At the start of every new year practitioners prepare their services to receive the new cohort of children and families and there are generally many tasks to be done before opening day.
Before opening day managers and staff should be organising their rooms so that children come into a bright clean space that is inviting, stimulating and manageable for them.
Children should be able to see clearly what activities are on offer, as well as having easy access to the materials they need, a choice of spaces in which to play, who to play with and what to do. It might be a good idea to send a note to the children telling them that you are awaiting their arrival with excitement and outlining some of the things that they will need to bring along. Some services stagger children’s starting dates/times so that they can give the children and families more one to one attention. This way they can accommodate all parents who want to stay and play.
Make sure you share your settling in policies and procedures, preferably as a handout, with parents (have a look at our sample “Settling in Policy”). The more they know, the more they can help. Remember this is a very important transition for children and a good introduction will set them up for a great year in your service.
From the moment the children arrive, adults working in a childcare/preschool setting should have 3 important objectives:
Making sure that they connect with each child and family and helping children to connect with each other. In this way they begin to build community
Establishing routines and procedures (e.g. moving from one activity to another routines, lunch routines etc) so that children know what to expect and how to manage
Kick-starting the new learning journey
First days back
First days generally bring anxiety for everyone but it can be particularly difficult for very young children who are venturing out of the home for the first time. Even the children from last year’s cohort may feel a bit anxious and nervous on their first day back. They are all making the transition from the safe and easy home environment, with a parent always close by, to a large group setting with maybe 20 other 3 year olds, all struggling to make sense of what is going on. Understandably, this is not easy and they need you to help them make sense of the new environment and to make sense of one another.
Connecting – Building Community
Your first task should be to help the children feel comfortable and relaxed. They are curious about you. They may have heard stories about teachers and they (and their parents) want to be reassured that you are nice and kind. Make them feel welcome. Encourage the parents to stay and play for a while. This gives a sense of a warm and friendly community straight away.
It is also important to help the children to get to know one another, here are some ideas to assist with this process:
Learn the children’s names and make sure you pronounce them correctly. You could put name tags on the children if that helps.
Play games that help the children get to know one another’s names.
You could take a photo of each child, print them off (even in black and white) and display them on the wall. When they arrive the next day they’ll be pleased to see their photos and begin to develop a sense of belonging to the place and the group.
Ask the children to bring in a photo or something special from home. In small groups, the children could ‘show and tell’. Adults also tell the children about themselves – their families and their interests. Sharing our stories is how we get to know each other.
Identify children’s special skills early on. Give them jobs to do. Take time to value each child’s helpful contributions. When we contribute to the community, we feel valued and connected. From the beginning the children are developing a sense of identity with the group and a sense of belonging. This will really help their sense of well being in the new setting. (Remember these are the main learning themes in Aistear)
Make sure you ask parents about their children’s likes and dislikes and about their own concerns. Let them know how their children are getting on. Communicate that you care about them and want to work together.
Establishing routines and procedures
Routines and procedures help children to manage and navigate a group setting. They help the day to run smoothly and allow the children to enjoy them. You need a daily routine (arrival, play time, tidy up, lunch, small group etc.) so that children know what to expect, from the time they arrive to the time they leave. And you need routines and procedures for transitions during these times.
Make a list of all the routines and procedures you want to teach the children and make sure all the staff are familiar with them. Decide which ones you will teach first. You might start putting on aprons for paint and water-play, for example. The next day you might teach them how to carry a chair safely.
Be careful not to overwhelm the children with too many new routines and procedures – this may confuse them. Over the first week or two you can gradually familiarise them with the established routines. Involve last year’s children in helping the newcomers.
Make sure that the children become familiar with your system for getting their attention, whether you; clap your hands, ring a little bell or recite a little rhyme/chant.
Teach children how to tidy up when they’re finished an activity. Help them to take pride in being able to replace things in their right space.
Involve the children in making some basic rules for everyone, such as; use your words e.g. I want – I don’t like, be kind, use your ‘inside voice’ etc.
Explain that you want to be a good teacher (they probably call you ‘teacher’) so you welcome suggestions about how you can be helpful.
Kick-starting the learning
All of us are familiar with the scenario whereby a parent asks child “What did you do at playgroup/nursery today?” and they receive the one word answer, “Nothing.” Therefore, it’s a good idea to encourage children to become used to recalling and describing what they did and learned at playgroup/nursery each day. Also, you can suggest more specific questions that the parents could be asking ask them e.g. Who/what did you play with today? What story did you read?
Ensure that the children have lots of play opportunities. Observe them at play. At small group time discuss what you see them doing and help them see the learning. This will help children to see themselves as competent learners and to share their experience with their parents.
Ask the children about their interests and experiences at home and in the neighbourhood. Build on these experiences in the setting.
In the first few days – read them a story that they can retell at home
Teach them a rhyme that they can share with their family. Give the parents the words.
Don’t forget to share your experiences with other staff members – both the difficulties and the special delightful moments. Get the discussions going among yourselves. This will help to enrich your own work and make it more enjoyable.
Parents Supporting the Transition to Pre-School
Early Childhood Ireland has developed a leaflet entitled “Going to Pre-school” designed specifically to support parents as they prepare their child for starting pre-school.
This can be downloaded for free from our website.
We hope you have a great year in playgroup/nursery. Remember the work you do is so important to the learning and development of the children, their families and communities. They are on a lifelong learning journey and you are the one who sets them on their way towards great experiences in the 4 themes/areas of Aistear:
- Identity and belonging
- Exploring and thinking