When a child has a disability and/or developmental delay, Emma Pierce explains that transition to school requires additional time, planning and collaboration from all involved in the child’s life.

It is that time of year, when many young children are preparing for their first day at school. Starting school is a major milestone for all children but what is needed to make transition to school successful for those children with disabilities?

According to research in 2006, the most supportive and smooth transition to school process happens when a community-wide or ecological approach is used, rather than focussing solely on the child’s “readiness”. The school readiness equation shown below, from the United States National School Readiness Indicators Initiative, emphasises the need for all involved in a child’s life to work in partnership.

Early Childhood Intervention Australia’s (NSW/ACT) Transition to School resource website www.transitiontoschoolresource.org.au provides practical information and video clips about transition to school for children with disabilities designed for families and professionals. A specific “ready services” section of the resource is linked with the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Standard to support Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) services in their roles. The “ready communities” section of the website provides strategies and information relevant to Out of School Hours Care professionals. The Transition to School Resource has been developed in response to a literature review, and extensive consultation with families, service providers and school staff across NSW.  This project was funded by Ageing, Disability and Home Care (ADHC) in the NSW Department of Family and Community Services.

Below is a practice example, which may prompt reflections on your own experiences:

Jae has always arrived at day care seeking lots of emotional support and comfort. He seemed anxious about what was happening next and would often stand at the gate watching for his dad. Staff worked with Jae’s family and the early childhood intervention practitioner to determine what might help make this transition smoother for Jae. The centre have now set up a photo board to show the main routine events in a day at the centre. Some kids call this the “day clock” and many children refer to it at various times throughout the day.

The example of Jae highlights inclusive practices, which support all children’s participation in an early childhood setting. By supporting smaller transitions within the children’s day using visual supports, this can help increase confidence and decrease anxiety for children and their families. Building on this success, these same strategies could be shared with the new school and adapted to support the transition to that school. Smoother transitions happen when the school is prepared and welcoming to the child and family.

There is a need to share priorities, goals and progress, and to ensure that families can access the information they want and need about their child’s learning and development in their early childhood setting in order to support families with their goals for their child as they approach school starting age.

“Meeting with the therapists prior, and once [a] child starts [school], to know the needs in advance, that is really helpful. A combination of info. …Talking to therapists and parents is the most helpful.” – Kindergarten Teacher.

Emma Pierce is the Inclusion and Transition to School Coordinator, Early Childhood Intervention Australia (NSW/ACT). References and useful links are available in the online version of this article.

Also see: Inclusion of young children with developmental delay and/or disability.


Brofenbrenner U., & Morris, P. A. (2006). The bio-ecological model of human development. In W. Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol. 1: Theoretical models of human development (6th ed., pp. 793-828). New York: John Wiley.

United States National School Readiness Indicators Initiative, (2005) “Getting Ready”, Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.