The Secret Sauce to Transitioning to Kindergarten
Written by: Kristin Parisi
I remember when I sent my children to kindergarten how grateful I was that I knew they were in a great place, but yet how nervous I was because I was no longer with them each day. I wondered how they would find their classrooms each morning? Would kids be nice to them on the bus? Would they have someone to eat lunch with? What happens each day in their rooms? I found I had so many questions and was much more anxious than they were. I now find myself reassuring parents their children will be okay as they leave pre-k and head to kindergarten. I am constantly trying to find ways to help students as they make the transition to kindergarten. The transition from an early childhood classroom to kindergarten can be an exciting yet frightening time for a child. How can we help our children with this transition to ensure it is a successful time in their lives?
“It is our responsibility to set each child up for success as they make one transition and then another.”
As early childhood educators, we know successful transitions for our students are critical to their success. Families count on us to help their children transition from preschool to pre-k and to kindergarten as they leave our program. It is our responsibility to set each child up for success as they make one transition and then another. One of the biggest transitions for a child to make is to leave pre-k and head to kindergarten.
This is a time when students and parents can be nervous as they embark on their child’s formal k-12 years. Parents have so many questions about the future for their child and may even bring their own past experiences (good and bad) to the table when thinking about how kindergarten will go for their child. The transition process begins early on during a child’s pre-k year. At Clark-Pleasant Early Learning Center, we take the lead on the transition process from our middle school. This may seem a bit odd, but we wanted to know what they need as they welcome children from 6 elementary schools. Our relationship with their process is the opposite, as we are transitioning children from 1 school into 6 elementary buildings. We started with a list of documents and data points the middle school wanted and built our spreadsheet from there. Transitioning to kindergarten has many different steps. Each step is done with specific goals in mind.
“The transition from an early childhood classroom to kindergarten can be an exciting yet frightening time for a child.”
Step 1 – Identify which elementary school students will attend. Step 2 – Complete the transition spreadsheet to be used to help guide the transition meeting and identify needs of all students. Step 3 – Contact elementary schools to schedule observations. This is a time for the receiving special education staff and admin team to visit our school and get to know their new students. Step 4 – During case conferences for students who access special education services, provisions must be written to end at the end of the pre-k year and then new ones to cover the needs a student might have when kindergarten starts. Ensuring that transportation is set up or removed is also incredibly important. Step 5 – We schedule and hold transition meetings with all 6 elementary schools. During these meetings, we discuss students with the special education team, kindergarten teachers, and school admin team. This is a time when the pre-k staff can share more about a child, including sharing any visuals which have been used with success. We believe the knowledge a teacher has about a student should not stay with that teacher once the student leaves the classroom. Therefore, we intentionally set up a time for the teachers to talk. This is one of the most important steps in our process. Step 6 – Schedule visits for students. During the month of May, we schedule field trips for our pre-k students so they can go to their new school, meet the kindergarten teachers, and spend time in a classroom. Step 7 – And now for the secret sauce! For the first 3 days of the new school year, we send our staff to the elementary schools to help our previous students as they make the great transition to kindergarten. Our focus is always on less structured times of the day. We greet them at the bus, help them find their classrooms, ensure they navigate the cafeteria and playground well, and, in general, help as needed. We walk a fine line, however. We don’t want to be a crutch, and we don’t want to get in the way of the relationship that is being built between the student and their new teacher. However, we also want to make sure the student has a wonderful first day of school. During those first 3 days of kindergarten, we do a gradual release of the students to their new teachers. We start off by spending more time with the student and by the end of the 3 days, we are ready to hand them over completely. During this time, we can also help the new teachers make visual supports for the students. We know what worked in our setting and can recreate those materials in their new setting. When I think about how we can make the transition process better for all students, the number 1 word which comes to my mind is “relationships.” I am truly not sure what helps a parent more than knowing we are going to be with their child as they get off the bus on day 1 of kindergarten. Because we have built strong relationships with our families, they trust we are sending their child off for a successful year!