March may seem early to start thinking about the children who will be moving into or moving out of your program this year. It’s likely that you’ve already been transitioning some of those ‘turning threes’ from your local early intervention programs. In some cases, such as for qualified children turning three, we have some legal responsibilities, and for others…our ‘going on to kindergarten’ kiddos…while there are no regulatory or qualification issues for school district kindergartens, there are qualifications needed to continue with special education services and there are Performance Standards that address transition for Head Start. Regulations or no, we still have a responsibility to prepare families, children, and schools to comfortably make the change into new services and expectations. Here are some things to think about as you plan for your children to move up or move out:
- Provide many opportunities for families to participate in and make choices about their children’s programs and services. This helps families to learn to become advocates for their children…a skill that will serve them well throughout their lives as well as their children’s education;
- Provide information about changes in regulations that may impact the services that their children receive. For example, in Part C IFSPs are developed around the family’s expressed needs; in preschool under Part B the child’s assessed needs take precedence. Also, in early intervention, the program may pay for many services provided in the community; in preschool the school district provides services focused around the child’s special education needs…what’s on the IEP…and typically does not pay for extra therapies and services in the community
- Provide opportunities for families to see the new programs and meet staff. It’s very helpful to see the new classroom and get to know the teachers and therapists who may be working with their child, as well as the principal, bus drivers, librarians and any other staff they may think is important;
- When possible (and I know it’s not always possible) give families some choices about schools or classrooms their child will attend
- Discuss what will be different for the child and family beyond service differences. The differences in programs may be large or small but there will be differences–such as where to catch the bus, length of bus rides, the amount of time a child is away from home, and school expectations for family participation. There may be some different expectations also regarding when staff is available to meet with families or when school conferences are scheduled.
There may be some unanticipated costs for families as children move into school-based programs…costs for breakfasts and lunches, pictures, contributions to parties and celebrations.
There are often, also, some very positive changes for families…children are spending more time in school and child care costs may be reduced; some families report having more time for to focus on jobs, do errands, or be with friends because their children are gone for longer periods of time during the day, especially as children move into full-day kindergarten programs.
- We want children to be as successful as possible in their new program so it’s a good idea to find out what skills will most help them be successful and begin teaching those skills. Most often these are skills that help them get along with others, follow routines, and evidence the behaviors that enable them to focus and learn. So helping children begin to increase the amount of time they can attend to a task; become more independent in doing things for themselves such as feeding, toileting, dressing and finding materials; or follow more complex directions are all things that should be part of our curriculum to assist children as they move into the next program.
- Asking teachers what expectations they have of children entering their programs is a good way to gather information about the ‘curriculum of the next environment.’ Will children be expected to line up, go to the cafeteria for meals, ride the bus? We can begin preparing children for these new experiences prior to their transition.
- Take caution about teaching new skills children are not ready for. You may have some who are not quite ready to sit in circle or work independently on a reading task. Analyze what’s entailed in such tasks…is there is a starting step the child is ready for? Are there emerging skills that give you information about the child’s readiness. Your ongoing observations and assessments should be tailored to give you this information.
- Meeting regularly with staff in the next program will increase your knowledge about expectations and what children will be expected to learn and do in their new program. We now have much evidence about how alignment of curriculum from preschool to grade three increases children’s success.
- For children moving into kindergarten, having a look at the reading and math adoptions will give you good information about where their curriculum begins. With that information you can look for expectations and instruction that supports or provides forerunner skills for what’s next. Washington’s Early Learning and Development Guidelines are a good resource for this.
- Take children on visits to the new classroom. Meeting the teacher, participating in activities with the older children, seeing models of the skills and behaviors that might be expected can help a child feel more comfortable about moving into a new group or working with a new teacher. A bus ride, having lunch, a tour of the school…all can help a child to feel prepared for the next step.
- Take pictures of your visit. A bulletin board display or a ‘kindergarten book’ can be reminders and discussion points as you prepare the child for learning the new skills and feeling excited about the new experience. Make sure that the pictures you take are from the child’s point of view and, though some should surely include the child, most should show what he or she sees in the classroom.
PREPARE THE SCHOOL OR NEW PROGRAM
- In your ongoing meetings with teachers share information be sure to share your curriculum, what areas it covers, how it addresses social skills as well as academic and developmental skills; transition time is often also time to do Child Outcomes. If you share your Child Outcomes data with the receiving program it will help teachers understand where the child might be functioning relative to their curriculum…what skills are ready and what skills are emerging but on track to eventually catch up with development.
- Invite staff from the new program to visit. This gives them an opportunity to get the flavor of your curriculum and instructional methods but also gives them a view of the children who will be entering their program as the children function in your environment;
- Meetings to discuss most appropriate placements for children should be de rigueur. Though in smaller communities there may not be a plethora or choices, such meetings provide an opportunity to be certain that the next environment is the one that most meets the individual needs of the child. Ensuring ‘goodness of fit’ between program, teacher, and child is a major contributor to success…for everyone involved. The more energy spent here, the better the payoff in the end. Matching a child who has behavior concerns with a teacher with expertise in behavior management or a child who has language difficulties with someone with a strong background in language development adds to the possibilities for success.
- In addition to your placement discussions, helping staff understand the strengths and interests of the children who are coming to them helps them to ensure that their activities and environment are engaging for them. Engaging activities draw children in and help them to maintain interest and stay on task long enough for learning to occur.
- Receiving teachers need access to IEPs. Even when a child will not be transitioning into a special education classroom, general education teachers need to be aware of goals that are being worked on and services that are being provided. They can then work to generalize skills in their classrooms and work with therapists around schedules and skills.
- Create opportunities for staff in the new program to meet families. Matching kids to parents is helpful…having that first introduction can begin to ease the fears on both sides about the change.
WHAT ABOUT THOSE THREE-YEAR-OLD TRANSITION REGULATIONS?
When children move from Part C Early Intervention programs there are specific regulations regarding transitions when they turn three. The Part C program has the responsibility to inform families about the upcoming transition six months prior to the child’s third birthday. This is typically the role of the Family Resources Coordinator. At least 90 days prior to the birthday a meeting to plan the transition is required. At this meeting, a team including the FRC, family, district, and any others deemed necessary discuss and make decisions about the evaluation for Part B eligibility; skills the child may need to be successful in the new program; possible placements that will best meet the needs of the child; and available services in the community if the child is not eligible for Part B.
- If there is not already a process for C to B transitions in your community or program, meet with the collaborating partners to establish a process that meets the regulations, works for families, and works for all of the programs involved. Include how summer birthdays will be handled (complete the evaluations and IEPs prior to the end of the school year or have a summer team for those tasks.) If evaluation instruments over or under qualify children because their age skews+ the results, use and document professional judgment. Information from early intervention staff should be part of this.
- Make certain that there is a person in your program who takes the lead in this process;
- Consider a variety of placements to meet children’s needs beyond the district preschool. Some children may have needs that can best be met by a Head Start or ECEAP program; others may already be enrolled in an inclusive child care or co-op program. Discussions with your team regarding how services can be provided outside of the district program part of your ongoing program planning processes. Many of the children you may be receiving from an early intervention program may have been thriving in these types of inclusive settings and would benefit from continuing there.
A terrific resource for you as you think about your transition processes is the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center. ECTA has great tips and practice guides for addressing a variety of transition issues, whether at age three or moving into kindergarten. You can also contact your local lead agency for more information.
This article was contributed by Mary Perkins for the Early Childhood Express newsletter.