Will my child be able to cope academically? Will my child be able to catch up with his or her peers in primary school? These are some common questions parents have during a child’s school transition years. However, according to Dr Jacqueline Chung, Academic Director and Senior Principal of St. James’ Preschool Services, matters pertaining to academia should not be the primary concern. Instead, the focus should be placed on understanding the child’s social and emotional challenges, and how to best address them during the period of early childhood transition.
Fear of the Unknown
“During the transition period, it is really about all the questions that children will have in anticipation of the unknown,” Jacqueline shares. “It is the where do I, what do I and how do I kind of questions that will arise.”
Much like adults transiting to a new workplace, children also worry about the unknown which may inadvertently introduce apprehension and fear in them. As such, the role of preschool teachers in answering these questions becomes crucial during this period of change.
“If we are able to answer these questions or at least attempt to anticipate some of them, these children may be able to transit to primary schools with greater confidence,” explains Jacqueline. “Their concerns will be less of a challenge if they are mentally and emotionally more ready.”
And that sparked Jacqueline’s impetus to start a transition component within the K2 curriculum at St. James’ Church Kindergarten in 2013.
The Transition Programme
“I think is important to know that preschool children come from a different world and experience. A transition period is needed in order for them to walk across that bridge to the new world,” Jacqueline shares.
Through the years, Jacqueline has collected stories, information and data that has informed the programme by communicating and engaging with the teachers, children and families in her school. With this rich supply of information, Jacqueline began her quest to address their concerns through their kindergarten years with the end-goal of developing children who are ready for transition when the time arrives.
In particular, Jacqueline focuses on the social, emotional and environmental aspects of transition.
“We look into how children manage their time, how they communicate with people, how they navigate social spaces and how they adjust to new processes,” explains Jacqueline. “As educators, we take a holistic view and attempt to engage the children in these areas.”
Most parents may ask: “What are the differences between the preschool and primary school classroom environment?” One major adjustment is the children’s freedom of movement and expression. Many children in preschool are accustomed to moving around freely, and sharing their thoughts and feelings with their peers and teachers in the classroom.
In contrast, the primary school environment often may entail children having to sit still and be quiet. The demand to self-regulate doubtlessly proves to be challenging for both the children and the primary school teachers alike.
“Imagine that the children are often encouraged to speak up and share their thoughts and feelings, but suddenly in primary school, that may not always be welcomed, for various reasons,” Jacqueline says.
As such, Jacqueline makes it a point to constantly remind the children that while they should still continue to speak up and share their thoughts in primary school, they also have to remember that the class group is much bigger than the one they are in now. “So the children are reminded to understand and not be too upset if their teacher has no time to listen to everything they have to say,” she adds.
“Imagine that the children are often encouraged to speak up and share their thoughts and feelings, but suddenly in primary school, that may not always be welcomed, for various reasons.”
– Jacqueline, on one of the biggest differences between preschool and primary school
Oftentimes, young children find that crying or reacting negatively is the most effective and quickest way to express their emotions when they struggle to verbalize them.
To help children express themselves more effectively, the transition programme guides children to solve problems in an age-appropriate manner. “We let them know that while they may be upset over something that happened, just crying will not solve the problem,” Jacqueline shares.
For example, if children get reprimanded by the teacher for certain actions, instead of crying or remaining silent, Jacqueline encourages them to communicate to the teacher, in a respectful manner, the details surrounding the incident. The programme instills in the children the value of being active learners who take responsibility for their own actions and are able to explain why certain things happened.
At the same time, Jacqueline also implores teachers to listen to and understand the child if the explanation is valid. “If you feel that some children have challenging needs, then as educators, we ought to find out how to support these children instead of merely scolding them, which may instill fear in them.”
“Everyone learns better when he or she is not afraid and feels secure. As early childhood educators, we are educating the whole child; we are not just teaching knowledge, we are developing children.”
The rules of engagement in primary schools can be challenging for new students to traverse. Engagement involves the children interacting with the different people in school and being able to switch modes of communication depending on whom they speak to.
“These children enter a whole new social space where there are so many people with different roles and functions so they need to understand who these people are, what their roles are, and how to interact with them accordingly,” Jacqueline explains.
The programme encourages children to learn to observe and ask questions to identify the people they see in school. The highlight at the end of K2 is a graduation camp during which the children participate in a simulated tuck shop to accustom themselves to the concept of buying food. Exposure to role-playing helps children familiarize with likely scenarios by providing them with strategies for their transition.
“Our preparation must be long-term so we have to help children to plan and think beyond just the academic aspects of transition,” Jacqueline says. Ultimately, it is her hope that the children in her 12 preschools will experience a positive transition period through the school’s transition programme aptly called From K2 to P1.