Managing Transitions in Early Years

Research suggests that transitions are central to young children’s development and emotional wellbeing, and the way in which the first transitions are handled could have a significant impact on the child’s capacity to cope with change in the short and long term.

Early years practitioners should ensure children are fully supported through these key transitions and plan for them appropriately, says Elizabeth Walker, Lead Commentator with Wolters Kluwer’s Croner-i Early Years.


Moving from home to nursery or childminder

Starting at an early years provision or childminder offers exciting opportunities as well as challenges, and this transition needs to be managed sensitively and effectively. When a child leaves the home environment for the first time it can be an anxious and emotional time for the whole family.

The principle of well-planned transitions and of working with parents to ensure that children’s needs are met appropriately is embedded within the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Transition should be viewed as a process rather than a single event and children, practitioners and parents should all be involved in the process.

Practitioners need to develop policies and procedures to ensure that they support children to make smooth and successful transitions. The following checklist includes the key areas that providers should consider when they are developing transition policy and procedures.

  • Evaluate communication and correspondence with new parents, ensuring information is clear and welcoming.
  • Develop a clear settling-in policy and share it with parents.
  • Offer parents a welcome pack with photos of the staff and the provision.
  • Hold story times or drop-in sessions so new families can get to know the provision before their child starts.
  • Ask parents for as much information as possible about their child including their feeding, sleeping and changing routines so individual needs can be planned for.
  • Organise home visits and introduce the child’s key worker.
  • Use photographs of children (taken with parental permission) for labels and in welcoming displays.
  • Offer staggered admissions.
  • Invite parents to stay with the child as they adjust to the new environment.
  • Encourage children to bring a familiar object from home, such as a teddy or blanket.
  • Access and read all incoming information on individual children.
  • Highlight and brief all staff on those children who may be vulnerable and/or have special educational needs.
  • Liaise with outside health/education/social service professionals who may be involved with particular children.
  • Review how each child is settling in on a daily basis with parents/key worker and use a settling-in diary.
  • Respond sensitively to parents’ anxieties.
  • Have a planned review or parents’ evening to assess how the child is settling in.
  • Have a parallel procedure for children who start in the middle of terms or at other times.
  • Make provision for parents with English as an additional language or those with poor literacy skills.
  • Ensure experiences are provided which reflect children’s home life and culture.
  • Meet with staff to review and update transition policies and procedures.

Sometimes a child needs to move to a new nursery or childminder due to a change in circumstances. Staff should support this transition by ensuring that there is good communication and information-sharing with both the family and the new provision.


A transition for a child with special educational needs (SEN) or disability may need additional planning to ensure that it is smooth and successful from the beginning.

It is good practice for early years providers to arrange a meeting to discuss the transition once they have received information about a child’s additional needs. Ideally this should take place in the term before the child is due to start, to enable sufficient time for any plans or support to be put into place.

Parents and any professionals involved with the child should be invited. The provision should plan for any necessary training, resources or adaptations that are required before a child starts.


Moving from room to room within the provision

Practitioners should be aware that even when children are happy and settled it can be a big step for them to move to a new room within the provision with older children or different activities and routines.

Room-to-room transitions also require planning and staff should ensure that children are fully supported in this move. Key points to consider include the following.

  • Introduce a new key person to the child and his or her parents before they move rooms.
  • Organise settling-in sessions in the new room so that children can adjust to the new environment and staff gradually.
  • Consider how a child’s friendships will be affected by moving rooms.
  • Transitional objects such as special teddies or blankets may help the process.


Moving to Reception Class

Starting school is a huge step in any child’s life and staff from both early years provisions and schools need to work together to support families in this transition.

It is important that children and parents are given opportunities to familiarise themselves with the school environment so that they can start building relationships with the key members of staff. Parents and carers need to have clear information about what will be happening in the transition process and how they can support their child.

Practitioners should therefore ensure that there is good communication and information-sharing between themselves and parents prior to a child starting school.

Preparation for the transition should begin early and childcare providers should develop positive relationships with schools to facilitate the process. Good practice involves:

  • identifying a transition co-ordinator to liaise with schools
  • organising visits from school Reception teachers and introducing them to children in their current provision
  • talking to children about starting school and offering opportunities to share their feelings, such as at circle time
  • providing school role-play activities, such as uniform or book bags and reading books about starting school
  • encouraging independence at lunch and snack times
  • encouraging children to develop independence when putting on their coats/shoes and with personal self-care in readiness for starting school
  • providing the new school with children’s records of development, interests, special needs, etc
  • considering the children who are not yet old enough to move to school and how they are feeling about their peers leaving.


Moving from Reception to Year 1

The move from Reception to Year 1 is a key transition in a child’s education, as it is when they move from the EYFS to Key Stage 1 and the start of more formal schooling. This also needs careful planning and preparation, and Reception and Year 1 staff should work together to ensure a smooth transition and continuity.

There is a statutory requirement to complete the EYFS profile for each child at the end of the Reception year. This provides parents and carers, practitioners and teachers with a well-rounded picture of the child’s knowledge, understanding and abilities, their progress against expected levels and their readiness for Year 1.

The profile should be used to support a smooth transition to Key Stage 1 and help Year 1 teachers to plan an effective and appropriate curriculum that will meet the needs of all the children.

Ideas for effective transition practice include the following.

  • Facilitate visits between Reception and Year 1 children.
  • Organise non-contact time for EYFS and Year 1 staff to discuss individual children and data.
  • Communicate clearly with parents and carers about the transition into Year 1.
  • Plan an open evening to introduce new teachers and explain the structure and routines in Year 1.
  • Pair a Reception child with a Year 1 “buddy” to share experiences.
  • Ensure Year 1 practitioners build on the EYFS approach.
  • Provide opportunities for Year 1 children to experience structured play-based activities.


Changes within the family

Children may also have to face changes in their home life which will require additional support from early years practitioners. Other types of transitions that children may experience include separation or divorce of parents, a new sibling, moving house or the death of a family member.

Children going through these transitions may be experiencing a range of emotions or a sense of loss. Staff should work with children and their families to provide a safe environment in which to support the child’s individual needs. Developing a secure attachment with a key worker is essential to supporting transitions. Early years practitioners have an important role to play in supporting children when they are experiencing strong emotional upset. Keeping to familiar routines, such as going to nursery, can help to reduce a child’s anxiety. It is common for children’s play to reflect what is happening around them and this is a healthy response which should be encouraged.

Early years practitioners can support children by:

  • sharing stories about transition or loss appropriate for the child’s age
  • observing children to identify behaviour changes, areas of interest and friendships
  • having puppets and dolls in the role play area for children to use to express themselves
  • allowing children to express their emotions through mark making and painting
  • talking about emotions during circle time.

It is important to remember that some transitions will affect the whole family and parents may also need support. Staff should offer information such as advice line numbers and details of recommended professional bodies in a supportive and professional way.


Further information

  • The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage — Setting the Standards for Learning, Development and Care for Children from Birth to Five, Department for Education (DfE)
  • Seamless Transitions — Supporting Continuity in Young Children’s Learning, DfE
  • Early Childhood Transitions Research: A Review of Concepts, Theory, and Practice, Vogler Pia, Crivello Gina and Woodhead Martin
  • Pre-school Learning Alliance


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