Collaborative relationships and sharing responsibility (Transitions in ECE)

Tuia te Rangi e tū iho nei, Tuia te papa e takoto nei
Join the sky above to earth below, Just as people join together

Key question

How can relationships between early childhood and primary support transitioning children and families?


Frequently our knowledge is informed by prior experiences that may be outdated. Things are likely to have changed since our own schooling or that of our own children, especially in light of the current implementation of the New Zealand Curriculum (2007).

Children's movement from one education sector setting to the other can be enhanced by:

  1. teachers in both settings (sharing common goals for children's learning;
  2. working together to reduce the discontinuities children experience. Supporting children and families/whanau through their transition between sectors involves ECE settings and schools sharing this responsibility.

Teachers from each sector need to develop relationships that involve sharing knowledge and understanding of each other's environment, pedagogy and curriculum. Teachers can be influential mediators of children's experiences when they have an understanding of where transitioning children are moving to, where they come from and what they bring to their new learning context.

Reflective questions

  • How confidently can you talk about school programmes, environments and people with families/whanau in your setting?
  • Are you equipped to support parents/whanau with their queries or anxieties?
  • Can you engage in meaningful conversation with children when their curiosities are aroused by their or their friends' experiences of beginning school?
  • On what do you base your decisions about provision of transition programmes?
  • Do you feel confident about sharing, with children, what today's schooling is really like?

Sharing responsibility – what the research indicates

Recent New Zealand research studies suggest that an important factor contributing to effective transition to school is the amount of support and scaffolding the child receives. Familiar peers and cross-sector partnerships that contribute to curriculum continuity have been identified as the foundations of effective transitions (Howie, 2001; Margetts, 1999; Peters, 2000).

Bronfenbrenner's socio-ecological theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) positions adults in the different environments (home, early childhood and school) as having a crucial role in supporting and scaffolding children during the transitioning process. This view is supported by research undertaken in New Zealand (Dockett, 2001; Howie, 2001; McGee, 1997; Phillips, 2002) that points to the need for teachers, both early childhood and primary, to have a sound knowledge of teaching and learning processes and an understanding of where transitioning children come from and what they bring to their new learning context.

"The task of optimising children's development and learning across the two settings is probably best achieved if teachers in both settings include, in their professional roles, responsibility for offering complementary activities so that children recognise strategies acquired in the early childhood setting can be applied at school" p.33 Timperley et al. (2003).

Developing collaborative relationships

Teachers from both sectors often report barriers to building ongoing relationships with each other, particularly in larger urban areas. Children from early childhood settings do not necessarily feed into a local school and therefore teachers from both sectors require time to manage a large number of contacts and relationships.

The need for collaborative relationships between early childhood and primary is signalled in Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki – a 10-year strategic plan for early childhood education (Ministry of Education, 2002) with the goal of promoting "coherence of education between birth and eight years" (p.17). The vision for collaborative relationships in 2012 is described as follows. "There are close links between ECE and schools. Teachers from both regularly meet to discuss curriculum linkages, children's learning needs (including special education needs) and how best to manage transition from ECE to school" (p.17).

Currently the majority of relationships between the early childhood and primary sectors are developed informally and are dependent on priorities and proximity within local communities. The most common form of meeting is when teachers accompany children on visits from an early childhood setting to a school or vice versa. These traditional, occasional visits are viewed as insufficient in enabling teachers to share common understandings about teaching and learning (Peters, 2005; Timperley et al., 2003). Timperley et al. suggest that social visits can sometimes be detrimental to relationships, as practice viewed can be questioned if it appears 'different', and is not followed up for understanding through discussion.

The type of collaboration suggested in Pathways to the Future: Ngā Huarahi Arataki, calls for a more planned approach to building relationships between teachers in each sector in order to overcome perceived differences.

Local initiatives

The following cases show how some teachers are supporting transitions between sectors within their local communities. Effective transition-to-school practice involves localised solutions rather than a 'one size fits all' approach.

Case 1: Learning through collaboration in a network group

The Early Years network group consists of a number of teachers from both the early childhood and primary sectors in the Christchurch area. Following a one-day in-service course for early childhood and primary teachers, a group requested the opportunity to continue meeting on a regular basis and so the Early Years group was born. This group has met five times a year for the past seven years to share and explore teaching and learning with the goal of enhancing transition experiences for children and families within local communities. Each year members have identified a particular focus. The group meetings have been supported by written records, so that those unable to attend meetings can be kept up-to-date with the insights and intentions of the group.

Some of the activities of this group have included:

  • Meeting in each others’ environments
  • Sharing knowledge and examples of assessment practices
  • Exploring the use of learning stories in school
  • Unpacking ideas about 'school readiness'
  • Developing transition-to-school information for parents/whanau and children
  • Exploring project-work in early childhood
  • Sharing literacy and numeracy resources and ideas
  • Exploring the synergies between Learning Dispositions and Key Competencies
  • Critiquing ministry resources together, for example, the draft New Zealand Curriculum, the draft literacy progressions
  • Visiting Early Childhood and primary settings together to view practices related to the group's focus
  • Sharing and learning about approaches to inquiry learning

The Early Years group brings together teachers from across a large metropolitan city. They do not necessarily have a relationship within local communities. However, these teachers have developed the type of collaborative relationship that has seen them utilise each other's strengths and knowledge beyond the group meetings. For example, primary teachers have supported early childhood teachers with providing parent workshops on transition to school. Early childhood teachers have supported primary teachers to develop transition-to-school parent information brochures. Establishing a similar network within your own region is possible. In the Christchurch area the network is supported by a professional development contract provider. 

Case 2: Building relationships with one local school.

A large early childhood setting located in the central city found that children from their setting transitioned to a total of fifteen schools scattered throughout the city. They raised their hands in despair: "How are we supposed to have a relationship with all of these schools?"

Teachers in the setting began working together, with professional development support, to explore ideas and understandings about supporting children and families during their transition to school. They read research on transitioning to school that drew on the perspectives of teachers, both primary and early childhood, parents and children. They developed some resources including:

  • An information brochure for parents
  • A clear file for parents that included a list of all the schools in the city area, some research papers and appropriate articles.

An opportunity to build a relationship with one school presented itself. Teachers put aside their reservations about the value of taking children to visit a school that they were not going to attend and began regular 'visit to school' excursions with groups of children.

Two of the teachers from this setting reflect on their experience of developing a close relationship with this school:

"Our regular school visits are an integral part of our programme now. The children are very excited when it is their turn to go and always look forward to it with great anticipation. Before we go the children often talk about the fact that they are going to a different school and so we acknowledge this and discuss the similarities and differences they might find when they start at their school. We use a 'going to school book' we developed using photos from our school visit experiences. Children can access this from the bookshelf and take it home to share with their families.

The school visit is often the children's first school experience and it's quite an eye opener for them. They really have very little idea of what the reality of school is. For this reason I think it is of great benefit to them to go with their early childhood teachers who they have had trusting relationships with over a long period of time, and their peers.

We teachers take the opportunity to have a good look around the classroom to see what's happening for the children and glean ideas for our teaching.

The school children enjoy buddying up with our children and sit with them at the desks when they are doing their literacy activity, they take them to wash their hands, have morning break and some children help them in the playground at playtime. We finish our trip to school with a song to thank the teacher and the children for welcoming us into their class and sharing their learning with us.

Developing our visit to school programme has given us tools for supporting both parents and children in the transition to school. Visiting the school has given us the confidence to talk to parents about all the aspects of transitioning to school; from the early days of looking for a school through to understanding that school visits are a right and it's OK for parents to advocate for their children's needs when they know they will need more than just one or two visits as some schools offer.

The benefits for children have been that it gives them an experience that they can talk about with their peers and teachers, ask questions and discuss their feelings about school from a real 'first-hand' perspective and it gives them an understanding of differences they may experience."

Case 3: Transition practices at one school.

Early childhood settings and school collaborate to develop parent/whānau information about starting school

Cathie, a member of the Early Years network group, is an Assistant Principal in a large metropolitan school. The school enrols over 100 new entrant children each year. Cathie led a review of the school's transition-to-school practices. Participating in the Early Years group provided Cathie with opportunity to meet and share with others who had an interest in transition to school.

Parent information

The Principal, Cathie and junior teachers began by reviewing the information pack the school provided parents at the time they were making initial enquiries about the school, and decided that it contained too much information. They decided to develop a simple pamphlet that would give parents an idea of the flavour of the school. Cathie visited local early childhood settings to gain their input. "I asked the contributing preschools what they felt needed to go into it, what parents wanted to know and what information they needed to support the transition to school."

Early childhood settings and school collaborate to develop parent/whānau information about starting school

The parent information pack provided at the time of enrolment was reviewed to make sure it contained relevant and purposeful information for parents of a transitioning child. Two letters were added to the information pack designed to seek information about each child's background, interests and experiences one letter to parents [DOC, 46 KB](external link) and one letter to the child [DOC, 11 KB](external link).

The letter to parents reminded them to bring in the early childhood portfolio. Typically, responses to these letters are brought to school during the child's pre-entry visits.

Pre-entry visits

While children participate in their pre-school visits to the class, parents are invited to attend parent information sessions. These sessions give parents the opportunity to begin developing their relationship with the Principal, office staff, the Assistant Principal, PTA representatives and the classroom teacher. Topics covered during the parent information sessions include:

Session 1

  • Important school information - uniform, stationery, accounts, absences, tuckshop etc (session taken by Principal's secretary)
  • Tips for a positive transition to school (session taken by Assistant Principal)
  • Tour of the school

Session 2

  • Curriculum change – The New Zealand Curriculum (session taken by Principal)
  • Supporting your child's learning at home (session taken by Assistant Principal)

Session 3

  • Parent Teacher Association (session taken by a PTA member)
  • Information about the class programme (session taken by your child's teacher)

Early childhood profile books

The new entrant teachers ask parents to bring their child's early childhood profile book when they begin school. Teachers keep each child's book in the classroom for about their first six weeks at school. Cathie talks about how children and teachers use these portfolios as a way to strengthen relationships, and as a tool to get to know the child. They also become a useful literacy artefact:

"I keep mine in the library corner on a special shelf. The children can just access them there whenever they want to. They often go to the library area if they're doing independent reading. They'll get them out to show each other their books and have conversations comparing their experiences, because they are from different early childhood centres. We also use them sometimes as a prompt for oral language. Perhaps if the new child hasn't bought something to show we might use a favourite page out of their book and they tell us what's happening. And we also use them as class teachers to look through to get an idea of what that child's strengths and interests are. So far we haven't had any come to grief!"

View a learning story that illustrates the usefulness of profile books in school [DOC, 155 KB].

Teachers in the junior school continue to use the familiar early childhood practice of learning stories for assessment. Learning stories regularly capture children's self assessment during whole-class activity. Class learning stories provide opportunity for self assessment [DOC, 170 KB]. Cathie likes to write a learning story for each new child within their first month to six weeks at school:

"I try and do a learning story for each child when they start school, in that first month to six weeks. It's an assessment form that most parents would be familiar with from early childhood experiences. And it's a really nice way of showing parents how they are settling into school and how they're becoming familiar with class routines, showing them how they're socialising with others. Having a photo there of the child interacting and getting involved, and then that going home. It's a powerful way of showing the parent how they are settling in. Usually there's a Key Competency focus, often relating to others or managing self, they often come through quite strongly."

Learning stories offer parents insight into how their child is settling in to school [DOC, 220 KB].

Learning Stories

Learning stories transcript

Jo Aitken speaking:

"I noticed through the Transition to School process that I asked children to bring along any portfolios or profiles or books that they had at kindergarten or preschool, and we began to share them with the current children in the classroom, and I noticed lots of Learning Stories, so it became obvious that the parents who had children who had begun school within the last few years actually had quite a good understanding of Learning Stories, and they knew the format, because they'd kind of experienced them with the Early Childhood education, and they'd kind of grown through with them."

"At the beginning of 2008 when we decided that Learning Stories would be one of our major assessment focuses, we held a Parent Evening where we actually invited parents to come along and we shared with them basically information about learning stories, and we shared with them the reasons that we were moving towards reporting these in Learning Stories, and also the value. And from that we also produced a wee booklet which we had, which got distributed to all the parents so that if they were unable to attend the evening then they still got some of the information, or even if they had attended the meeting it's kind of like once you walk out of the room you forget parts of it, so it's just something to refer back to, and then pretty much straight after that we started sending Learning Stories home."

Further information

  • Alton-Lee, A. (2003). Quality teaching for diverse students in schooling: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington, Ministry of Education.
  • Biddulph, F., Biddulph, J. and Biddulph, C (2003). The complexity of community and family influences on children's achievement in New Zealand: Best evidence synthesis. Wellington, Ministry of Education.
  • Farquhar, S. (2003). Quality teaching early foundations - Best evidence synthesis. Wellington, ChildForum Research Network.
  • Howie, L. and Timplerley, H. (2001). Educators responsibilities for providing for effective transitions from early childhood centre to school. Paper presented at the Culture Informs Learning NZARE 2001 Conference, Christchurch.
  • Timperley, H., McNaughton, S., Howie, L. and Robinson, V. (2003). Transitioning children from early childhood education to school: Teacher beliefs and transition practices. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 32(2), 32 – 38.
  • Peters, S. (2002) Teachers perspectives of transition. In H. Fabian, and A. Dunlop (Eds.). Transitions in the Early Years (pp. 87-97). London: Routledge Falmer.
  • Peters, S. (2005). Making links between learning in early childhood education and school using the key competencies framework. Teachers and curriculum. 8, 9-15.

This paper was prepared by Jocelyn Wright, University of Canterbury, 2009.

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