The first transition to school during a crisis

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FIRST TRANSITION TO SCHOOL DURING A CRISIS:
FAMILIES NEED SUPPORT

Published May 28, 2020


GUEST CONTRIBUTION

By Horizon 0-5’s Chantier montréalais Transition vers l’école and Julie Ruel, associate researcher for the CISSS de l’Outaouais.

Réseau réussite Montréal has asked researchers to discuss various aspects of school perseverance as it relates to the current health crisis. We thank them for contributing to our special section on COVID-19 and educational success

 


A crucial moment | Factors for a successful transition | The effects of the lockdown | Montreal issues | A grassroots approach | Solutions | References | Other resources | About the authors


THIS DETERMINANT WAS DISCUSSED IN A WEBINAR
Watch webinar (French only)

A KEY MOMENT IN A CHILD’S SCHOOLING

The transition to kindergarten is the first in a long series of transitions for a child and their family.

Research has shown that if this initial transition to school goes smoothly, it forms a solid foundation for future transitions. It has a real effect on a child’s motivation and engagement with school.[1]

This first transition to school is a key moment during which the child, family, school, and community adapt to one another. During this period—which begins in the year prior to the child starting school—the needs of the child, family, and host environment must be considered.

This description, inspired by the Guide for Supporting a Successful School Transition [1] focuses on interactions between the child’s various living milieus, interactions that serve as protection factors. It also stresses the importance of planning this transition in consultation with all stakeholders. In addition to supporting the child’s overall development, the transition period should be used to forge ties among the school, children, and their families, assisted by stakeholders working with children and who know them.

The responsibility for creating a holistic process that ensures a successful transition to school therefore falls to all transition stakeholders. [2]

RESEARCH-PROVEN CRITERIA FOR A SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION TO SCHOOL

To foster a successful transition, it is suggested to implement numerous and varied activities aimed at all children and their families. [3] It is also recommended to ensure educational and service continuity for at-risk students or students with special needs. [4]

There are four factors to consider when planning actions aimed at a successful transition to school. [3]

Factor 1

Recognition of parents’ key role
E.g., Have them introduce their child to the school, along with their strengths, qualities, and needs.

Factor 2

Partnership among transition stakeholders
E.g., Take advantage of knowledge about families involved in the transition—knowledge accumulated by the early childhood sector—to adapt transition activities to the realities of children and their parents.

Factor 3

Tailoring transition practices for children with special needs
E.g., Work with all stakeholders who know the child to plan the back-to-school period and provide for the necessary services before school starts.

Factor 4

Favourable conditions for a coordinated, planned, and structured process
E.g., Allow time to plan the transition.

A PIVOTAL PERIOD JEOPARDIZED BY THE LOCKDOWN

School-transition planning this year has been disrupted. The lockdown and social distancing rules have forced the cancellation of transition activities. For instance, communications and activities that usually bring families and the school together, such as “welcome to kindergarten” events typically held in May, did not happen. Other transition stakeholders working with children and their families had to put a halt to their activities or find different ways to provide their services.

During this transition period, an interruption of several months can cause families and indeed all transition stakeholders to lose their bearings.

The lockdown has thus disrupted planning aimed at a successful transition, which can be detrimental to building trust between the child and parents and the school, to the child’s confidence in their abilities, and to parental engagement.

DO CHILDREN IN MONTREAL HAVE MORE OBSTACLES TO
OVERCOME?

According to partners in the field, Montreal-specific issues include population density in combination with social distancing rules.

Families with young children are less likely to take part in outside activities due to fear of infection. This reduces their contact with other families, leading to even greater social isolation. For many families, this isolation is compounded by food insecurity, a lack of computer equipment, and (for allophones) communication barriers.

Currently in Montreal, organizations are concentrating their efforts on meeting the basic needs of families: basic necessities, food baskets, and moral support.

Numerous partners are concerned about implementing first-transition activities. At the same time, Montreal is grappling with challenges related to the lifting of the lockdown, which is the current issue at the moment.

A NETWORK OF PARTNERS CONSTANTLY ADAPTING TO SUPPORT
FAMILIES

These Montreal-specific issues are compounded by the complexity of the situation, not to mention the re-opening of school postponed until September.

Working together is thus more important than ever right now. Beyond the sharing of information, it involves developing a concerted school-transition plan, one that is adapted to the current situation.

One of the priorities is to build trust in the school. To this end, parents need support and resources so that they can reassure themselves and their child.

From this perspective, a grassroots approach is most favourable. This aims to create continuity among the child’s living milieus and the schooling environment, without breaking the bond of trust. This is made more difficult for children who will not be returning to their educational childcare centres before starting school, or for those who do not frequent community organizations. Children with special needs are being considered separately among partners.

It is not too late. How can we use the next three months to maximize our strengths and implement actions that will support the best possible transition given the circumstances? How can we make this transition a milestone in the lives of future students and their families?

SOLUTIONS

Educational, community and institutional stakeholders have begun to adapt their actions. Obviously, any idea must first pass through the filter of social distancing, which is especially difficult to respect for toddlers, who require more reassurance.

Provide educational material and information about resources

Some partners have piggy-backed on the distribution of food baskets to also provide educational material or information about available resources.

Organize a virtual tour

You could organize a virtual tour of the school, or a physical visit to the schoolyard. You could also exchange photographs by email.

In conclusion, in this ever-changing situation, local and regional partners from various Montreal networks are working with renewed commitment not only to find avenues of action but also to move them forward.

This safety net for children and their families will undoubtedly provide the best possible support for a very peculiar first transition to school.

REFERENCES

[1] Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport; ministère de la Famille et des Ainés; ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux, Guide for Supporting a Successful School Transition, 2010.

[2]Ruel, J., A. C. Moreau, A. Bérubé, and J. April,Tous ensemble pour soutenir une première transition scolaire de qualitéGatineau, Québec: Université du Québec en Outaouais, 2016.

[3] Ruel, J., A. C. Moreau, A. Bérubé, and J. April, Les pratiques de transition lors de la rentrée des enfants au préscolaire. Evaluation of the Guide for Supporting a Successful School Transition, final research report. Gatineau, Québec: Université du Québec en Outaouais and Pavillon du Parc, 2015.

[4] Ruel, J. and A. C. Moreau, “La continuité éducative en réponse aux défis de la transition vers le préscolaire d’enfants ayant des besoins particuliers”. Journal of Human Development, Disability, and Social Change. Proceedings of the Colloquium Participation to Education Life, Learnings and Transitions to Adult Life, 2012.

OTHER RESOURCES
FACT SHEETS (IN FRENCH)
PUBLICATIONS
ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Julie Ruel
Associate researcher, CISSS de l’Outaouais
Adjunct professor, Université du Québec en Outaouais

Horizon 0-5’s Chantier montréalais Transition vers l’école

  • Tamara Toro, project manager, Chantier montréalais Transition vers l’école
  • Caroline Schindler, Horizon 0-5 coordinator

The Chantier montréalais Transition vers l’école is part of Horizon 0-5, a regional early childhood consultation authority on the Island of Montreal. Horizon 0-5 is a shared-leadership network engaged in improving the well-being and educational success of Montreal children aged 0 to 5 years by building capacity to act in coordination with local communities across the region.

 


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