Two years adjusting to COVID-normal has no doubt been challenging for all of us in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector. When I think back to when we first began to explain the term coronavirus within our programs, many children would share their own ideas on the situation including “germs” and “the virus that spreads to people”. These conversations were difficult to manage themselves, let alone discussing with the children the implications that this virus has on our program whilst we adhere to our COVID-safe plan and general COVID restrictions. Some of these implications then affecting broader experiences like orientation and transition to school outings. After the 2020 year of cancellations and reschedules, it was our time to shine in 2021 to ensure the Kinder cohort had a smooth and positive transition to school.
My vision at the beginning of 2021 was to give families plenty of information regarding the 4-year-old Kindergarten program and how the whole year supports children in their transition to school. We particularly discussed the importance of learning dispositions and how these support children in responding to learning and coping with our changing world. What a coincidental time for children to be developing these skills. These learning dispositions include things like a child’s curiosity, independence, resilience, persistence, and confidence. Can you imagine a child participating in a learning experience if they are not first curious about it? Would anyone have gotten through these past two years had they not had the slightest bit of resilience? Rather than focusing on a child’s academic achievements at Kindergarten, it is more important to support them in developing these attitudes to learning that then become lifelong skills.
These lifelong skills became the base of our program in 2021 where we catered our projects to each individual child’s needs and development of learning dispositions, which is still in line with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF). One project in particular was around connecting to the wider community which, in a COVID world, we had to adapt our extravagant ideas to an appropriate COVID-safe solution. Through a network group that I have been leading with Princes Hill Primary School Teacher, Amy Bartley, we have been able to connect with local Kindergartens and Primary Schools in an attempt to make children more visible in our communities. It was through this network that we were able to share ideas virtually and target the development of learning dispositions in each of our learning environments to see children become confident and involved in shared projects. These ideas then having a follow-on effect into our transition to school program.
As part of transition to school, pre-COVID years would see us giving children opportunities to visit their school, inviting previous Gowrie children into the service to chat to the group about their transition and participating in shared projects with both the Kinder and Schools. Lockdown was over. Well, more than once. I had a glimpse of hope that all of these opportunities would be possible again. Then came more restrictions with additional lockdowns and COVID-safe practises that were put in place to keep our community safe. Whilst many children were learning from home, I decided to show a glimpse of my own resilience and organise a Zoom session where I could understand where each child was at in terms of what they already knew about primary school. It was here that six-year-old Holly reignited my hope of running a smooth transition program.
The Zoom included at least twenty of my Kinder children who were engaging in remote learning. Poppy, one of my four-year-old learners, brought her older sister along, Holly, who I taught in Kinder in 2020. The children were throwing all of their questions at me and before I could get a word in, Holly was answering it all for me. She explained to the Kinder children the purpose of homework, as that was a big curiosity, as well as classes, lunchboxes, principal’s office, and everything else that a child imagines school would be like – based on books and television I suppose. Holly took over this remote learning opportunity and it got me thinking, is this something that I could organise, perhaps with individual schools?
Following the Zoom session, I was intrigued, passionate and motivated about this idea of inviting previous Gowrie children online to chat about their school to the Kinder children who will be joining them in 2022. Right away, I was in contact with previous families to ask whether their child would be interested in participating in a Zoom session. In the end we had more than five sessions where children could connect and learn more about their School. Rather than leading this myself, I had young leaders doing this for me which was a turning point where I could create an online transition to school program.
Many virtual sessions followed these Zooms including one I called ‘Mapping with Molly’ where each child drew their own map and shared it with the group, most of which included the route from home to Kinder, and home to School. Through this, children demonstrated many learning dispositions and made it clear to me that the Kinder and families successfully worked together to help children in developing these attitudes to learning.
After many Zoom experiences, families were questioning how their children would visually see their School with the low chance of visits being possible. My wonderful colleague and next-door Kinder Teacher, Hannah Fruin, was able to set up what she would refer to as
‘School Mini-Me’ where each child had their photo on a wooden block which was placed in front of their School photo. Children could then use this space in the program as they would role-play how they get to School and the friends that would be going to the same School as them.
The uncertainty around School quickly turned into comfort and excitement as we adapted our Transition to School program to suit current times. Children began sharing what they knew about their School with others, and families felt less anxious about the process. As we move forward, hopeful for a COVID-free future, we know that we are resilient in the way that we teach and we are therefore able to support our young learners in developing many lifelong skills.