have a better understanding of what is involved in the transition to Kindergarten).

We also need to be alert to signs that all is not well within families and where they might benefit from additional support, either through interventions by their teacher or available community services.

Not all parents, unfortunately, understand or emphasize the importance of educating their children. So in situations like this it can be incumbent upon us to help educate the parents, too. I don’t believe it is ever the case that parents don’t want their child to achieve; it’s just that they need practical help and guidance to be able to engage confidently with their child’s education. That makes all the difference.

Children pick up negative cues from their parent – if a parent is not fully informed and confident to embrace the changes ahead, child will not be ready.

Ready Communities

The community is the backbone of every Preschool, as well as every Kindergarten. Without the support given to us by our communities within our school and local area, we would simply not be able to deliver the same high standard of learning experiences to the children that we want to and that they deserve. From excursions, to donations, to involvement in class activities, our communities are always willing to volunteer and put in a lot of effort to help us create high value experiences that benefit the children.

So when we talk about ‘ready communities’, we are really referring to the support networks, both formal and informal, that sprout up around our children’s early childhood education and which assist not only our children and our schools, but also our families when they can use a helping hand. Communities are an appreciation that we all have a stake in the success of the next generation.

Examples of informal resources for families include mothers’ groups, social networking opportunities for parents and children to meet in a friendly, supportive environment as well as creating opportunities for children to socialize in a safe, family friendly context, such as in parks, with adequate supervision in place.

Formal resources would entail places like libraries, which can run programs to help childhood literacy as well as school holiday activities to help give parents some temporary reprieve. In addition, there are the ancillary services that support families and their children to be able to attend school, such as health centers.

Children whose families have ready access to these kinds of resources within a community are proven to demonstrate better ultimate educational outcomes than the unfortunate children who lack access to such support.

A good starting point can be to look to the outside community – individuals and groups the child already knows and is involved with – for support. For example, perhaps the family is a member of a church; this is an extremely strong support network that will be tremendously helpful in supporting the child’s journey in practical ways.

There are also a number of community organizations that exist to help children with particular needs. Parents derive greater confidence in their child’s ability to start school from knowing that their child has participated in a regular community activity. Recommend any you know that might be suitable and help them on their journey, as well as connections they might usefully make with other families for support.

One final resource that can help is any relevant family agency with which the child’s parents have contact; often, these agencies assist the development of parenting skills, for example. These organizations can have a lot to contribute to the knowledge pool in terms of their own understanding of the family and the information they have gathered over the course of their involvement. Generally speaking, the families are happy to pass this information on to the school in order to assist their child to have an easier time when they start.

Ready Early Childhood Services

The last piece of the puzzle is the availability of high-quality, affordable programs and services that positively support the development of children and assist their development and overall school readiness, both directly and in an indirect way.

For instance, it’s important to consider the role played by quality preschool education and child care, as well as the strength of links to ancillary services that can facilitate the monitoring of children’s progress and intervention if required. Ensuring strong relationships and connections between the preschool, school, families and childhood services is the best way to ensure continuity, consistency and strength in childhood developmental outcomes, especially for children at risk of being left behind.

One practical way of achieving this is setting up a program that allows the children to meet the current Kindergarten children regularly (I like every two weeks) during the Preschool year. This can start as early as you like; it permits the development of ‘buddy’ relationships and demystifies the idea of the big school a little bit. In a lot of cases, it gets them excited about all the things they will get to do once they graduate from Preschool.

Another resources that has assisted me, though not all Preschools utilize them, is ‘Transition to School Statements’. Essentially, this is a document that we generate for each child for the families to take with them when they start Kindergarten.

The content of the document includes information on the background of the child, their own individual tastes, preferences, interests, strengths and weaknesses in the Preschool environment and other relevant information, such as allergies or family makeup (siblings, etc.). We usually would also include a page for the family of the child to complete, to ensure everybody is involved in the process. This information is solid gold for the school to which the child is transitioning and allows them to be as prepared as they possibly can be.

How can the child’s preschool and school help?

The key to success is the implementation of programs that will provide all children with high quality educational experiences. Of course, this is especially the case for children who you have identified as being at risk of not being properly prepared to start school as a result of their disadvantage or limited community resources or support.

Another way to assist can be to facilitate meet ups and connections between parents, by providing a family friendly atmosphere geared towards mutually supportive relationships. You can further support these endeavors by providing families with appropriate learning resources and experiences to enjoy outside of school hours. Sometimes, a little bit of inspiration is all it takes to make a big difference in a child’s home life.

Help create opportunities for participation in early childhood programs, including school holiday programs, to get the children better connected with the school and broader communities.

Help strengthen links between the school and the incoming families before, during and after a child’s transition to Kindergarten.

Another important thing we can do is to facilitate strong relationships and connections between schools and early childhood services, to ensure the continuity of care and the ability to jointly plan transition support activities.

These links are crucial for ensuring the continuity of monitoring for individual children, as well as ensuring a minimum of disruption to the children under their existing care plans. Accordingly, if adequately included, the case workers can assist by facilitating the transfer of knowledge about the circumstances, interests and particular needs of individual children and their families.

Continuity and consistency are crucial factors in success at school; we can all work together to ensure as much stability as possible. To this end, if applicable it is also crucial to establish integrated service networks, connecting early childhood programs with other family services, both of a general and specialized nature.

If you are confident that your children have in place the above four part support network, and everyone is ready for the start of the year, then you can be confident that your children have the best chance of a successful start to their schooling careers.

Naturally, all of this preparedness needs to be supported by a strong plan for the environments in which the children spend most of their time learning and developing their skills and behaviors. We need to ensure that, both at home and at school, children are exposed to the full range of activities, including being read to extensively; reading has time again been demonstrated to be one of the most impactful activities for preparing children for the commencement of school.

Finally, I suggest bringing the parents in towards the end of the year for a quick meeting to ensure they have properly prepared their child; we typically just go down the list of things they should have considered (e.g. uniforms, enrollment, paperwork, lunch box) and pointing them to relevant resources as required. This is a really practical step that helps put their mind at ease and reassures them that there’s nothing major they have neglected to remember. It’s a daunting process for the children, to be sure; but it’s no cake walk for the parents either – especially the first time around!