Orientation and Transitions & ECEC – respecting the child in the process
Starting something new is, for the most part, always a little daunting. Whether you are an adult or a child or somewhere in between. New faces, surroundings, smells and expectations can all combine to leave us wanting to turn on our heels and head south.
But sometimes we don’t have a choice. I think as adults, we have all experienced the moment where we have had to suck it up, draw on some inner strength, and proceed into the unknown, whether we want to or not.
We know that transitions into new early years settings can be at best emotional & at worst traumatic, for both parent and child. Having been witness to many of these moments, it can be hard to reconcile that not all were handled with the child’s best interest at heart. Sometimes there was no settling in period and it was emotional for everyone involved, but that’s the way it had to be. Others involved a great deal of planning and strategizing and time was on our side.
As a profession, we are lucky now in that we have a plethora of information available at our finger tips on how to provide responsive, sensitive transitions into a new program, be it toddlers, kindy or the first years of school.
Key to these successful transitions are:
• Where ever possible (and it could be a part of your policy) is that there is/are required orientation & transition visits for families to agree to – wherever possible. It’s an ‘opt out’ notion, not an ‘opt in’.
• Encourage Mum or Dad (or the primary caregiver) to stay with the child on the first few visits. Make their role active, not passive. Ask them to invite the child to eat with the group, participate in activities with other children, play alongside them in experiences and in conversations with other children.
• Provide information to the primary caregiver on child development and how children may experience new spaces. That it is natural that children will be upset until they settle, feel they belong and build relationships with key people within the new environment.
• Assign a key person to the child. This is often called a primary caregiver, or key educator. It is this educator’s role to provide all of the daily care routines for the child, building a relationship of trust, security and respect.
• Allow transitional objects – objects from home that provide a sense of warmth, security, familiarity and autonomy for the child. These objects can provide comfort in times of distress, anxiety or uncertainty. For older children, you can introduce the notion of taking care of these items and responsibility, and talk to parents about the reality of transitional objects in early years settings “(that yes, sometimes they do get lost, but we will always try our hardest to keep them safe).
Transition times can be fraught with anxiety, but they are also times of high excitement and opportunity.
But it’s also important to remember what it is like to start something new…where you knew nobody…empathy and understanding has an important place at the heart of transitions.