Quality transitions from Early Years to Primary School

Posted on 29th Sep 2021 in School News, Belgium, International Schools, Early Years

Alexandra Asofie, of BEPS International School in Belgium, gives a teacher’s view

The importance of the first transitions

One of the most significant transitions in a child’s life is the one from home to an Early Years setting. Whilst parents battle with their emotions, schools do their best to accommodate the young children. They create a safe learning context with nurturing adults who can tend to the individual needs of each child. During this first transition, building a secure environment is of critical importance for successful integration.

After the Early Years journey, a new equally important transition, often less talked about, is that from Early Years to Primary School. Every transition should be thoroughly planned and focused on the child. They must be managed by trained staff who communicate and collaborate with one another and guided by an appropriate and aligned curriculum.

Defining transition

There are many types of transition within a school setting. Leaving the Early Years and moving to Primary School settings may involve changing schools, classrooms, teachers, classmates, curriculum, academic standards, teaching methods, social norms and values, and sometimes new languages. All these changes bring new learning and personal development opportunities, but if not managed properly, they are often a cause for stress and anxiety with long lasting effects on wellbeing and learning.

Focusing on children’s social-emotional development

We know from recent neurological research that the child’s capacity to deal with stress is controlled by a set of interrelated brain circuits and hormone systems that are designed to respond to environmental challenges.

So how can we make sure that we give the best emotional support to all the children that go through this transition?

At BEPS International School, we are lucky enough to have a good proximity between the Early Years and Primary buildings. This enables us to create activities and events through which younger children can become familiar with the Primary building, staff, peers and timetable.

At the end of the school year, teachers split classes for the following year, deciding how children are best grouped. Social and emotional development is one of the pillars of this decision-making process. We look at the positive relationships that each child has built and make sure they continue to benefit from these. Having a friend close by when moving to Primary School will make the settling in process easier.

During the last days of school an important transition event takes place at BEPS: Meet your new teacher and classmates. Ending the school year knowing your future classroom, teacher and peers helps reduce anxiety at the beginning of the following school year.

Our holiday clubs are also open to children who will join BEPS. This is another opportunity for new families to become familiar with our school through activities that take place in school and the neighbouring forest.

But perhaps one of the most helpful ways to help children adapt to Primary is through our own Golden Rules and the IPC Personal Goals. These are the same for all year levels, from Preschool to Year 6. They provide a clear understanding of our core values and behavioural expectations, which makes the transition from one year level to another easier. The Personal Goals help develop those qualities that will enable children in Early Years and Primary School to be at ease with the continually changing context of their lives.

Each month we choose one Golden Rule to focus on and children that are felt to have demonstrated this rule particularly well are awarded a ‘Golden Certificate’.

Quality academic transition

According to OECD, curriculum and pedagogical continuity are equally important for providing a smooth transition from Early Years to Primary. Over the past years, many countries have begun to align or integrate their curricula, ensuring that teaching and learning strategies do not vary too much across Year groups.

Our Primary curriculum, IPC (International Primary Curriculum) is complementary to IEYC (International Early Years Curriculum). They have progressive learning goals and structured learning units. The learning process is also similar, starting with Entry Points, carefully crafted activities to stimulate curiosity and capture previous knowledge and interests and ending with Exit Points, designed to recapture and celebrate the learning that took place throughout the units.

At BEPS, we believe that play and exploration are conducive to learning not only in the Early Years, but well beyond into Primary School. Our curriculum is filled with hands-on activities for all subjects and caters for all learning styles and the needs of the children.

For all its undoubted benefits, free play is equally valued in Early Years as well as in Primary. At BEPS, Year 1 and 2 children enjoy weekly child initiated and led activities. Daily playtime is embedded in the timetable for all Primary classes.

Finally, reports and handover information is essential for successful transitions. Our reports show progress and achievement but also the next developmental steps for each child. This information along with other relevant details such as medical conditions or specific family situations is shared with the new teacher to ensure continuity in learning and overall development of the child.

The role of parents is quintessential in any transition process their child moves through.Having a good relationship with the school, based on efficient communication, honesty and respect can only help the child integrate and succeed.

At BEPS we provide many opportunities for the parents to be involved with the school and their child’s learning: from being part of the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) to attending Entry/Exit Points or coming in as a reading volunteer. Having parents around makes children feel safe, proud and confident.

Curriculum, pedagogy and school guidelines are important ingredients for a successful transition from Early Years to Primary School. However, focusing on creating a safe and secure environment and building positive relationships are equally important catalysts for this process. A clear understanding of what “school ready” means for everyone involved and transparent processes on how the child can be supported provides a strong foundation for quality transition.

This article first appeared in the 2021/22 edition of John Catt's Guide to International Schools, which you can read here: