Helping Children Transition to New Environments
Published on: May 06, 2020
Transitions into new environments are challenging for adults and children alike. Experienced international educator Karen O’Neill shares tips for parents to support their children through transitions.
By Karen O’Neill
How do we support and prepare our children to leave the comfort and security of their parents, caregivers, and home environment to start early years, kindergarten, or school, sometimes in a new country?
Moving into a new environment is a time of change and adaptation for children, their families, and teachers. This time of change is commonly referred to as a transition.
Research has shown that by developing respectful, trusting, and supporting relationships with our children and helping them prepare for the move, we can support them for a smooth transition.
Whilst most children make the transition into school with little or no support, for some children, this transition can be associated with anxiety, uncertainty, and confusion.
Transition is not a one-off event. It is not complete at the end of the first day of early years, kindergarten, or school. It is a process that occurs over time and can be different for each child.
Children who are supported in managing change build resilience as they develop skills and strategies through moving between contexts.
Some examples of transitions in the early years include
- Enrolling and participating in an early-education setting for the first time
- Moving between the different groups in the early years
- Changing from one setting to another; for example, leaving one early-education setting to go to another
- Entering a new group; for example, from the 2-year-old to the 3-year-old group or from early years to Grade 1
Remember that each child is unique and each child will respond differently. Some may be excited, some might be anxious, and some might take it in a stride.
Here are some strategies that you can use to support and prepare your child:
- If possible, visit the school with your child before they start. Ask to meet and get permission to take photos of key people who will be involved in your child’s transition. Make a book of photos and information which they can refer to, as this can help relieve anxieties. Alternatively, contact the school to send photos if you cannot arrange a face-to-face visit.
- Mark the starting date on the calendar and do a countdown with your child by marking the days and talking positively about the first day to create excitement.
- Involve them in shopping for school items such as a backpack, lunchbox, water bottle, etc.
- Be positive about the transition. When the big day comes, smile (even though it may be very emotional for you), drop them off, and go. Some schools will have an area for parents, where you can meet other parents and shed a tear or two over coffee. Talking with other parents may help you with this transition.
Families transitioning from another country have added complexities. According to Mihal Greener’s article in Essential Kids, “Helping children to transition overseas,” you can support a smooth transition by giving children the time to say farewells. Have them make a book with photos of their old school, their friends, and their favorite places in the country they are about to leave.
Include, where possible, age-appropriate ways to involve your children in the moving process. Often, as parents, we try to shield and protect our kids, but including them gives them time to mentally prepare themselves for the move.
Have older children help you choose the house that you will live in or the school that they will join. Let them sort out what they want to take. These can assist them in the transition.
While moving with children has its challenges, many parents and experts suggest certain things can make the transition easier. The following is a list from Mihal Greener’s article:
- Emphasize the positives and be enthusiastic about the move.
- For younger children, giving them a few weeks advance notice of the move is fine; older children can be told 3-12 months ahead.
- Give children the opportunity to say a proper farewell.
- Find age-appropriate ways to involve children in the moving process.
- Highlight the benefits your new location has to offer.
- Make sure children have something tangible from their old home to hold on to.
- Try to time the move to coincide with breaks in the school year.
- Sea and air freight can take months to arrive, so keep a few comforting items in hand luggage and suitcases.
- Stick to a familiar routine wherever you are in the world.
- Don’t try to do too much too soon when you arrive at your new home. Have quiet weekends with lots of family time.
- Maintain a routine and a sense of normalcy in the lead up to a move.
- Keep talking with your kids and be honest about your own feelings.
- “Transitions in early learning,” New Zealand Ministry of Education
- “Resource Kit: Transition—A positive start to school,” Department of Education and Training, State of Victoria, Australia
- Mihal Greener, “Helping children transition to a new home overseas,” Essential Kids
About the Author
Karen O’Neill is from Australia and is the Lower Loop (Early Years 2-Grade 4) Leader at VERSO International School, where she facilitates a team of educators in designing and implementing the unique learning experiences at the school, scheduled to open in Bangkok in August 2020. Karen received her diploma in teaching in Queensland, has a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in learning management. She has 30+ years of experience teaching kindergarteners to seventh graders, including 20 years of leadership across Australia, Japan, and Thailand. When not in the classroom, Karen is learning how to dance flamenco and wants to learn surfing.
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