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Smallest to tallest: one of our sector’s ‘middle children’ sets the bar high for school transition

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…we realised that to achieve harmony we had to change the way we introduced kindergarten children to our service and our program…

The smallest children feel more secure and settled when playing with their peers

The start of every school year is filled with mixed emotions for everyone involved. For our team it’s a time of anticipation, reassurance, reflection, and trepidation, as we prepare for what the new group of children joining our ranks will bring. No two kindergarten groups are the same.

For new parents it can be an extremely stressful time as they are forced to acknowledge that their little ones are not so little anymore and that they must let them go into the world to start their primary school education.

For the children it’s a time of massive stimulation, excitement, separation anxiety, and a wide range of learning challenges as they leave behind their preschool or long day care educators and friends. Sometimes it can be a traumatic experience as five year olds (and sometimes four year olds) go from being the biggest fish in a comfortable and familiar pond to one very small fish in a sea of many other fish of varying sizes, skills, temperaments, and experiences.

When we opened our doors for before and after school care in 2014, we entered the children’s learning journeys for the first time. We were a reasonably small service with only two-three staff most days and our program was simple and tended to run along with local school or community events and important calendar dates.

As our service grew we found it difficult to cater to the needs of our smallest and our tallest at the same time. In fact, the social interactions between the youngest and oldest children were creating behavioural problems at both ends of the spectrum.

Towards the end of our second year of operation, when we opened up our service to take children from a an additional school across the road, we realised that to achieve harmony we had to change the way we introduced kindergarten children to our service and our program.

Creating a kindergarten OSHC program

older children had previously been allowed to “look after” kindergarten students [but] we found that the 2016 class were happier to play and learn with their peers

Having their own space helped the new kindergarten children feel more secure at OSHC

At the start of 2016 we appointed a senior educator, Kaylee, as the dedicated kindergarten program coordinator. She was to be the first point of contact for any child in kindergarten and their parents. Her job was to build a kindergarten appropriate program that was based loosely around our mainstream program, and to provide opportunities for the kindergarten students to be kept apart from the main body of students so that they could participate in their program without external influence.

Compared to the previous years, the Kindy Class of 2016 was dramatically different. We saw a reduction in the number of traumatic drop offs at the start of the day because the children were curious to see what activities were happening each morning.  Even when children were a bit sad and had to be coaxed from their parents, it was far less confronting for them and they were comforted by ‘Miss Kaylee’ as their parents left the service. Having a table set up just for their class helped reinforce new friendships they were making at school and the 0830 drop off at school was easier as a result.

Where older children had previously been allowed to “look after” kindergarten students we found that the 2016 kinder children were happier to play and learn with their peers and were far less likely to be led astray because they had a better sense of belonging to their community, and the rights and responsibilities that go with that privilege. When the ’16 Kindergarten program finished up for the day and the children were released into the main student body, they did so in a way that was not disruptive as they had the freedom to choose what they wanted to play with or to join the mainstream program’s structured activities.

There was a sense of anticipation in the afternoons as the 2016 class were collected directly from their classrooms by Miss Kaylee. They knew that following afternoon tea they would participate in activities such as a group game, dancing, sport or making slime for science or baking cookies. As the year progressed the children would discuss with Miss Kaylee the types of things they wanted to do and .

Integrating into the main group

This environment is the base from which they can explore and learn in the company of their peers

Towards the end of Term 3 we began to integrate our kindergarten program with the mainstream with older children. This included allowing the children to make their own way to Sherpa pickup from their classrooms, having them participate immediately in the mainstream program rather than being separate, and joining in group discussions lead by various educators each day before the main program began.

When the Kindergarten program wrapped up for the year, Kaylee reviewed her program and began working on next year’s program in preparation for the 2017 Kindergarten Orientation and the Kindergarten Class of ’17.

Kaylee moved on at the end of January 2017, but her work in 2016 has provided an excellent template to build upon in 2017 and years to come. Children who are joining our service for the very first time in their schooling careers are welcomed into a safe and friendly environment, now driven by ‘Miss Kaylah’. This environment is the base from which they can explore and learn in the company of their peers.

One impressed assessor!

we develop much better relationships with families when we share our stories of how their children are progressing

Our program allows a slower integration for the kindergarten children

At the very beginning of 2017 our service went through Ratings and Assessment against the National Quality Standards for the very first time. During the assessment process, our assessor commented that it was fantastic to see that Miss Kaylee had designed a program that allowed the Kindergarten students to slowly integrate into our service – she also applauded us on meeting the requirement to ensure that an Early Years Learning Framework program is operating for children aged under six years old, as well as the My Time Our Place framework for older children.

Our program reinforces what the children are learning in school, such as what it means to be part of a group and how to find safety and comfort in their friendships.

Having a core group of Kindergarten students also allows us to reflect directly on their wellbeing and participation in our program and documentation, and we develop much better relationships with families when we share our stories of how their children are progressing.

It isn’t all smooth sailing, but the dedicated Kindergarten program has allowed us to focus on the needs of our smallest and our tallest exclusively, and the more difficult transitions are much easier to manage in collaboration with families and other educators.

Our next steps: connecting with the early years educators

We have learned to listen closely to statements by parents like ‘at her daycare we used to…’

Our next steps: connecting with ECEC services before the enrolment period for OSHC and school.

2017 has shown us that we are on the right track for supporting children’s transitions to school, but I wonder if we can continue to improve on those transitions by developing relationships with our ECE counterparts that provide us with a reference point when meeting new children and transitioning them into OSHC? We have learned to listen closely to statements by parents like ‘at her daycare we used to…’ because it can give us a real insight into the child and family’s expectations of our service.

We are a different part of the sector, and the way we design and implement our programs can be very different from an early years service but the entry to school is a point where we can and should connect for the benefit of children. There are many ways that OSHC services contribute to a child’s happiness and security in their first year at school, just as early years educators in long day care, preschools and family day care services do too.

So I ask you to consider – how does your early years service support the transition of your children to OSHC as well as school? I, for one, can see the merit in collaborating with our feeder services to provide a much better quality program and care for our newest children.

Related reading:

Is OSHC the neglected middle child of the sector?

 

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Darren Brisbane

Darren Brisbane is the Operations Manager for the south western Sydney based franchise, Sherpa Kids Narellan.He has been an OSHC educator and director for 11 years, including various for-profit and not-for-profit services in Sydney’s inner west, Queanbeyan, and now south-western Sydney.Diploma trained (OSHC), and WHS qualified (diploma), Darren also worked for several years in the youth development industry with tall ships, navy cadets and scouts.

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4 thoughts on “Smallest to tallest: one of our sector’s ‘middle children’ sets the bar high for school transition

  1. Thank you for how you told this story. It has been a very successful part of our program with the school seeing significant growth in the kinders, both academically and socially, as a result.
    We look forward to getting an opportunity to introduce this into other services we partner with in the coming years.
    Michael Rasmussen – Director
    Sherpa Kids Narellan

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