The 3 Important Transitions In Early Childhood Education And Development

Transition is a life-long process in the life of every human. It is a process in which we all gradually move from the known realms to the unknown realms of our experience. The transitions in early childhood education are transitions that every child has to go through – irrespective of the socio-economic background of the child.

Not only are transitions inevitable, it is also very important, as a child has to go through many transitions across his or her lifetime.

In this article:

  1. What is Transition in Early Childhood?
  2. Definition of Transition in Early Childhood Education
  3. The 2 Types of Transitions in Early Childhood
  4. The 3 Major Transitional Periods in Early Childhood

What is Transition in Early Childhood?

If there is one thing that every individual has to go through during one’s lifetime, it is change. Change, is inevitable.

Children go through many changes in the initial few years of their life. This includes variations in physical structure, living environment, learning environment, expectations from adults, adhering to norms, societal interactions, etc. These changes help to promote and provide learning and growth for them at multiple levels.

One of the major life-event for children, by far, is their first day at school. It is a time when they experience significant change, where they have to adjust to completely new settings, norms, routines, expectations and people (in the form of caregivers), among other things.

Examples of Transitions in Early Childhood

The one transition which nearly every child has to go through, is the transition from home to school, and from preschool to formal schooling.

Every child is unique and each of them have different needs, be it physical, psychological, social or emotional. Similarly, the experience prior to a transition for a child and his/her family is also unique.

For example, the transitions in early childhood education that is experienced by a child coming with a very normal socio-economic background, is very different from that of a child who is from a family with a privileged socio-economic background.

In other words, the degree to which each child experiences transition is very different from those that other children experience. In many ways, it depends on the educational background of their parents (and/or larger family) and the preparation the child and his or her family undergo – prior to the transition.

The emotional journey that the child faces during his/her admission into school is important and it can cause huge stress, strain and discomfort in children. During the admission into school and transition from pre-primary to primary school, children are placed in very unaccustomed settings and environment.

That’s why parents, teachers and school management should render help, support, warmth and care when children undergo this phase. They should also help by supporting them and directing them to develop and exhibit appropriate behaviors required for further development.

Definition of Transition in Early Childhood Education

The term Transition has different interpretations that cannot be captured in just one word across one definition or meaning. However, a generic definition would be as follows:

Transition is a course of moving from one specific period to another. They are associated with variations that include people’s outward forms, roles, responsibilities, tasks, relationships and the specific position or condition they are in. It also has to do with the physical and social space of an individual.

In other words, Transition is a course of change where an individual adjusts to a novel environment. Transition, therefore, is about the shift that an individual experiences during a particular phase of time.

Children face transition in different ways and in different contexts. That’s why there is a need to help them transition successfully from one phase to another, which is possible only by the collaborative efforts of those who are responsible to care for them and support them.

The term Transition is interchangeably used with other terms like “School Readiness” or “Orientation to School”. However researchers have differentiated Orientation to School as awareness of practical skills, and Transition as an adjustment and continuity for the change experienced by an individual.

Many research studies have been conducted on the various aspects of transition in children, from which there have been a number of conclusions, including those pertaining to their empowerment during transition.

Children transit through different marked situations, which can be organised according to their age, their stage in life and the type of school.

Also Read : 10 Effective Strategies for Successful Transition to School

The 2 Types of Transitions in Early Childhood

In 1992, the American developmental psychologist Robert Kegan described two types of transitions:

1. Horizontal Transition

Horizontal Transition is the movement children encounter (and experience) across different settings during a phase of their life at a particular point in time (or time frame).

For example, children transiting from being in one setting/environment to another. In a horizontal transition setting therefore, children can encounter different people at various services (or places) within one particular day.

2. Vertical Transition

Vertical Transition is movement children encounter within a program during a day. This transition occurs across the services, moving from one activity of the program to another.

Both growth and change exist during transition, and each phase of transition is separate. During transition, some children may experience a sense of loss. However, the sense of loss is only temporary.

While adults respond differently to change, children would like to know in advance about what is coming up (the change), so they can feel comfortable.

The 3 Major Transitional Periods in Early Childhood

According to Novak Djokovic Foundation, there are three major transitional periods that a child must go through, which is part of their transitions in early childhood education.

1. Away from Home

Being away from home, in the absence of parents, is the first educational experience for a child. This transition is associated when the child starts any early child care program, such as daycare centers or any similar arrangement.

Since this the first ever experience of transition children will face in their life, they must be well prepared and equipped to experience this huge and important shift.

2. Kindergarten

Going to the Kindergarten is another major transition in children. Though the kindergarten curriculum is based mostly on play-based tasks and activities, the societal norms in most societies across the world associate this transition as the first step towards starting formal education.

Kindergarten, therefore, is always seen as the first move towards school and formal education. This means children need to understand what routines are, so that they can change them and adapt to the needs of kindergarten system.

Changing bedtime routines, waking up early and visiting a nearby kindergarten to get familiarized with the environment and conditions can go a long way to help children to successfully transition from a daycare center to the kindergarten environment.

3. Kindergarten to Primary School

This is another important shift that children experience from play-based learning to a formal education system. Though children will still engage in play-based learning experiences, learning will predominantly be theoretical in nature, as focus would be in teaching subjects, reading, writing, etc.

As discussed earlier, change is inevitable. Not only is change inevitable, it is the only constant. This means children, developmentally, have to go through many other changes in their life. Some of the changes can be very challenging for children.

However, the same can be dealt positively and effectively with the support, care, love and warmth provided by parents, teachers, caregivers and other individuals associated with the child.


The transitions in early childhood education of a child should be designed such, that the entire experience of the transitions from one realm to another is planned ahead and is prepared for. It should also be a gradual, smooth and seamless experience for the child.

It is important that the parent, caregiver or early childhood educator helps and facilitates the child to prepare well ahead for every upcoming transition.

Most of all, according to the stage and the developmental needs, transitional support needs to be provided not only for children but their parents too.

Also Read : The 2 Important Factors Influencing Children in Transition to School

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