Starting primary school
Thousands of children start school in Australia every year. For many children the start to their school career is positive and exciting. For others it is challenging and disconcerting. For all children, it represents a change in their role, status and position within the community and a change in the experiences that are accessible to them. The families and educators involved in the transition to school also experience a mix of emotions as the move to school marks a change in the ways people connect with and relate to each other. Increasingly, there is evidence that a positive start to school sets children up for continued positive educational experiences and future life opportunities.
Since 1997, the authors have led extensive and comprehensive research into what is important for all the stakeholders as children start school. This research has resulted in numerous publications and has influenced transition to school programs in Australia and overseas. In particular, it has resulted in four books, which are referenced at the end of this article. While most of this article is adapted from the latest of these books, Transitions to School: Perceptions, Expectations, Experiences, the information is drawn from our overall research.
In this brief article, we highlight just two aspects about transition to primary school: guidelines for effective transition to school programs, and readiness for school.
Guidelines for Effective Transition to School Programs
From our research, we have developed a set of Guidelines for Effective Transition to School Programs, which argue that such programs:
These guidelines have provided an important starting point for conversations with communities, families, educators and children about what it is like to start school and what is important in the transition to school, and then to consider ways in which that can be translated into practice. The guidelines also provide a clear link between research, policy and practice. In adopting these guidelines, organisations, systems and individuals commit to a view of transition as a process with multiple participants and multiple perspectives.
Readiness for school
The notion of readiness still dominates much of the popular discussion, as well as the research base, around transition to school. Readiness means different things for different people, yet almost always there is a perception that readiness for school involves some assessment of the characteristics of individual children against some set of standard expectations or desirable attributes.
Our work suggests that there are several aspects of readiness for school.
Children’s readiness for school
Five dimensions of children’s readiness have been identified (Kagan, Moore & Bredkamp, 1995):
Readiness assessments across these components are commonly used during transition to school programs. Not surprisingly, in any group of children starting school at a particular time, there can be quite large differences across these developmental areas. In spite of this, it is important to note that other factors – including what happens at school – account for the majority of variance after two to three years at school.
Schools’ readiness for children
Three characteristics of ‘ready schools’ have been delineated by Ackerman & Barnett (2005).
In short, ‘ready schools’ are environments that are flexible and adaptable, responsive to the children attending, facilitative of family engagement, guided by strong leadership and with positive relationships with local prior-to-school settings and the broader community.
Family and community supports and services
Children starting school live in families and in communities. Aspects of this component of school readiness include the following:
School readiness is a complex issue. It is much more than a set of skills children bring with them to school; it is essentially a relational concept. The school is an important part of the mix. A child could well be ready for one school and not another, depending on the nature of the school environment itself.
For many children the start to their school career is positive and exciting. For others it is challenging and disconcerting. For all children, it represents a change in their role, status and position within the community and a change in the experiences that are accessible to them. The families and educators involved in the transition to school also experience a mix of emotions as the move to school marks a change in the ways people connect with and relate to each other. By reconsidering what it means for everyone involved to be ‘ready’ to start school and by applying the relationship-based Guidelines for Effective Transition to School Programs, many schools and their communities have enhanced their transition to school processes, to the benefit of all involved.
Ackerman, DJ & Barnett, WS 2005, Prepared for Kindergarten: What does 'readiness' mean? National Institute for Early Education Research Policy Report. Available online: http://nieer.org/resources/policyreports/report5.pdf
Dockett, S & Perry, B (eds) 2001, Beginning School Together: Sharing Strengths, Australian Early Childhood Association, Canberra.
School Research Project (Dockett & Perry, 2001)
Dockett, S, & Perry, B 2001, Guidelines for Effective Transition to School Programs, Starting School Research Project.
Dockett, S & Perry, B 2006, Starting School: A Handbook for Educators, Pademelon Press, Sydney.
Dockett, S & Perry, B 2007, Transitions to School: Perceptions, Expectations, Experiences, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney.
Kagan, SL, Moore, E & Bredekamp, S 1995, Reconsidering children’s early development and learning: Toward common views and vocabulary, National Education Goals Panel, Goal 1 Technical Planning Group, Washington, DC.
Perry, B & Dockett, S 2006, Our Family Is Starting School: A Handbook for Parents and Carers, Pademelon Press, Sydney.
Subject HeadingsTransitions in schooling
Early childhood education