Transition and Key Person matters in Reception and Nursery Classes
What is meant by a Key Person? Special people who are key to a child’s well-being and transition.
Q: Surely a key person is only important for pre-school children? Answer: Most definitely not! Having a special adult who supports them through the difficult days from being a pre-schooler to becoming a school pupil is key to a successful transition to nursery and reception classes in school.
Why a Key Person for each child in the early years?
- A Key Person acts for the child a little like a travel representative does for adults far away from home.
- This is because for a young child starting school is like visiting a foreign country – where everything is different from what they know.
How does the Key Person system work?
- The key person begins firstly by building a warm and caring relationship with the child – just like the travel rep she will help other travellers but ultimately she has singular responsibility for only a small number of ‘special guests’: her key children.
- S/he helps her key children to make friends with other children so that they don’t feel lonely and so that they feel a sense of belonging in the new place. Perhaps like the travel rep having meetings such as circle time with her group to help these new ‘guests’ get to know one another.
- S/he also helps them to find out where everything is and what there is to do in this unfamiliar place. Perhaps inviting them on little adventures – the rep might offer a trip to a nearby market – whilst the key person might suggest that a child tries playing in the clay or the water.
- Next s/he helps them understand the language of the place – for a young child words such as ‘assembly’ or ‘dinner hall’ or ‘bear hunt’ may seem completely strange just like words in another language can sometimes puzzle adults.
- S/he then turns her attention to helping her key children ‘learn the ropes’ to keep safe; teaching them any rules and helping them to follow them. Just as, the travel agent might advise newcomers against going in the sea if the green flag isn’t visible, the key person, on the other hand, will be telling children about walking inside the building and running outside or about something else equally important.
- Finally the key person builds a relationship with the child’s family and supports them to understand the EYFS as well as supporting parents whose child may have difficulties of any kind whether physical, sensory, attentional or emotional.
Liaising with Parents
Some children will settle really well into the school routine – others will appear to settle well and others may obviously not settle well into school. Therefore it is important to liaise with parents so that between the key person, staff in school and parents the child develops a sense of confidence that things are going to turn out well.
Parents sometimes report that their child who appears to be fine in the daytime is having nightmares or very anxious about school – this may be a sign that although they are coping at one level they have anxieties that are bothering them at an unconscious level. The ‘big fears’ new starters often have are:
- Toilets – being left behind or not wanting to use them – this is often why a child who has been confidently using the toilet might have accidents.
- Dinners – fear of the noise if a big area is used for eating.
- Dinners – fear of being made to eat things they don’t like.
- Playtime – when there are bigger children or where play is more vigorous than a child is used to.
- Home time – whether the parent will know where to come to collect the child.
- Home time – whether their parent will remember to come back and collect them.
- Leaving mum/dad – fear or worry that their parent is abandoning them (may also be associated with younger siblings being favoured or replacing them in their parents’ affections).
- Getting ‘shouted at’ or ‘told off’ for doing something ‘wrong’.
- Noise – in a busy classroom or unit the atmosphere may be too stimulating and the child may be frightened.
- Not being able to express what they feel or want – the child may want to say something but cannot find the courage or words to speak.
- Getting lost – and not being able to find their way back to the important adults in their lives.
- Other children – fear of noisy, or bigger children or those that seem threatening.
- An antidote to the above is to maintain excellent relationships with parents – encouraging them to stay with their child if necessary at the beginning of the term.
- Another useful approach is to keep a home-school diary in which parents and staff can develop a dialogue focused on how the child is settling in school and any strategies that will support them to feel relaxed and at home.
- Photographs of parents and family members can also be a really useful resource which the child can look at as often as necessary at the start of the term.
- Having short recordings of family members’ voices is particularly helpful for children who speak a home language other than English – hearing these can help them feel reassured when so many words and voices are unfamiliar to them.
- If a child does seem unduly worried it is worth telling them or creating with them social stories which allow the child to explore their fears without them having to express the source of their fear directly – in other words talking about their fears through a story which offers a safe ending which the child can hold on to because the story allows the fear to be rationalised.
For further information: Langston, A. (2014) Facilitating Children’s Learning in the EYFS Open University Press