Listening to different perspectives (Transitions in ECE)

Key question

How might we gain understandings of parent’s and children’s views about what is important to them during a transition period?


People experience and respond to change in different ways. How change effects each person is personal; the experience of one person is not exactly the same as another. Transitioning into an early childhood setting, moving from one setting or area to another, and starting school are all times of change for not only children, but also their family or whānau. Each of these changes will impact on the child and their family or whānau in a way that is unique for everyone involved.

Listening, talking, respecting difference

Early childhood teachers are important players in these transitions as they support children and their families or whānau to navigate their pathway to a new place.

What is important to each child and their family or whānau will be different. Sometimes it is not until after the transition has started that what is most important becomes clear. Making time to listening carefully to the voices and perspectives of all children and their families and whānau during transitions is critical.

Sometimes children and their families and whānau may not recognise the significance of the change until the transition is over, therefore it is important, that practitioners talk with children and their families or whānau to see if they are feeling comfortable with the process and that it is working for each of them.

The emotions and responses to change children and their families experience can sometimes be unexpected, catching both children and adults 'off guard'. It may be that the child parts easily from their parent when they first begin attending a service, but the parent feels a sense of loss and anxiety as a result of being parted from their child, even for a short time. Moving from the smaller, quieter under-twos area of an ECE setting may be exciting for a toddler but daunting for a parent.

Turning five for some children can be an exciting rite of passage, while others feel confused and worried about what turning five will mean for them. How often do we as early childhood practitioners stop to explore children's working theories about the transition they, and their family or whānau, are experiencing?

Settling In

Settling in - Transcript

Interviewee: took her a long time to settle in.
It took at least six odd weeks for her to even think about settling in nice and happily.
Still now I have to stay there for at least 10 minutes wih her and settle her in.
It was a lot easier when she grasped onto one of the teachers there who looked a lot like her nana.
Had the same colour hair and glasses and things, so she took to that lady and that made her transition sorta starting easier.

What sort of things did the centre do to support her transition?

Ah, just basically doing whatever she liked, you know what what made her happy when I left.
She loved the swing.
She'd go on the swing as soon as I left 'cos that made her happy or they'd blow bubbles, yeah.

And what was it like for you over that six weeks when she wasn't settling very well?

Yeah, a bit heart wrenching where as you sorta go to walk out the door and they're screaming and crying.
But, you know two minutes after you leave they're perfectly fine.

The principles of Te Whariki as touchstones for reflection

The principles of Te Whariki are useful touchstones for guiding the decisions we make when it comes to supporting children and their families or whanau through transitions.

Family and community/whanau tangata

  • How will the values of the child’s family or whanau be respected and responded to during this transition?
  • In what ways will we provide opportunities for the family or whanau to share how they feel about the ways we are supporting them and their child throughout the transition?
  • In what ways will we work to build the membership of the child and their family or whanau into the community they are transitioning into?
  • How will we ensure we involve the wider family or whanau of the child during this transition?

Relationships/nga hononga

  • In what ways will we honour, protect and nurture the relationships between the child and their parent, family or whanau during this transition?
  • How will we ensure the child and their family or whanau develop strong and secure reciprocal relationships with the children, families or whanau and educators/practitioners in the new place?
  • In what ways will we help the child and their family or whanau to contribute to and connect with the routines, rituals and artefacts of the new place?

Holistic development/kotahitanga

  • How will we ensure we give consideration and attention to all aspects of the child’s learning and development during transitions?
  • How do we ensure there is continuity and connectedness in learning and experiences for the child between one setting and the next?
  • In what ways do we support those new to the child and the family or whanau to support the child’s learning and development?


  • In what ways can we shift the balance of power to the child and their family or whanau during this transition?
  • In what ways do we make it easier for children, their families and whanau to share their values, wants and aspirations at this time?
  • How do we ensure the child’s voice is listened to?

Different perspectives: a preschool's practice

Different perspectives: a preschool's practice - Transcript

Parent speaking

“We’ve obviously had the paperwork, we’ve signed up for the school, and Jane’s done a bit of that communication, but with Cherry’s preschool, where Sadie is now, they’ve had kids come down to preschool from Thorrington, so they see all the kids in their uniform, so they’ll be the first-year kids who have transitioned last year or recently, so they’ve brought those kids down to the preschool, and they’ve talked and chatted with each other, so they get an impression of what it was like from one of the kids who was at Cherry’s and has now transitioned. And then they’re organising a couple of visits prior to Sadie starting, so going in there in the morning for an hour or two I think is what’s going to happen, so that’s all getting organised which is really good by the preschool, so they’re teeing that up for us and arranging for a time.”

Reflective questions

  • What transitions do children and their families or whanau make into, within and out of your early childhood setting?
  • In what ways do you give children and their families or whanau opportunities to share their perspectives about what is important for them during transitions? Do you listen carefully to ensure they are heard? How do you know?
  • In what ways could you improve transitions for children and their families or whanau at your setting?
  • What might we learn from the children and families or whanau who have been through transitions here to ensure we do our best for children, families and whanau in the future?

Starting at five

The following video is a parent talking about whether children need to start at five.

Different perspectives - Starting at five - Transcript

Parent speaking:

“Even though I’m aware that you don’t have to start school at six, you’re entitled to start at five. The kindies push this whole "five" thing - “off you go”, - so there’s almost no way you could choose to stay until six without appearing to be a complete freak. That’s what I’d like to do, I would prefer to start at six, give them longer with their parents because I don’t think that that first year is vital, that they start getting educated in that formal way for that year. We’ve had a number of Swiss students, and they start school at seven, and I’ll tell you one thing I noticed – they’re bright, they’re clever, and they have these amazing bonds with their families.”

“Many of the children that I’ve seen are just beside themselves with tiredness, and they seem completely overwhelmed. So going from morning kindy, five mornings, to five full days I think is a massive, massive ask for five year olds, they’re still so young.”

Multiple Transitions

Watch the following video about multiple transitions.

Different perspectives - Multiple transitions - Transcript

Parent speaking

“There are way too many transitions in particularly the preschool that we went to.
They had set groups, they had a nursery which was 0-18 months, now we didn’t go into the nursery.
Then they had a junior school which was 18 months to 3, I’m sure it was three, and then they had a preschool, 3 to 5.
But within the preschool they also had three or four groups, I can’t remember, but way too many – where basically it seemed like (and I might not be accurate here) but it seemed like every six months they were transitioning to a new primary caregiver and that was really unsettling in our experience, Annabelle didn’t cope with that at all.
So she ended up attaching to a teacher who wasn’t even her primary caregiver.
She went to this one girl because she really liked her and every time we said goodbye she went to her, because it was just a constant rather than this continually changing primary figure.
So I gave the preschool that feedback, because in every other way they were pretty good.
So I think transitioning in they were good and encouraged visits, but once we were in the system there were just way too many changes, and it felt like a new transition – it felt like to Annabelle, and to me, a new experience every time she changed teacher.”

Children’s perspective on transition

The following video shows children’s view on transition.

Children's perspective on transition - Transcript

Interviewer: “What will school be like?”

Child’s response: “Scary.”

Interviewer: “Scary?”

Child’s response: “And there’s gonna be loads and loads of monsters but we’re going to kick them out the gate and then into the pond, kick them with our sharp, prickly boots”.

“I think there’s some cars there, some police cars, same as kindy, and I don’t know what my number on the door was.”

“I know where my school’s gonna be next year, the one I went into.”

“You get your school uniform from school.”

“I’m gonna have black pants, and a red jacket and a red top.”

“I think I’m gonna get a school dress, because there’s school dresses.  I’m not gonna wear a school top and a school skirt, I’m gonna wear a school dress.”

“It was different because there was monkey bars you had to hang on and hold on the top.”

Interviewer: “Do you reckon you can do that?”

Child’s response: “No, only a little bit I can.”

Interviewer: “You might be able to learn how to do that?”

Child’s response: “I have to hold very tight – I had to hold very, very, very, very tight.”

“Going outside and playing.”

“Yeah, I thought that would come in.”

Interviewer: “So you think going outside and playing is going to be the funnest part?”

Child’s response: “Like Natasha.”

Interviewer: “So who’s Natasha?”

Child’s response: “Natasha’s one of her best friends.”


“Who goes to school, and she goes to kindy.”

Interviewer: “So Natasha’s already at school?”

Child’s response: “But she’s not going to kindy now, because she’s in school now, and when I turn five, I go and meet her in the school.”

Interviewer: “What will you do at school?”

Child’s response: “I don’t know yet, I haven’t been there!”

“Um I might – I don’t know if there’s a sandpit there or not?”

“I play, play, play, play.”

“I think I will play outside.”

Interviewer: “And what about at school, will you be able to do things like build train tracks and build Lego things?”

Child’s response: “Yeah, only Lego aeroplanes.”

“There’s school writing like this, and learning words.”

“I do some writing….”

Interviewer: “You can tell me Cameron, you can say it out loud.”

Child’s response: “I might make a mess?” (inaudible)

Interviewer: “How do you think you might find out about what you do at school?”

Child’s response: “I need a teacher to tell me.”

Interviewer: “When do you think she’s going to tell you?”

Child’s response: “On the 5th of July”.

Interviewer: “Is that when you’re going for a school visit?”

Child’s response: “Yeah.”

Resources and further reading

The New Zealand Down Syndrome Association(external link) has produced a transitions DVD for parents and educators.

  • Bulkeley, J., and Fabian, H. (2006). Well-being and belonging during early education transitions. International Journal of Transitions in Childhood, 2, 18-30.
  • Cullen, J. (1998). Emergent learners: Making the transition to school learning. Childrenz Issues, 2 (1), 30-33.
  • Dockett, S., and Perry, B. (1999). Starting school: what matters for children, parents and educators? Early Childhood and Care, 159, 107-119.
  • Dockett, S., and Perry, B. (2002). Who's ready for what? Young children starting school. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 3(1), 67-89.
  • Fabian, H. and Dunlop, A.W. (2007) (Eds.) Informing transitions in the early years; Research, policy and practice. London: McGraw-Hill.
  • Fabian, H. and Dunlop, A.W. (2002) (Eds.) Transitions in the early years: debating continuity and progression for children in early education. London: Routledge Falmer.
  • Peters, S. (2003). "I didn't expect to get tons of friends… more each day". Children's experiences of friendship during the transition to school. Early Years: Journal of International Research and Development, 23, 45-53.
  • Peters, S. (2003) Theoretical approaches to transition. Early Childhood Folio, 7, 9-13.

This paper was prepared by Keryn Davis, University of Canterbury, 2009.

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