Practical ideas for preparing for transitions

We share helpful hints and tips for parents to prepare their children for school transitions.

“Good preparation will enable a child to receive some important key messages that will lower their anxiety levels and help them to continue to negotiate the developmental stages of permanency and constancy.”

Louise Michelle Bomber

Preparing children for transitions within the same school:

  • Opportunities for meeting new teachers/teaching assistants/key adults is important. It will be really helpful to swap photographs and/or letters as visual reminders during the holidays.
  • Teachers and parents can give explicit messages that teachers/teaching assistants/key adults have taken time to find out about their needs and that they will be there for them in their new class to help them settle and learn.
  • Additional visits to the new class to build up familiarity is ideal.
  • Photographs of all elements of school that will be unfamiliar, such as new layouts, organisational aspects, rooms, people, different aspects of the routine or timetable, can be used to build a transition book to look at during time at home.
  • Look at a calendar together to get a visual perspective of when the new term begins.
  • Maintain a relationship with previous teacher so that there is a sense that this teacher still ‘keeps them in mind’.

Communication between home and school

  • Planning ahead for the best point of contact and the most comfortable and manageable ways to ‘get in touch’ is really beneficial. In secondary schools in particular, often email is the preferred way to do this.
  • A meeting for collaboration between schools and parents to share concerns, difficulties and ‘what works’ as well as plan for the practicalities of a supported transition. A specific meeting to plan transition arrangements will be appropriate in some cases, whereas in other cases a Team Around the Family meeting or an Education Plan for Adopted Children (EPAC) meeting may be more helpful. An EPAC has the benefit of providing space to share early experiences that have shaped a child’s development.

Preparing children for a new school

Depending on age and stage, this will include:

  • Walking and driving past the school frequently, letting the child know it will be their school.
  • Practising the journey to school and home again.
  • Looking at the school website together and talking about what you find out; particularly photos of activities, blogs, photos of staff, calendar, school values. Emphasising new opportunities and sense of belonging, finding out about additional activities, clubs and lunchtime options.
  • If possible, visiting the school and walking around the outside, becoming familiar with the environment.
  • If possible, considering visiting at different times eg when it is quiet and children are working, during break, at the end of the day when it is busy.
  • Opportunities for meeting new teachers/teaching assistants/key adults is important. It will be really helpful to swap photographs and/or letters as visual reminders during the holidays and to help develop a sense that they will be remembered and ‘kept in mind’ until the transition.
  • Using photographs of all elements of school, such as rooms, dining halls, toilets, organisational aspects, people, different aspects of the routine or timetable to build a transition book to look at during time at home and in the mornings before going in.
  • Becoming familiar with the timetable and routines.
  • Working towards developing more independence skills before the transition to build confidence and resilience. This may include organisational aspects such as packing bags, using lists to know what is needed that day or a family weekly planner to prepare for what is happening and when.

Endings and Goodbyes… opportunities for powerful learning that support development

  • Encourage conversation about goodbyes. Name, validate and normalise emotions linked to loss.
  • Stagger endings: divide up the tasks involved in preparing for a good ending into smaller, manageable steps that can be spread out over time.
  • Use transitional objects: supporting children and young people to know that they can be ‘kept in mind’ despite moving on and physical separation. A tangible parting gift eg card/letter/picture is valuable.
  • Develop a memory book over time: pictures of significant people and places, comments written by staff, evidence of success, favourite books/activities, best memories, timeline.
  • Facilitate continued contact with key adults/friends from school.
  • Use picture/story books to support ending, including messages about permanency, coping, optimism.

Settling in – Tips for the first term

  • Keep home predictable and stable if possible, try to keep routines. Consider a reduction in after school activity and increase opportunity for relaxing.
  • Children may need you more than you expect following a transition to a new school environment, becoming more dependent than they have been previously. Accept this and prepare for a temporary change in need – increased nurture, help with getting ready, being alongside and giving increased attention.


Source: Devon Educational Psychology Service