‘The propensity to make strong emotional bonds to particular individuals [is] a basic component of human nature’
It cannot be stressed enough, how important it is that children transitioning into a new Early Years setting have the opportunities and time to become familiar and build a secure attachment to their Key Person. Without this, children can feel lost, anxious or scared. John Bowlby talks about a ‘secure base’ when describing his attachment theory, and so having your parents stay with their child whilst they are attending their first settling in sessions, gives them that base from which to explore the environment, resources and teachers.
As with most Septembers, I have just experienced a whole host of new children coming in for their settling in sessions at my setting. It is always so exciting watching the children begin their journey and building those relationships with their Key Person! For the last couple of years we have not conducted home visits. I have mixed views on them. Having been on so many, I sometimes feel that you don’t get to know the child as well in their home environment, as it can be a very pressured and intense situation with just the Key Person and the child. Don’t get me wrong, they are definitely most comfortable in their home, but it doesn’t give them the opportunity to explore their new setting from their ‘secure base’. I feel they benefit more from being in the setting, as many times as they wish with their parent. During the first year that I was unsure, I actually asked each parent which they would prefer and 90% of parents chose to come into the setting.
We definitely put lots of emphasis on our settling in sessions, and offer them on an individual basis; some parents want 1, others want 4, and that is absolutely fine with me. I sometimes liken them to starting a new job; everyone else looks like they know what they’re doing, where everything is, the names of everyone etc. and so it can be very daunting for a child coming in brand new. I don’t think I would have wanted my Mum with me on the first day of starting my job mind! But a little familiarity goes a long way. I think telling the parent that you understand that it can be overwhelming too, helps to reassure them.
A few years ago, I had a parent withdraw their child from our setting due to that fact that she would not settle and cried almost every time she was dropped off. The parent criticised our settling in procedures and blamed them for her child being upset and anxious whilst attending. It goes without saying that I was completely devastated. This had never happened to me before and I took it very personally. The child left after a week, and after a follow up phone call to the parent, they decided that the setting wasn’t for them.
I must admit, I spent a few days dwelling on it, and ate more than my fair share of biscuits! But, I dusted myself off, and saw it as an opportunity to review our procedures, and with the staff team, reflected on our practice. I did a bit of research, and found a parent friendly article discussing tips on successful transitions into a setting – I now send this out to every new parent as part of their induction pack.
Speaking of induction packs, there are so many great ideas out there of what to include. Our current induction pack includes; a welcome leaflet about the setting, the article with tips on successful transitions into the setting, an empty photo album to fill and bring back, paperwork to complete, photographs of the setting and the staff in their room, including who their Key Person is going to be, a story book about starting Nursery (which we ask them to return to give to the next parent… although not so much now!) and an ‘All About Me’ sheet to complete together. I put them all in a big zippy plastic wallet, with a big label on saying ‘I’m starting at [name of setting]!’ Works brilliantly as free advertising too when they are carrying it around!
Another nice touch which we have added just recently, is giving new parents a small bag of first day survival supplies, along with a lovely poem about children’s first days at nursery, which I know lots of other setting do too. It shows that you not only value the children’s transition into the setting, but that you understand that the parents also go through a transition; adjusting to time without their child, maybe for the first time. John Bowlby also said, ‘If a community values its children, it must cherish their parents’
From writing my previous blog, drawing on parents’ real life experiences, it became very apparent that parents want to spend time getting to know the staff who will be directly looking after and teaching their child. This led me to, again, reflect on my current practice, as I had always made sure it was me who spent the time with the parents when they came for their settling sessions. This time round, I spent some time with them, but then took a step back and encouraged the relationship between them and their Key Person.
I don’t think there is any doubt about how crucial the transition period is for a child settling into a new setting, but there are many different ways to promote it. Finding techniques that work for you personally, and ensuring that you review them regularly is the most beneficial way of making sure that you are enabling the best start for every child. Happy transitioning!