Helping children transition from kindergarten to first grade.
This article documents the challenges that young children face as
they move from kindergarten to first grade and the important role that
elementary school counselors can play in working with students,
parents/caregivers. Teachers during this critical period of
development. Research- and practitioner-based recommendations for
effective interventions are discussed.
Many school counselors have witnessed a heartrending scene at the
start of the school year, in which distressed young children are facing
new and challenging situations and tasks. The early education literature
validates the notion that not only is the move from preschool to
kindergarten daunting. Transitioning from a relatively warm, caring,
child-centered kindergarten environment to a potentially more
intimidating and less flexible first-grade classroom is also quite a
struggle for many children and their parents/caregivers (Yeom, 1998). In
fact, this transition has been called a critical period for young
children’s social and academic development (Entwisle &.
Alexander, 1998. La Paro, Pianta, &. Cox, 2000a, 2000b. Toohey &.
Day, 2001) and is especially demanding for children at risk for school
failure (Marcon, 2000, 2002).
School counselors often are faced with the challenging task of
attending to the cognitive, social. emotional changes that children
experience during this important time of transition. The many factors
associated with such a transition–ranging from challenging new tasks
and social situations to acclimating to various teaching strategies and
pedagogy differences between grade levels–can be overwhelming for
students. This article will identify the stressors that impact students
as well as strategies for school counselors to partner with classroom
educators to facilitate a positive transition to first grade.
Given that kindergarten and first grade have, to varying degrees,
disparate educational structures, processes. Curricula, young
children often experience significant challenges during the transition
process. These may include behavioral, cognitive, social-emotional.
physical concerns (Fox, Dunlap, &. Cushing, 2002. La Paro et al.,
2000a, 2000b. Yeom, 1998). School counselors can help to minimize these
challenges by recognizing potential stressors and offering services and
interventions involving all educational stakeholders, including the
children and their parents/caregivers.
Kindergarten teachers tend to be well educated in what're and are
not developmentally appropriate learning activities for 5- and
6-year-olds (Huffman &. Speer, 2000). As a result, kindergarten
education is more often than not affective in nature,
“gentle,”. Child-paced, play-oriented, engaging.
nonpunitive (Pianta, La Paro, Payne, Cox, &. Bradley, 2002). it's
not surprising then, when asked, many schoolchildren report positive
feelings about their kindergarten experience.
In contrast, children entering first-grade classrooms for the first
time recognize immediately that things have changed. Grade 1 is the
onset of formal learning for most school districts. It presents
children with a far more ritualized and structured learning environment.
Children’s attention is redirected from following their own
educational interests to attaining externally imposed, preset academic
competencies, such as reading and mathematics. Moreover, first graders
are faced, often for the initial time, with having to attend school for
a full day without a longer rest break and to stay focused on topics
that seem to be irrelevant and uninteresting to their worlds. All the
while they must sit still in uncomfortable chairs and behave for
extended periods. They also are discovering their social roles in the
classroom, at recess. In the lunchroom–often with bigger and more
mature children. In addition, they're learning to accept the lead and
control of several adult figures other than their main teacher (Entwisle
&. Alexander, 1998. Toohey &. Day, 2001). Another disconcerting element for some children is that within first grade, educational
practices are highly variable from teacher to teacher and school to
school (National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early
Child Care Research Network, 2002).
Parents and other caregivers also may note that the teaching
methods (and their theoretical underpinnings) used in first-grade
classrooms influence how their children perceive and experience the new
learning environment. These perceptions and experiences have the
potential to impact students socially and emotionally as well as
educationally due to increased anxiety related to outcome-based
classroom pedagogy–perhaps a drastic change from the nurturing
environment of their kindergarten classrooms. The two major approaches
normally found in these classrooms are labeled
“learner-centered,”. Using constructivist pedagogy, versus
“teacher-centered,”. Using direct instruction methods (Joyce,
Weil, &. Calhoun, 2003).
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BEST PRACTICE
What can be problematic for many children provides elementary
school counselors with a good opportunity to assist and develop close
relationships with youngsters and their parents/caregivers early on in
their school experience. Drawing from existing literature and the ideas
suggested by current practitioners, we next outline various strategies
to ease the transition process for children and their families.
What the Research Suggests
The following suggestions are research-based guidelines to direct
school counselor interventions and services within the framework of a
comprehensive school counselling program (American School Counselor
Association, 2005). Because kindergarten to Grade 1 transition studies
are relatively sparse and further application research will continue to
be published in this area, school counselors should periodically revisit the current education and school counselling literature to update their
practical knowledge base.
Solicit collaboration among all relevant educational partners. Not
only must kindergarten and first-grade teachers be involved early on in
preparing the children for the transition. Parents/caregivers and
the children themselves need to be included in the collaboration process
as well (Entwisle &. Alexander, 1998. Fox et al., 2002. La Paro et
al., 2000a, 2000b. Yeom, 1998). The research consistently suggests that
all key parties must be involved. Especially parents/caregivers, in
the grade transition process (Marcon, 1993. National Center for Early
Development and Learning [NCEDL], 1998. Toohey &. Day, 2001).
In three multistate studies of transition practices, researchers
followed pre-kindergarteners through first grade (see NCEDL, n.d.. Also,
e.g., Early, Pianta, Taylor, &. Cox, 2001. Pianta, Cox, Taylor, &.
Early, 1999). Some important yet troubling findings were reported.
example in an NCEDL study: Only about 50% of kindergarten teachers
surveyed reported conducting meetings with the children’s future
Grade 1 teachers to discuss stability in the curriculum from one grade
to the next. No more than 56% of the kindergarten teachers said they
were arranging for their students to visit a first-grade classroom.
Fewer than 25% of the kindergarten teachers reported showing up at
general transition meetings, distributing to parents information on how
placements in first grade are accomplished, attending meetings to
prepare transitions for individual students. Organizing transition
activities for children with special needs. Most obviously missing are
practices that engage the parents/caregivers in relevant decisions about
who'll be their child’s first-grade teacher and what the
expectations are for first grade (Pianta et al.).
Obviously, school counselors can encourage and assist with
implementing these collaborative partnerships more fully (Amatea,
Daniels, Bringman, &. Vandiver, 2004. Bryan &. Holcomb-McCoy,
2004). These supportive relationships are especially important in
schools that find these K-first grade student transitions generally
problematic (e.g., urban schools with a high percentage of minority and
low-income students. Pianta et al., 1999. Schulting, Malone, &.
Finally, elementary school counselors in consort with other
building educators need to adopt a broad-based educational approach is
guide transition practices. While it's beyond the scope of this article
to detail this idea, either Bronfenbrenner and Morris’s (1998)
ecological-developmental framework or Pianta’s (1999) systems
approach to education could be used as a “big picture”. Map
(see also Rimm-Kaufman &. Pianta, 2000. Rous, Harbin, &.
McCormick, 2006). In other words, as school counselors, teachers.
parents/caregivers collaborate on helping children transition from grade
to grade, they should consider the children’s important subsystems
(e.g., culture and community, ethnicity, family) that influence these
changes (Pianta et al., 1999. Schulting et al., 2005).
By looking beyond the immediate goal–that's, moving a
kindergarten child to first grade without considering other important
factors affecting the placement–strong ties can be created among
salient members of students’. Subsystems (e.g., all relevant
educators, parents/caregivers and extended family, religious leaders).
By doing so, the continuity from early education programs to
kindergarten and Grade 1 can be more fluid and less distressing for
youngsters and their parents/caregivers (La Paro et al., 2000a, 2000b).
In short, “systems thinking”. Needs to be applied whenever
educators make major changes in students’. School/classroom
placements, schedules. Interventions (Pianta, 1999. Pianta et al.,
1999. Rimm-Kaufman &. Pianta, 2000. Rouset al., 2006). A
research-based transition plan needs to be in place.
Encourage pedagogy evaluation. To help kindergarteners adjust more
readily to first grade, learner-centered classrooms are generally more
effective than the more conventional pedagogies such as direct
instruction. School counselors can familiarize themselves with this
pedagogy and facilitate a discussion session with the early elementary
teachers. Such a meeting would allow a time for teachers to share the
pedagogy used in their classrooms with the school counselors and each
other. In addition, it'd serve as a time for school counselors to
share current research related to pedagogy and emotional and behavioral
concerns that potentially impact student achievement. School counselors
can partner with elementary school teachers to share expertise in an
effort to attend to the students’. Social, emotional.
educational needs. Ideally such a conversation would evolve into a
sharing of concrete suggestions for classroom design, organization.
curriculum design from a learner-centered pedagogy.
Avoid the use of delayed entry into kindergarten, transition or
developmental classrooms. Retention interventions. When
kindergarteners struggle academically or otherwise, these three
interventions are generally used, although there is little research
evidence to undergird them. For example, even as the practice hasn't
been supported in the literature, parents and teachers generally believe
that holding young children out of kindergarten for one year, perhaps
until they turn 6, will subsequently smooth the transition to first
grade. While the rationale seems palpable–that's, provide children
with extra time to further mature and develop the skills needed for a
successful first-grade experience–it appears that this practice is
largely unhelpful over the long run (Mantzicopoulos &.
Neuharth-Pritchett, 1998). Most “underdeveloped”. Youngsters
will catch up to their peers by perhaps Grade 3.
Mantzicopoulos’s (2003a) longitudinal study examining the
efficacy of developmental Grade 1 transition (developmental first-grade
classroom) programs provided little evidence that these classrooms are
superior to other ways of remediating kindergarteners’. Deficient pre-academic and social skills. Interestingly, in an earlier
investigation of teachers’. Perceptions of the effectiveness of
first-grade transition classes, Grade 1 teachers largely supported the
practice and viewed it as helpful, despite negative empirical evidence
to the contrary (Horm-Wingerd, Carelia, &. Warford, 1993).
it's also tempting for kindergarten teachers to suggest
nonpromotion of low-achieving children. However, retention tends to be a
less than satisfactory alternative. This practice has significant
emotional and social costs for the retained children and doesn't
necessarily ensure that they'll be successful learners in subsequent
grades (Holloway, 2003. Marcon, 2002. Peel, 1997). Instead, in most
cases, allow the child to move on to first grade, while providing
scaffolding services and both educational and counselling interventions
for the child, teacher. Parents/caregivers.
Use family-oriented and small and large group interventions early
on. When problem behaviors such as nervousness or reluctance to
participate emerge before, during. After the transitioning process,
they're most effectively addressed using family-centered early
intervention strategies that take into account all the individual and
contextual variables (home, school, neighborhood) in play (Amatea et
al., 2004. Fox et al., 2002. Mantzicopoulos, 2003b). In other words, do
not wait to see if children “grow”. Out of their problems. They
often are exacerbated with time, not ameliorated. Classroom meetings
(Edwards &. Mullis, 2003), artwork (Hale &. Boozer, 1998).
small and large group bibliotherapy (Nicholson &. Pearson, 2003).
example, may be the most useful tools to reduce children’s stress
and fears about transitioning to formal education. In addition, these
types of interventions may provide some insights into children’s
What Practitioners Suggest
In an effort to integrate research with current practice, six
elementary school counselors and two classroom teachers were asked to
share, anecdotally, their kindergarten to first grade transition
interventions. Of the four emerging themes discussed above as best
practice recommendations, the respondents we talked to had clear
preferences. The transition strategies most cited focused on (a)
building a collaborative relationship between the kindergarten and
first-grade teachers. (b) providing direct student
assistance/interventions. Regrettably, including the parents/caregivers
as educational partners appeared to be absent in the interventions
Kindergarten and first-grade students often are provided with
various opportunities to meet, express concerns. share experiences
as well as the wisdom gained through successfully making the transition.
One example of such direct student assistance was shared by elementary
school counselor Naomi Nichols (personal communication, September 28,
2006). She's the first graders at her school write letters to the
kindergarteners at the end of the school year, in an effort to provide
both advice and encouragement to those preparing for the transition. The
counsel shared in the letters included heartfelt recommendations such as
“Sound more intelligent,”. Which were circulated to the
kindergartners and then later posted on a bulletin board in the
Several other collaborative direct service interventions at the
same Seattle-area school included having kindergarteners enrolled in a
half-day program stay through lunch and practice eating in the school
cafeteria, where they later eat as first graders. Initially students
practiced with lunches packed at home and several days later went
through the lunch line, learning to pick up trays and pay for their
food. Kindergarten students also were given permission to tour several
first-grade classrooms to learn where the classrooms were located and
what they looked like and to perhaps observe the similarities and
differences compared to their current kindergarten classrooms.
Carol Wahl (personal communication, September 21, 2006), an
elementary school counselor (Enumclaw School District, WA), reported
several interventions practiced in her building including “Move-Up
Day,”. In which kindergarten students spend 45 minutes in what'll
be their first-grade classroom the following year, getting to know their
future classroom teacher and classmates. An example of a teacher
collaboration activity involves weekly staff meetings in which teams of
kindergarten and first-grade teachers meet to discuss various
students’. Educational and transitional needs. A structural strategy
that one school has implemented includes utilizing a district-wide
full-day kindergarten in an attempt to reduce the separation anxiety
surrounding transition difficulties as kindergarteners familiarize
themselves with more time away from home and their parents/caregivers.
Variations of these student-focused strategies also were shared
including opportunities at the end of the school year for entire
classrooms of kindergarteners and first graders to meet in first-grade
classrooms for reading and coloring as well as a “buddy
system,”. In which kindergarteners who have recently participated in
a graduation ceremony are partnered with first graders to spend an hour
in their classrooms to observe various subjects being taught at the
first-grade level. Although it's exciting to hear what's currently
being implemented to encourage collaboration and, thus, assist in the
transition process, evidence of a lack of the spectrum of interventions
recommended in the literature in current practice points to a need for
expanded services and ongoing research. Moreover, feedback from school
counselors and classroom educators suggests that some districts continue
to utilize interventions that are thought to hinder the transition
process, such as creating transitional or developmental classrooms for
younger kindergarteners, including those with summer birthdays.
SUMMARY AND FINAL REMARKS
Any grade transition can be distressing for students and their
parents/caregivers. This change is particularly challenging for
youngsters (and their families) as they move from kindergarten to first
grade. Few consistent and effective research-based interventions to
smooth the transition are applied schoolwide. Based on the literature,
we recommend that elementary school counselors do their part by
encouraging more collaboration among all relevant stakeholders. The
children and their parents/caregivers must be included in the
preparation and implementation phases of transition. Moreover,
counselors should consult closely with first-grade teachers to work
together to establish or enhance their learner-centered pedagogy. As
children experience difficulties, the research suggests that the more
conventional and punitive approaches of delaying entry, holding children
back in kindergarten. Moving them into a transitional or
developmental first-grade classroom aren't as effective as
family-directed and small and large group interventions. Such tools can
greatly assist students and their families with the adjustment process.
This underscores the need for counselors to be well trained in family
work. Elementary school counselors, working within the context of a
comprehensive school counselling program (e.g., ASCA National Model[R])
and a viable transition model (e.g., Rous et al., 2006), can help young
children, teachers. Parents/caregivers make this critical period of
development less stressful and more positive through their
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Christopher A. Sink, Ph.D., is professor and chair, School
Counselling and Psychology, Seattle Pacific University, Seattle, WA.
Cher N. Edwards, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of school
counselling. Sarah J. Weir is a graduate assistant in school
counselling, at Seattle Pacific University.
Helping Children Transition From Kindergarten To First Grade.
Helping Children Transition From Kindergarten To First Grade.
Helping Children Transition From Kindergarten To First Grade.
Helping Children Transition From Kindergarten To First Grade.
Helping Children Transition From Kindergarten To First Grade.