with thanks to Carolyn Cousins
The first few weeks of your child commencing at an early childhood centre or kindergarten can be filled with mixed emotions for both children and families. While this can be a time of excitement, new experiences, and joy it can also bring about feeling of separation anxiety, fear and even guilt. These emotions are perfectly normal, so allow yourself to acknowledge your feelings and remember it’s ok to have these emotions.
You have spent time choosing an early childhood centre or kindergarten that makes you feel comfortable and complements the needs of your child and family. You have register for Child Care Subside (CCS) and completed all the paperwork. But how do you support a smooth transition and assist your child to build positive relationships with teachers and educators and develop a sense of belonging within the new early childhood environment?
There are simple actions families can take to support their child’s transition into early childhood or kindergarten and below we have made some suggestions based on decades of experience working with families, children and early childhood teachers.
Suggestions for supporting a smooth transition before commencing at an early childhood centre or kindergarten
Spend time at the centre or kindergarten before you commence. Good quality early childhood centres will usually arrange orientation visits for new families before the first day. This will look different from setting to setting and will depend on the age of your child. A family with an infant or toddler might like to ask about a few short visits where parents and children can spend time together at the early learning centre participating in every day happening and becoming familiar with educators, routines, and the learning environment. Old kindergarten children might have an orientation visit as part of a planned group experience before the school year begins. Both are opportunities for you and your child to begin building positive relationships with teachers and educators and to develop a sense of belonging within the learning environment.
Provide as much information about your child’s health, wellbeing, likes and dislikes as you can. The amount of information you need to provide on enrolment documents and during orientation visits will vary from centre to centre and will depend on the age of your child. Use this as an opportunity to communicate the unique needs, routines and preference of your child. Talk to educators about the things that bring your child joy and comfort, do they have a favourite toy, food or snuggle blanket. The more information educators or teacher have available the better your child’s experience will be. Also, remember to update educators if important information changes or significant events happen in your child’s life.
Read all the orientation documents and please ask questions. I highly recommend reading and referring back to the early childhood centres or kindergartens family handbook, newsletters or other orientation and communication documents and please, don’t be afraid to ask questions. I know we are all busy however, these documents are filled with important information about the centres operations and policies, curriculum planning and philosophy beliefs, as well as details about individual educators and centre happenings.
Talk to your child about the early childhood centre or kindergarten. During the weeks before commencing at a new early childhood centre or kindergarten find opportunities to talk to your child about the early childhood setting as well as the educators and teachers. You might like to print out photos of your child visiting the centre or perhaps jump on the centre or kindergartens website; often early childhood settings will have photos of the learning environment and images of educators and teachers. This is great tool to begin conversations about the transition and to support relationship building.
Additionally, each early childhood centres or kindergartens will have a different way of welcoming children and families each day. Ask about this before your first day so you can have conversations with your child about what will happen, how you will say goodbye and when you will return. Talking to your child about the people, routines and early childhood setting will help your child become familiar with their new environment and see that you are comfortable with the transition.
Suggestions for supporting a smooth transition over the first few weeks at an early childhood centre or kindergarten
If possible, start with shorter or smaller numbers of days before you return to work or study. If possible, you might like to consider starting younger children with shorter days and then gradually increasing their time spent at the early childhood centre. If you are returning to work or study, I also suggest commencing a couple of weeks before you return. This might not be an option for everyone however, it is worth a conversation with your employer to see if there is some flexibility across the first few weeks back to work.
Where possible, avoid being in a rush and plan to spend some time at the early childhood centre or kindergarten each morning. We all rush from time to time, and I highly recommend being organised the night before to allow yourself time to settle your child each morning. This will also avoid rushing and adding any additional anxiety to the new routine. Over the first few weeks and months you might like to spend some time with your child settling them into the environment, getting down to your child’s level and engaging them in a play experience or with an educator. A quality early childhood setting will have an open-door policy for families and you should feel welcome to spend time with your child in the learning environment.
Remember to say goodbye. It can sound like a good idea to sneak out the front door if your child is happily engaged in play however, this is not recommended. It can be more distressing for your child if they don’t know you have left. No matter how hard it is, I recommend saying goodbye to your child and letting them know that you will be returning later in the day. When it comes time to say goodbye, I recommend letting an educator know before you leave so they can be close by to support and if needed comfort your child.
Ring if you need too. Even if your child shows no sign of separation anxiety, as a parent leaving your child in a new environment for the first time might bring about mixed emotions. A high quality early learning centre will have no problem with you ringing to find out how your child’s day is going. Over the first few weeks you might even like to ring more than once a day, this is ok! If you are worried about ringing frequently, I suggest asking educators about the best times of the day to ring.
Talk with your child’s teacher or educators. There are many benefits to building strong relationships with your child’s teachers, educators and service leader. One of the top reasons is to ensure an open line of two-way communication. Early childhood settings will have different ways of communicating with families, some might have communication books and others have specifically designed apps to support two-way communication. While these are fantastic communication tools, it is important for your child to see you engaging in positive relationships with educators and teachers. This will show your child that you feel comfortable about leaving them at the service and that you trust the teachers and educators.
If you are looking for additional information on starting early childhood or about the early years more generally we have curated a list of available web resources for families to look over.
Head to our Townsville Family Life listing for more information on resources and toys available.