Viewpoints and Findings from the REL Mid-Atlantic
Preparing for the New School Year: Three Ways to Ease Transitions for Young Learners
By Jennifer Tippins and Jaimie Orland
Summer forms the bridge between one school year and the next. For children going into kindergarten or first grade, the transition represents a milestone worth celebrating and preparing for, but it also involves big changes that can be emotionally unsettling for young kids. We know from prior studies that poor transition experiences can negatively affect a child's academic achievement, social-emotional competence, and behavior. Efforts to support children's positive transitions, however, can strengthen early success.
As schools return to in-person instruction this fall after an unusual and challenging year, supporting these transitions is particularly important for young learners. Based on the research in this area, REL Mid-Atlantic has identified three ways that states, districts, and schools can promote successful early grade transitions.
1. Encourage educators to collaborate across the transition
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the variability of children's experiences with school increased. Some had little to no exposure to a classroom or interactions with other children, and others experienced a mix of in-person, hybrid, or remote learning in pre-K and kindergarten. In addition, COVID-19 limited the administration of entry assessments and surveys that could shed light on incoming children's abilities and needs.
Educators can increase their collaboration to address these challenges by sharing data and information about each child's learning and development. Although it might be challenging for principals and teachers to build relationships with early childhood educators to share information on incoming kindergarteners or first grade students, doing so can help smooth young students' transitions. Teachers can meet with early childhood educators to learn about individual children's developmental progress and the pre-K curriculum. Districts and schools, with support from states or intermediary agencies, can work with major local pre-K and early childhood providers to learn about individual children. This could involve using an electronic data system to share assessments or progress reports and could require time to request parent and information-sharing permissions. The Office of Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services has additional resources on this approach.
2. Engage parents and families
Educators and school districts should engage parents and families in the transition process, blending strategies they implemented before the pandemic with new engagement strategies developed during the pandemic that increased family engagement. Offering a variety of communication tools can provide greater flexibility for families and increase their level of comfort at this stage of the pandemic, whether it's through an in-person or virtual transition event over the summer or phone calls or video chats with families before the school year begins. For some parents, video conference technology has made it easier to participate in meetings with teachers and other school staff; schools could continue offering online meetings even after they fully open for in-person instruction.
In the past year, many parents and families have also experienced stress while facilitating their children's learning at home. Educators and school districts should consider ways to alleviate this pressure in their early interactions with families—even just acknowledging it can make a difference.
3. Prepare children emotionally for transitions
The COVID-19 pandemic amplified an existing need for social-emotional support and trauma-informed practices. Children need support on an emotional level to prepare and adjust to new settings and expectations.
To support social-emotional learning and resilience, educators can include these topics as part of a comprehensive curriculum or integrate them into daily routines. For example, teachers can discuss feelings or engage young students in calming exercises. School counselors and social workers can also support these efforts.
It is important to help children feel comfortable and confident in a new environment in a way that dovetails with their diverse needs and experiences. To help students ease into these changes, schools can set up in-person or virtual tours of the school and classroom. Schools can welcome children in stages by scheduling individual and small group visits before meeting as a whole class.1 Educators can also make classrooms as inviting as possible when teaching in person by, for example, creating designated spaces for each child to gather their personal things to remind them of home and their family. Sharing these activities helps children get to know each other.
For more information on this topic, read the REL Mid-Atlantic fact sheet, Supporting School Transitions for Young Learners: Considerations in the Era of COVID-19 and Beyond.
Berlin, L., Dunning, R., & Dodge, K. (2011). Enhancing the transition to kindergarten: A randomized trial to test the efficacy of the "Stars" summer kindergarten orientation program. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 26, 247–254. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2010.07.004
Franchino, E. (2020, September 14). Kindergarten entry assessments during covid-19: how are
states adapting? New America Blog Post. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/kindergarten-entry-assessments-during-covid-19-how-are-states-adapting/.
Hindman, A. H., Skibbe, L. E., & Morrison, F. J. (2013). Teacher outreach to families across the transition to school: An examination of teachers' practices and their unique contributions to children's early academic outcomes. Early Childhood Education Journal, 41, 391–399. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10643-010-0410-4
LoCasale-Crouch, J., Mashburn, A. J., Downer, J. T., & Pianta, R. C. (2008). Pre-kindergarten teachers' use of transition practices and children's adjustment to kindergarten. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 23, 124–139.
Loewenberg, A., & Bornfreund, L. (2020, July 24). Supporting smooth transitions into kindergarten during the COVID-19 pandemic. New America Blog Post. https://www.newamerica.org/education-policy/edcentral/supporting-smooth-transitions-kindergarten-during-covid-19-pandemic
Powell, D., Son, S., File, N., & Juan, R. (2010). Parent-school relationships and children's academic and social outcomes in public school pre-kindergarten. Journal of School Psychology, 48, 269–293. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2010.03.002
Reynolds, A. J., & Temple, J. A. (1998). Extended early childhood interventions and school achievement: Age thirteen findings from the Chicago LongitudinalStudy. Child Development, 69(1), 231–246. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1998.tb06145.x
Schulting, A. B., Malone, P. S., & Dodge, K. A. (2005). The effect of school-based kindergarten transition policies and practiceson child academic outcomes. Developmental Psychology, 41(6), 860–871. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757260/pdf/nihms-143120.pdf
1 There is little rigorous evidence on how to engage students remotely. The promising strategies are mostly practices that educators perceived to be effective.