Twins Nathaniel and Aurora haven’t been at school long, but they love it. Thanks to a smooth transition from kindergarten, the five-year-olds have settled in well to school life at Te Papapa School in Auckland.
Like many parents, their mum Sibylle Heta was a little nervous about her children starting school. The twins were so happy and settled at Oranga Kindergarten that she wasn’t sure how the transition to school would go, especially for Nathaniel.
“I was a little bit worried about my son because he is very clingy – a real mummy’s boy. He’s not very social and I thought ‘he’s going to have problems’, but to my surprise he actually loved it,” says Heta.
Heta puts the twins’ successful move to school down to the kindergarten’s excellent approach to transition.
“Oranga Kindergarten did a great job with the transition to school, with school visits, getting to know the teachers, special learning sessions in little groups, and supporting and encouraging my kids in any way they could, which made their school start so easy.”
Head teacher at Oranga Kindergarten Kylie Bernie says involving the whole family is key to a successful transition from kindergarten to school. She also stresses that transition is not a single event but a process.
“Transition isn’t one moment in time; it’s a timeline of processes about communication,” says Bernie. “It’s about getting everyone’s voices in it and taking it slow and looking and reflecting back on what things worked and what things didn’t. That takes time but it’s worth pursuing and following up so that we can make improvements constantly.”
Bernie and other Auckland Kindergarten Association teachers are pleased to see that their holistic and inclusive approach to transition is now supported by the latest research.
In conjunction with the University of Auckland’s Woolf Fisher Research Centre, teachers from Oranga Kindergarten and Greenhithe Kindergarten have carried out a two-year research project funded by the Teacher-led Innovation Fund through the Ministry of Education. The research aimed to understand the challenges and benefits of transition to school programmes from all perspectives, including the kindergarten teachers, the primary teachers, the parents, and of course, the child.
Bernie says the most important thing she has gleaned from the research is the importance of fostering positive and proactive relationships between parents and primary school teachers and the children.
“The findings confirm that we need to keep having our robust conversations over an extended timeline,” says Bernie. “So not just before a child goes to school – it is the six months before a child goes to school as well as the six months after. Once a child leaves us, that shouldn’t be the end of it; we should still be communicating with the teacher: how did the transition go? How’s that child progressing? Then we can take that information and look at how we can further develop our processes with our existing kindergarten children.”
An important part of these processes involves the children’s input into their own learning and transition journey.
“So they’re really having an active role in their own learning leading up to school because it’s not about what we teach children, it’s how they’re empowered to learn themselves,” says Bernie.
She emphasises that the focus is on building social and emotional skills at this stage.
“It’s more about encouraging the children’s social competencies so that they can listen, take turns, hear another person’s viewpoint – all those things are so much more important than ‘sit down and write your name’,” she says.
“Before they go to school we have a little meeting with the child and they tell us what they would like the teacher and the school to know about them. The parents also get a chance to share that with teachers as well.”
Bernie says involving the parents right from the outset is important. This is echoed by Auckland Kindergarten Association, which puts whānau at the heart of everything it does, encouraging families to be active participants and contributors in their children’s learning journeys.
And thanks to the strong relationships built with local primary schools, this inclusive and holistic approach continues as the children progress to school.
Te Papapa School is a great example of this with its Little Learners programme, which is designed to help children transition from early childhood education to school by involving the whole family over six to eight weeks. The first few weeks are more about play with time in the classroom introduced very gradually.
“Oranga Kindergarten was the first kindy I worked with on the Little Learners idea,” says Te Papapa’s associate principal and head of transition, Jan Scoulding. “They were super keen and happy to trial the idea with me.”
Scoulding is impressed with the kindergarten’s sustained commitment to the transition process, accompanying children to the Little Learners sessions, supporting whānau, and visiting the children once they’ve started school.
“I feel privileged to be able to work alongside the teachers at Oranga Kindergarten. They know what good transition looks like and are committed to that,” she says.
“Having a strong relationship with the setting that students are transitioning into school from is so important. It helps everyone involved to feel connected and provides a warm blanket of love and support as families move from the familiar to the unfamiliar.”
As a result, there are never any first-day tears from children starting school at Te Papapa.
“I can honestly say that we never have any tears from any children who start school in Little Learners,” says Jan. “We get tears from parents because it’s an emotional day but we never get any tears from the children. I think that tells us that it is successful.”