Facilitating a positive school experience

Children and families transitioning from early intervention programs to kindergarten

By Stacy Roth, M.S.

It can be difficult for children and their parents to make the transition from a pre-school early intervention program to kindergarten. This transition can be daunting for children and their families, and school districts need to be more mindful of how this process affects the children and their parents. It is important for school districts to shift their ideologies from administrative-centered to child-centered to establish a caring and collaborative relationship with families.

Parents have real concerns about their children transitioning from pre-school early intervention programs to elementary school. The research clearly shows that parents who are involved in transition planning report enhanced satisfaction with their child’s kindergarten entry (Hamblin-Wilson and Thurman 1990; Johnson et al. 1986). Furthermore, individualizing family involvement in transition planning may be essential for optimizing outcomes, including parental satisfaction (Fowler et al. 1988). It is therefore important for school districts to build a rapport with families, establish trust, explain school assessments and create a child-centered environment before the formal evaluation even begins. 

Here are three helpful suggestions for facilitating a positive school experience, and creating a child-centered environment during the transition process:

• Parents and their child should come for a tour of the school. This will give the family an opportunity to meet the team of school professionals prior to the formal evaluation to determine educational placement and eligibility for services in kindergarten.

• This time should be used to build rapport with the child by utilizing play-based strategies. It should be an activity that is engaging and of interest to the child. This can consist of imaginary play, board games, computer games and talking to the child about his or her interests. This rapport building will help the child feel more comfortable in the new school environment. This time also can be used to answer questions parents may have about the transition process.

• The formal evaluation should be conducted in a comfortable, child-friendly room, so the child will feel at ease with the process. Children will be more successful if they understand the expectations of the formal evaluation ahead of time. Families will also feel less anxious about the process, since they had a chance to meet the team of school professionals prior to the formal evaluation.

Reform is needed in evaluating children for school placement during the transition process from pre-school early intervention programs to kindergarten. We are performing a disservice to children if formal evaluations are being administered in a sterile conference room instead of a child-friendly environment. Unfortunately, many urban and suburban school districts are facing budget cuts that result in over- crowded classrooms and limited time. These issues need our attention. It will impact how children learn, perform in a formal evaluation and receive services. A young child will have greater success transitioning to kindergarten if schools implement the suggestions above.

By developing a caring and collaborative relationship between school administrators and parents, we can improve the transition to kindergarten. School districts and parents need to be mindful of this question – How can we work together to help your child be successful in school and have a positive school experience? Amanda Fenlon, chairperson of preschool special education in the Baldwinsville, N.Y., School District, explains it. “Parents of children with disabilities want to feel well connected to their school communities, just as any parent does,” Fenlon says. “A child’s successful transition to school helps families feel this connection. Children too know when they are part of something good” (Fenlon, 2012).

Standardized assessment procedures should be used with great caution in educational decision-making because such tools are inherently less accurate and less predictive when used with young children (Meisels & Atkins-Burnett, 2000). Schools utilize these standardized assessments to determine a child’s appropriate educational placement and eligibility of school services. The evidence from research and practice in early childhood assessment indicates that issues of technical adequacy are more difficult to address with young children who have little test-taking experience, short attention spans and whose development is rapid and variable (Greenwood, Luze & Carta, 2002).

Fenlon, A. (2005). Collaborative Steps: Paving the Way to Kindergarten for Young Children with Disabilities. National Association for the Education of Young Children, 60, 1-7.
Fowler, S. A., Chandler, L. K., Johnson, T. E., & Stella, M. E. (1988).
Individualizing family involvement in school transitions: Gathering information and choosing the program. Journal of the Division for Early Childhood, 12, 208–216.
Hamblin-Wilson, C., & Thurman, S. K. (1990). The transition from
early intervention to kindergarten: Parental satisfaction and involvement.
Journal of Early Intervention, 14, 55–61.
The National Association of School Psychologists Position Statement on Early Childhood Assessment (2005) (http://www.nasponline.org/about_nasp/pospaper_eca.aspx)

Stacy I. Roth, M.S. in counseling psychology, has provided individual, group and crisis counseling to adults, children and at-risk youth in clinical and school settings. Stacy is a certified educational school specialist. She has performed school assessments and provided consultation to school staff and parents on various academic, social and emotional issues. Since 2003, she has been teaching psychology and counseling psychology in academia. Her areas of teaching interests include clinical psychology, psychotherapy in clinical and counseling settings, child psychopathology, ethics, historical framework of psychology and different learning styles. During 2007 and 2008, she was a poster session presenter on collaborative teaching and learning at a suburban community college, and co-author of an article on Collaborative Teaching and Learning in a networked course setting. Stacy is the recipient of the 2006 Excellence in Teaching Award. She was named as a psychology faculty mentor during the 2011 Baccalaureate Awards Program at Temple University.