Tips to Make Early Childhood Transitional Programs Work
By Julie Bloss
When students enter early childhood education programs for the first time, transition supports can help them be successful. Plus, engaging parents and helping them feel accepted, appreciated, comfortable is vital.
Transition activities can take different forms. They may include student-led tours of your site and opportunities for parents and students to mingle with staff (popcorn parties or hot dog roasts, for instance). Some schools hold spring and summer activities such as play dates, open library or computer lab times, STEM activities, or a scavenger hunt for families to follow clues to learn about preschool and kindergarten sites.
Here are points for principals to consider when planning transitions for young students.
Content: Many early childhood programs see the value in offering transition programs beyond giving a tour. Transitions often include themes (yes, early childhood educators love a good theme). Schools also sometimes offer creative and innovative opportunities, such as allowing students to practice riding the school bus, sampling school cafeteria food, using school technology, reading books in the school library, visiting the physical education program, the art room and of course the playground. Consider creating and distributing a brochure that brags about the great things your program has to offer students.
Timing. When should transitional activities be offered? Consider when can families in your community can most easily attend. Do transition activities need to offered more than once and at different times to accommodate families’ varying schedules? Some schools offer enrollment either in the spring or fall and couple with it an invitation for transition activities. For example, when parents return their enrollment packets, they can bring their child for a “pre-K or kindergarten roundup” activity. Other schools offer enrollment and transition activities in the fall.
Invitation: How can an early childhood program reach families and encourage attendance? Plan ahead and, when parents enroll their child, invite them to whatever special activities are planned. Invitations should be in multiple formats to be effective. Nothing beats the friendly, personal invitation from school employees. At enrollment, school personnel can simply begin by encouraging parents to engage with whatever communication tools the school uses: a school app, robocalls, social media and website. Use all of these as reminders for your planned events. Have a flier for your activities ready to hand out as well. Remember to tailor your fliers to your audience regarding language, reading level and other needs. Advertise your events in local newspaper and on local radio when available.
Collaboration: Collaboration with other early childcare providers in the learning community is a key component to transitioning students smoothly to the school setting that is often overlooked. Head Start and other early learning center providers can offer the PK-3 Principal a wealth of information. When planning transitioning opportunities, seeking input from early childhood providers outside of the school realm and sharing invitations for involvement promotes a seamless bridge between programs for students and families.
Benefits: Why are transitional opportunities important? The value of hosting transitional activities is extensive. First, welcoming families into the school and making the effort to encourage family engagement begins a positive relationship with each child’s family. Principals can also collect informal, anecdotal information about each child to be used for future reference such as dividing class lists. At transition events, students begin bonding with school personnel and feeling comfortable with their new caretakers, classrooms, and other students. This brings them confidence and excitement for a new year of learning.
Julie Bloss is Principal of Grove Early Childhood Center in Grove, Oklahoma.