The Transition from Pre-school to Primary School

By Deborah Khan

Good early childhood care and education has strong, long lasting, positive effects on children’s development (Hendrick & Weismann, 2010).  Early learning experiences have a decisive impact on how children function as adults and subsequently on how they affect society. Positive experiences and warm responsive care can enhance brain development. Negative experiences can do the opposite. During these formative years, there are prime times for acquiring different kinds of knowledge and skills.

Early childhood care and education is defined as group settings deliberately intended to affect children from birth to eight years of age (Gordon & Browne, 2011). In the context of this paper, the settings referred to begin with preschool, which caters for children three to five years of age and continues to the primary school through the kindergarten or the infant department. The transition between these two institutions is very significant.

As children move from preschool to primary school, many are able to easily navigate the change but for some it can be quite daunting (Skouteris, 2012). This experience is perceived to have long term effects on their future development and learning, extending through all subsequent levels of education. Successful transitions enable children to adapt to new settings where they quickly grasp teaching and learning methods, the processes, rules and regulations which will enhance their performance in school.

During the transition process, children experience a substantial shift in culture and are subjected to considerable demands which involve acclimatising to new environments, practitioners, peers,  routines and levels of expectations (O’ Farrelly & Hennessy, 2013). This can be challenging and adjustment to new circumstances is seen as critical to a successful transition. If children experience problems, they are more likely to continue this trend throughout their schooling. If they adjust quickly, much of the negative effects on their confidence and school behaviours can be overcome.

Shifting to primary school not only involves the child, but requires the whole family to make adjustments and adapt to change. The family’s contribution to socialising their child for primary school is important."

The transition from preschool to primary school therefore, sets the tone and direction in a child’s school career. Coping well with the changes at this time is important since a successful start is associated with future progress and achievement (Giallo, Treyvaud, Mathews, & Kienhuis, 2010). The child who transits smoothly is set on a more positive route than the child who experiences a negative transition. The passage at this significant juncture, and how the situation is negotiated, may have a lasting influence on how children view themselves, how others value them, their sense of well-being and their ability to learn.

Miller (2014) acknowledges that families are important to their children’s transitions.  At this critical point in the educational trajectory, which may determine failure or success, families significantly inform the transitioning process. Shifting to primary school not only involves the child, but requires the whole family to make adjustments and adapt to change. The family’s contribution to socialising their child for primary school is important. This is especially significant for those experiencing poverty as they are at greatest risk for compromised school beginnings.

In the Caribbean, research on the topic is very sparse. Logie (2006) highlights the offerings of the infant classes in the primary school setting as not being conducive to active learning. This is characterised by restrictive seating, high teacher-child ratio, little individualised attention to students, in addition to practices of drill repetition and memorisation, which do not encourage the development of critical thinking. There is little evidence to suggest that much has changed.

In contrast, more recent observations indicate that the preschool environment encourages active, child initiated learning (Logie, 2013). Particularly in the public sector, children are encouraged to explore, while engaging in meaningful conservations with teachers who positively enhance their learning experience and their level of autonomy. There is an obvious disconnect between both institutions. Children have difficulty in orienting themselves upon transitioning and for many the task may prove difficult and overwhelming.

Roopnarine and Johnson (2011) note the increasing emphasis on quality early childhood education and make recommendations to ease the transition from preschool to primary school. Stronger partnerships between the home and school environments must be encouraged since family functioning has an enduring effect on children’s academic performance as they embark on their educational journey. Improving teacher training is key, as teachers appear to be ill prepared to facilitate successful transitions, paying more attention to academic skills and less to the social and psychological difficulties that children encounter when they move to primary school. Acknowledging early childhood development curricula, based on Caribbean goals and learning outcomes, together with partnerships amongst children and their families, educational agents and Ministries of Education, appear to be a more culture specific and appropriate approach to the transition process.

Roopnarine (2013) posits that children and their families experiencing poverty in the Caribbean are at risk for poorer academic and social outcomes compared to their middle class peers. Since facilitating quality early childhood care and education yields positive effects on young children’s cognitive and academic skills, this intervention improves their life chances. When children leave preschool, the developmental gains acquired should not be risked by a negative transition to primary school. Continued positive development hinges on transition success. This applies to all children and especially to those in more unfortunate circumstances.

Please consider the following discussion points:

  • As professionals in the field of child development, what can we do to make the transition between pre-school and primary school easier for students?
  • What strategies can educators implement to make the transition between pre-school and primary school easier for students and/or parents?
  • What strategies can parents implement to make the transition between pre school and primary school easier for their children?

Please share your thoughts with the CREN community! We look forward to learning with you. Thank you.


Giallo, R., Treyvaud, K., Mathews, J., & Kienhuis, M. (2010). Making the transition to primary school. An evaluation of a transition programme for parents. Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology, 10, 1-17.

Gordon, A. M., & Browne, K.W. (2011). Beginnings and beyond. Foundations in early childhood education. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Hendrick, J., & Weissman, P. (2010). The whole child. Developmental education for the early years. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

Logie, C. (2006). Organisation of American States (OAS) hemispheric project: Designing policies and strategies to prevent school failure-Trinidad and Tobago. Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Ministry of Education. 

Logie, C. (2013). Pedagogical dilemmas and issues affecting early childhood teaching and learning: Reflections and experiences from Trinidad and Tobago. In C. Logie & J. L. Roopnarine (Eds.), Issues and perspectives in early childhood development and education in Caribbean countries. (pp. 114-142) La Romaine, Trinidad: Caribbean Educational Publishers (2003) Ltd.

Miller, K. (2015). The transition to kindergarten: How families from lower-income backgrounds experienced the first year. Early Childhood Educational Journal, 43, 213-222.

O’Farrelly. C., & Hennessy, E. (2013). Understanding transitions within early childhood care and education settings: Perspectives of professionals. International Journal of Transitions in Childhood, 4, 3-15.

Roopnarine, J. L. (2013). Early childhood development, care and education in the Caribbean: The larger picture. In C. Logie & J. L. Roopnarine (Eds.), Issues and perspectives in early childhood development and education in Caribbean countries. (pp. 7-29) La Romaine, Trinidad: Caribbean Educational Publishers (2003) Ltd.

Roopnarine, J. L., & Johnson, J. L. (2011). The socio-cultural contexts of early education in Caribbean societies: A focus on transition to primary school. In M. R. Jalango & D. M. Laverick (Eds.), Transitions to early care and education. International perspectives on making schools ready for young children. (pp. 163-175) New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

Skouteris, H., Watson, B., & Lum, J. (2012). Preschool children’s transitions to formal schooling: The importance of collaboration between teachers, parents and children. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37(4), 78-88.

About the Author

Deborah S. Khan is a Primary School Principal under the Ministry of Education of Trinidad and Tobago and a part-time Lecturer at the University of the West Indies and the University of Trinidad and Tobago. She previously served as a full-time Lecturer at the University of Trinidad and Tobago, acted as Director of the ECCE Division and  was an  ECCE Curriculum Facilitator under the Ministry of Education of Trinidad and Tobago. Mrs. Khan holds a Masters of Philosophy in Education  and a Masters in Education with a concentration in Curriculum. She also possesses a Bachelor of Education (ECCE) with First Class Honours, a Teacher’s Diploma and a Certificate in Education (ECCE).

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# Varied ECCE experience effectsKanaCN 2016-01-12 08:49
I wonder if the disparity among early childhood experiences makes facilitating transitions more difficult for teachers. So many children, coming from so many different backgrounds, following different curricula and with a wide range of experiences -- does this play into the new teacher's ability to aid the process?

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