6 Challenging Transitional Experiences From Preschool To School

Thanks to the lack of awareness of the 6 challenging transitional experiences from preschool to school children go through, many parents unfortunately miss to fully notice the pain and discomfort their children go through.

Transition, in general, is the process or period of changing from one state to another, and involves an individual leaving something behind in terms of an identity of himself or herself that’s built over time. It can also mean leaving the comfort zone and encountering the unknown, which can be a new culture, place, people, roles, or an identity, among many others.

In this article:

  1. What is Transition?
  2. The 3 levels of changes in a child during transition.
  3. The 6 challenging transitional experiences from preschool to school.
  4. The 6 factors that can help facilitate transition from preschool to school.

What is Transition?

Transition, from the context of children in specific, is a significant shift or a big change they have to go through. For some, transition can be almost kind of a mortification they have to undergo.

Transition requires children to put forth a great deal of effort physically, mentally, emotionally and socially in all areas of development.

As children enter formal school from a preschool (early learning centre), they have to encounter a cultural setting that is very different from a preschool setting. This includes a change in physical environment, routine, curriculum, social structure, etc.

In order to successfully cope with the demands of school, children need to do three things:

  • Adjust and adapt to the new culture.
  • Learn the language to be spoken in school (which is different from the mother tongue in most parts of the world), and
  • Acquire social knowledge.

Together, these three things can help them transit from one stage to the next.

Transition from preschool to school also involves a combination of different abilities like self-regulation, mindfulness, independence and social cohesion. These abilities, combined, can bring a positive effect on the transition children will go through.

Transition to school can mark a very important change in the lives of children, especially in the way they involve and participate in family and community settings.

The 3 Levels of Changes in a Child During Transition

In a study about transition in children, Wilfred Griebel and Renate Niesel mention about the 3 levels at which changes happen when children enter formal schooling from a preschool environment:

  1. The Individual level, where children adopt the identify of a student.
  2. The Interactive level, where new relationships are developed and existing relationships change.
  3. The Contextual level, where the environments of home and school interconnect.

According to Griebel and Niesel, these changes can be quite stressful and traumatic for children, as they have to deal with a very lonely and emotional journey. That’s why they will need a lot of attention, care, support, help and motivation, both from their family and school.

The 6 Challenging Transitional Experiences from Preschool to School

The following are the most challenging experiences children go through during transition:

  1. Loss of attachment from familiar people, friends, environment, settings etc.
  2. A feeling of not being cared for or valued
  3. Decreased sense of belonging
  4. Uncertainty about what next/the future
  5. Discomfort due to change in place, role and identity, and
  6. Development related changes.

During this rather highly sensitive period, children’s first experience of school and its surroundings forms an impression in their mind, which in turn paves the way for how they will go about their learning process.

This is why transition is supposed to smooth, so that children develop a sense of belonging and feel wanted and valued.

According to this study by Sharon Lynn Kagan and Michelle J Neuman, children who have difficulties in transition are more likely to have emotional and health related problems. It is therefore expected that adults help children to cope with their feelings and prepare them to transit smoothly and effectively, by using strategies according to the need of every child.

The 6 Factors That Can Help Facilitate Transition from Preschool to School

For children transitioning from preschool to primary school (formal school), the factors that can influence and facilitate transition are:

  1. Parental support
  2. Activities with peer group
  3. Involvement of immediate and larger family
  4. Interaction and partnership between parents and teachers
  5. General care and attention provided by the preschool, and
  6. The overall environment at home and school.

Apart from the aforesaid influences while transitioning from preschool to primary school, social and economic factors also affect their transition. For instance, the parents’ educational qualification, financial status, and the nature and quality of home environment can be a precursor for smooth transition in children.

Impact of Smooth Transition from Preschool to Primary School

There are strong evidences to show that a smooth transition from preschool to primary school not only helps children develop positive feelings towards schooling, it also facilitates in their learning process. A smooth transition will also help children establish supportive social relationships with their peers and teachers.

Most important of all, a smooth transition will make children feel comfortable and happy in classrooms, rather than being anxious upset or feeling lonely. Being comfortable and feeling ‘at home’ gives them a sense of belonging, encourages them to involve in the learning process and motivates them to voluntarily take up and participate in individual and group activities.

Absence of a smooth transition in children can be a precursor to many adjustment problems like class repetition, social and emotional problems, low grades in higher classes, and high drop-out rates, etc.

According to a report by UNESCO, lack of smooth transition to school often result in cognitive problems among children in primary schools in the South-Asian and pacific countries.


While the common transitional experiences from preschool to school can be a very sensitive, uncomfortable and painful experience for children, parents, larger family members, teachers and school administrators can work together to ensure that the transition is a relatively smooth experience.

Though their collective efforts to help children transition lasts only for a brief period of may be for a few fortnights or months, it can have a very lasting positive impact in them.