A successful start to Prep is about more than the first day. We head over to Sunshine Coast Grammar School to discover how they ensure every student has the best start to ‘big school’.
According to a recent study, a successful Prep transition program can contribute to up to 60 per cent of student learning improvement in academic and social development. Therefore, a school’s approach to Prep transition is not only critical to a child’s introduction to ‘big school’ but also their long-term academic results.
A successful transition to school should be a dynamic process, beginning well before a child starts school and continuing until children and families feel a sense of belonging at the school.
Genevieve Hudson, Dean of Primary Prep to Year 2 at Sunshine Coast Grammar School explains that, with a successful transition, by the time a child steps foot in the classroom on their first day, they already feel a sense of belonging and reassurance.
“Our Orientation and Transition program covers a range of experiences to cater for the wide range of readiness and diverse background experiences of the children who join us,” says Genevieve. “Knowing who is who, where things are, being familiar with the surroundings, and knowing what to expect is very important to the emotional wellbeing of each child and parent.”
For Sunshine Coast Grammar School, these transition experiences include a wide range of activities. “The Kindy students have weekly visits to the school library for book borrowing,” says Genevieve. “They also play in areas of the primary campus playground, have weekly bush kindy explorations inside the school grounds, weekly swimming in the school aquatic centre, weekly dance lessons with the School Principal, pop-up experiences in the Visual Art Room, and special age-appropriate assemblies, chapels and celebrations.”
Kindy children will also meet a range of primary school teachers, including their future Christian Studies and Performing Arts teachers – who all teach Kindergarten to Year 6. “Other frequent visitors to our Kindergarten rooms are Prep teaching staff, the Head of Primary, and Dean of Primary Student Wellbeing.”
By the time the child attends their enrolment interview and November play dates, they know the staff that they will interact with during their Prep year. “The Kindy children become very familiar with people and places, routines and expectations, and have a well-planned transition that spans over two years.”
Transition experiences are also available to families who attend kindergartens that aren’t attached to the school. “The Dean of Primary (P–2) often visits local kindergartens to interact with our future Preps in their own Kindy environment,” Genevieve says. “These children are also invited to attend some special age-appropriate events at the school during the year before Prep.”
One such event is the annual ‘Romp in the Forest’ – a K–2 celebration of the importance of outdoor learning. With a stunning bush setting, outdoor learning is a significant part of the philosophy at Sunshine Coast Grammar School. “Our gorgeous outdoor spaces provide our littlest students with the perfect environment to develop curiosity, imagination and critical thinking skills – all things that will significantly enhance their academic journey as they progress through the school.”
Closer to the commencement of their Prep year, all Kindy children can meet the Prep teaching staff during a series of play dates in the Prep Precinct.
“The purpose of these play dates is for Prep teaching staff to develop a positive and supportive relationship with each child and parent and to create greater confidence and connections.”
As the new school year approaches, the transition program provides another opportunity for incoming Prep students to become accustomed to their new environment.
“The incoming Prep children receive a personal invitation from their new teacher to attend a class ‘party’ event, which is held during student free week in January – immediately prior to the start of school,” says Genevieve. “At the party, the children can reconnect with the Prep Precinct, and meet Prep staff and classmates, which contributes to a sense of excitement and ensures less anxiety on the first day.
A strong transition program not only needs to cater for the child, but also needs to involve the family. “Families have an important role to play in supporting their child in the transition, and we ensure families are included every step of the way,” says Genevieve.
Communication is key in the Sunshine Coast Grammar School transition program.
“We provide detailed printed and electronic information to our incoming parents regarding routines and transitions to ensure parents know what to expect,” says Genevieve. “We are also able to offer support to parents who may be expecting some separation anxiety. A parent’s sense of calm usually transfers to their child.”
This year the Dean also presented a series of parent workshops. “This helps to develop a connection between home, Kindy and school,” says Genevieve.
Transition statements and parent-teacher interviews also provide Prep teachers with valuable personalised information about each child early in the school year.
During the first weeks of Prep, parents are encouraged to stay in the classroom a little longer, to help develop a sense of security and a stronger relationship.
“Children benefit from seeing parents and teachers as partners,” explains Genevieve. “Siblings are able to visit and each class has a buddy class of older children to interact with.”
And, the transition program doesn’t stop at Prep!
“We also transition our Prep children into Year 1 towards the end of their Prep year,” explains Genevieve. “We value the transition process so much that our Year 1 children also visit Year 2 classrooms and connect with Year 2 teachers before the new school year. This helps to minimise any anxiety or apprehension about change that may occur over the holidays and contributes to a stronger sense of wellbeing.”
Understanding the impact an effective transition program can have on a child’s introduction to the school, Sunshine Coast Grammar School also offers a transition program for new families joining the school.
“New children who enrol from other schools are allocated a buddy and a buddy family,” says Genevieve. “The buddy family contacts the new family and helps to make them feel welcome on the first day. They also often meet in the holidays before school commences. There is great power in having at least one classmate who can support a new student on day one or even in the days before school starts.”
“The transition program has been so successful that we have embedded it into practise for the past 20 years,” says Genevieve. “We find it enhances the opportunities for children to become really familiar with anything new or different. Their emotional wellbeing is paramount to us.”