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Insights for effective transition to early learning and school

28 November 2022

Evidence-based insights in a recent discussion paper from the Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) show that an effective transition centres on a child’s sense of belonging. Actively minimising disruptors to children’s sense of belonging when the location, room, teacher, educator or service changes will improve continuity in learning and development. 

An initial scoping of the literature that exists around transitions to school revealed insights with implications for school teachers, principals, early childhood teachers, families and children.

Transition is a social process

Transitions are a social process, unique to each child and their family. Transitions involve many stakeholders and extend over time. Developing a sense of belonging on the first day in a new or unfamiliar learning environment depends on:

  • the experiences and actions of the child, their family and peers
  • support received from teachers at school and teachers and educators in early childhood education and care
  • the context of the child’s wider community.

A sense of belonging can support learning, wellbeing and engagement

The strength of connection between schools, early childhood education and care services and families is one of the decisive factors in a child’s sense of belonging. A sense of belonging can assist many aspects of children’s learning and development, including their emerging sense of identity, wellbeing and engagement with learning.

Students who feel engaged in education achieve better outcomes and stay at school for longer[1]. Those who are disengaged at the beginning of their education risk falling into cycles of low achievement and further disengagement.

Children’s behaviour is only one indicator

An effective transition is marked by a child's sense of belonging. When assessing whether a child is successfully adapting to a new environment, it is important to look beyone the child's behaviour and discover how the child feels about their learning and their new environment. Behaviour is only one indicator of whether a child continues to experience a sense of belonging after a period of change. 

Components of an effective transition program

To understand whether a child is successfully transitioning and experiences a sense of belonging in their learning environments, consider whether a child feels that:

  • teachers, educators and peers like, value and accept them
  • educational content is interesting, relevant and valued in both settings
  • their cultural identity is welcomed and valued
  • their teachers and educators care about their wellbeing, learning and development
  • they can ‘be themselves’, within appropriate boundaries.

Areas for focus when developing transition policy and practice include:

1. Capturing children’s and families’ voices

Children’s voices can inform transitions while encouraging open professional dialogue between various education environments. Reflective processes that centre on the child, align with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) position that ‘the view of the child is crucial to the realisation of a child and family centered early childhood education and care system’.

Capturing children’s voices across other jurisdictions reveals that children desire friendships, a friendly atmosphere, kind teachers and challenging, play oriented learning experiences that include outdoor opportunities. Parents’ voices are also valuable for evaluating the role of the family in each child’s transition.

2. Focusing on children’s capabilities

Children’s sense of belonging is closely related to their sense of identity and feelings of competence. Children’s capabilities will assist them to navigate the changes associated with transition and adapt to the new environment.

The approved Early Years Learning Framework ‘Belonging, Being and Becoming’ and ‘My Time, Our Place’ (DESE 2019) support a strong sense of belonging through five outcomes:

  1. Children have a strong sense of identity
  2. Children are connected with and contribute to their world
  3. Children have a strong sense of wellbeing
  4. Children are confident and involved learners
  5. Children are effective communicators.

Children may demonstrate different capabilities in different contexts, depending on where they feel most comfortable or have the most opportunities. Families also have valuable insights into a child’s strengths in the context of the home.

The Australian Curriculum (ACARA 2011) outlines seven general capabilities children and young people will be supported to develop at school:

  1. literacy
  2. numeracy
  3. information and communication technology
  4. critical and creative thinking
  5. personal and social capability
  6. ethical understanding
  7. intercultural understanding

Fostering this broad base of capabilities can enhance children’s experience of transitions at school and early childhood education and care, including out of school hours care.

3. Sharing information between schools and early childhood services

Strengthening information sharing between early childhood services and schools may improve identification of capabilities central to effective transitions. Capabilities that matter to transitions include problem solving and executive function. Schools can work with early childhood education and care, including out of school hours care, to understand how they can provide an environment where each child can be at their best.

Teacher and educator practices to support transition

Educators and teachers can help to support the continuity of learning and development for school-aged children as they move between out of school hours care (OSHC) services and school and from early childhood education and care to schooling.

Research suggests that families value personal meetings with teachers and educators, transition statements and ongoing communication where the specific circumstances of the family can be shared[2]. This is captured in the early childhood National Quality Standard Element 6.2.1, which requires that ‘continuity of learning and transitions for each child are supported by sharing information and clarifying responsibilities’.

The national Family School Partnerships Framework emphasises collaborative partnerships with families and communities. The Australian Professional Standards for Teachers expect teachers to engage in partnerships with other professionals in the community to support children’s learning (Standard 7: Engage professionally with colleagues, parents/carers and the community). These guidance tools highlight the importance of partnerships in teachers’ practice.

Improving practice does not need to involve additional tasks. It can involve recognising what everyday practice is already contributing to the process and doing what matters more often.

Ongoing research into effective transitions centres on children’s sense of belonging

AERO is undertaking research to measure effective practices, develop national frameworks and clarify roles and responsibilities for transitions. This research will take into account the varied perspectives of children, families, educators and teachers. 

The goal of this research is to support continuity and learning for children who transition between OSHC, school and home and to support effective transition from early childhood education and care to school.


For early childhood

Quality Area 6: Collaborative partnerships with families and communities National Quality Standard, ACECQA

Case study: engaging with families at Wynnum Day Care (2022) Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) Ltd. 

Creating positive transitions: 6 tips for communication during major transitions Tip sheet from ACECQA

Transitions: Moving in, moving up and moving on National Quality Standard Professional Learning Program (2013) Early Childhood Australia and Australian Government Department of Education

Connecting with practice: story time transition to naptime (video) with reflection tool ACECQA

For school

Standards for school registration in South Australia see Standard 1.5, 2.5, 2.6, 2.8, 2.9, 3.8.

Starting school – a three podcast series by the Queensland Government Department of Education to support and inform professional conversations about evidence-informed approaches to transition to school and early years.

Support for children with English as an additional language to transition to school (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority)


Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO) Ltd. (2022), Measuring effective transitions to school, edresearch.edu.au  

[1] Gregory T, Dal Grande E, Brushe, M Engelhardt D, LuddyA, Guhn M, Gadermann A, Schonert-Reichl KA, and Brinkman S (2021) ‘Associations between school readiness and student wellbeing: a six-year follow up study’,Child Indicators Research, 14:369-390, doi 10.1007/s12187-020-09760-6

Nergaard K (2020) ‘The heartbreak of social rejection: young children’s expressions about how they experience rejection from peers in ECEC’, Child Care in Practice, 26(3): 226-242, doi:10.1080/13575279.2018.1543650

[2] Ahtola A, Björn PM, Turunen T, Poikonen P-L, Kontoniemi M, Lerkkanen M-K and Nurmi J-E (2016) ‘The concordance between teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of school transition practices: a solid base for the future’, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 60(2):168–181, doi:10.1080/0 0313831.2014.996598; Hugo K, McNamara K, Sheldon K, Moult F, Lawrence K, Forbes C, Martin N and Miller MG (2018) ‘Developing a blueprint for action on the transition to school: implementation of an action research project within a preschool community’, International Journal of Early Childhood, 50(2):241-257, doi:10.1007/s13158-018-0220-1; Semann A, Madden L, Sukkar H, Walker C, Michelmore S, Fleet A (2015) Transition: a positive start to school initiative. Consultation 2015 {PDF 14.39MB}, Victorian Department of Education and Training website, accessed 9 March 2022.