Thriving in the first year of school depends on good transition, researchers say
The way in which children transition from early learning to the first year of school is an important part of future success, a new study from Ohio State University has found.
Children who make successful transitions in the first term of school scored higher on academic and social/behavioural assessments at the end of the school year.
Markers of a successful transition experience include:
- Making new friends
- Learning to work with others
- Adapting to academic demands
“Transition difficulties hurt children’s development, regardless of the initial readiness skills that they entered with,” lead author Dr Jing Sun explained.
“Even those who are most ready for school will be affected if they encounter difficulties in the transition.”
These findings are important because a recent Ohio State study suggests that up to 70 per cent of kindergartners struggle with some kind of difficulty during their transition, Dr Sun added.
To reach their findings the researchers looked at 626 kindergarten students in 64 classrooms across 15 schools in one large district in Ohio as part of a larger project, called Early Learning Ohio, that examines children’s learning, achievement and social development during the first five years of schooling.
Between 10-14 weeks into the school year, teachers rated each child’s difficulty transitioning to the classroom. Children were rated in five areas:
- making friends,
- working within groups,
- being organized, and;
- following schedule and routine.
The kindergarten students also completed assessments of their math, reading and social-behavioural skills at the beginning and end of the year.
Results showed that children who scored best on the academic and social-behavioral assessments at the beginning of the year – a sign of kindergarten readiness – were less likely than others to have transition difficulties.
“That is probably not surprising, because children with lower levels of these skills may experience more challenges in the classroom,” Dr Sun said.
Researchers also found that children who experienced fewer transition difficulties at the beginning of kindergarten demonstrated relatively more gains in math, reading and social-behavioural skills at the end of kindergarten, even when taking into account their kindergarten readiness skills and other factors that could play a role in skill development.
In turn, transition difficulties influenced development across the year for all children, regardless of their initial readiness skills.
Why is the transition into school so important?
Children with transition difficulties may face more disruptions in making connections with teachers and peers – the people who can support them and help promote their learning and social development, Dr Sun explained.
“Without that support, it makes it difficult for them to benefit from the classroom environment, even if they were prepared coming in,” she said.
The results suggest that there needs to be more communication and connections between early learning settings, school teachers and parents, Dr Sun continued.
“We need to make sure that preschool and kindergarten instruction is more aligned,” she said. “There’s a drastic change between the two that some children have difficulty coping with.”
As well as improving the connection between early learning settings and school, Dr Sun recommends schools to develop interventions to help children having difficulty adjusting to school life.
“Interventions for children with transition difficulties will not only help them, but it could also lessen disruptions in classroom learning that hurt all students,” she said.
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