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Key moments of transition

Life is a series of transitions - big and small, but manageable if well supported. For young children leaving a familiar home environment to start nursery or later move between settings, the resultant changes in their daily life can cause a combination of stress, excitement and anticipation. So it is vital that these early transitions receive particular attention.

The first major transition for most children is from home to group provision in daycare or nursery, and the importance of collaboration between parents, carers and professionals to minimise anxiety cannot be overestimated. This is true for all children, but particularly the most vulnerable who may already have experienced fragmented care. A cornerstone for future success is the establishment of an effective key-worker system to support child and parent.

As carers and educators, we can't always influence the number or complexity of transitions some children will make - moving home, family separation and changes in childcare arrangements can all affect them. That's why supporting them to develop emotional resilience is vital; it allows them to deal positively with change now and throughout their lives.

The transition from nursery to school has already changed: nurseries offer environments that are rich in learning, and sometimes share physical space and staff with the school, which leads to smoother, individualised transitions. What children learn in the nursery environment allows them to grow in confidence and this can be important for avoiding a negative experience of transition.

Nursery and primary staff meet to share information; visits to primary start early, and relationships are developed to ensure children are familiar with staff and setting. The aim should be for the early years of primary school to continue and develop the nursery ethos and environment, fitting provision to the child and not the other way round.

Lessons can be learnt from countries such as Denmark, Finland and Sweden, where the learning approaches of the kindergarten are extended into the first years of primary school.

Although we have made progress in Scotland, we still need to examine all aspects of how childcare and early-years settings and primaries work together to ensure that they meet the full range of care and development needs of all young children as they move from one setting to another.

Carol Kirk, corporate director of education and skills, North Ayrshire, and chair of the Children in Europe conference "Life changes: supporting the transition from early childhood services to school" in Irvine, 20 March. See:

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