Last reviewed 24 August 2020

Rebecca Fisk explores approaches to transitions in early years settings and how circumstances have changed as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Transition is all about change. Change often brings about different emotions in people, both positive and negative. It can be a time full of anxiety and concern as well as excitement and a sense of opportunity. Anxieties can often be put at rest by clear communication about what is ahead and what the change will be. It involves communication from those that know about the next phase to those that are entering it. Listening carefully to concerns and responding sensitively to these can make all the difference to a smooth transition from one state to another or from one place to another.

Times of transition

The last few months have bought transitions for all of us. We have all had to do things differently and make changes to adapt to the Covid-19 pandemic situation. With or without a pandemic, there are still many different types and times of transition in a child’s life. Transitions in terms of early years settings can be around small transitions in daily routines, to moving rooms or having new staff caring for you, to a larger transition of moving from a childcare provider into a school setting. Transitions also take place at home, such as a new sibling arriving, moving home, experiencing bereavement or separation. During the Covid-19 outbreak and the period of lockdown, many sudden changes occurred for children, their families, and staff in early years provision. Some children were not able to see their peers and familiar staff and had to stay at home. Others were unable to see their parents, especially if they were key workers or shielding, and some had more family members coming to live with them such as elderly relatives or step-family. The main point to remember is that each child’s experience of this time has been different, and that will be essential in understanding how best to support transitions for them.

A person-centred approach to transition – the unique child

It is important to maintain a person-centred approach to transition, for those children starting for the first time in a setting or for those moving on to a new setting or school, as well as for those returning to a provider. Try to find out what you can about the child’s experiences regarding their well-being, their social and emotional development during these recent months of lockdown and restrictions. Take time to have good conversations with the child’s family, before you decide how to plan together the child’s transition. Working in partnership with parents to decide what is best for the child will provide consistency for the child between home and provider. It is essential to involve parents and carers in planning a child’s transition together, as parents may have different concerns about their child, especially if their child has special educational needs or disabilities, than you do as a provider. Children may have been very isolated, for example, and perhaps will have to re-learn how to spend time with other children again, or perhaps a bedtime routine has not been in place and they have not had such good quality sleep, which in turn may be affecting their behaviour. Some children will have benefitted from having so much family time and may well have learnt all sorts of new skills, like cooking and riding a bike. They may have been very involved in supporting others in their neighbourhood or in growing vegetables in their garden. As each child’s experience is so very different, it may take longer to plan for their start or return to the setting, so try and begin the discussion process with families as soon as is practicable.

Transition is a process – take it slowly

Transition is a process, so there is no need to hurry it. Give the children and families time to rebuild their confidence in spending more time out of lockdown. Go at the pace of the child. Some parents may be very anxious, so helping them see how their child is adapting to childcare will be important in reducing their worries and responding to their concerns. Sharing the positive knowledge that you have of their child’s time in the setting can really help parents to see and hear about how their child is enjoying playing with others and is making progress, whilst acknowledging any areas for particular attention.

Observation is key to a smooth transition

Ensuring that staff can spend time playing, talking and interacting with the children will help to build secure relationships. In turn, this will give staff plenty of opportunity to observe how the children are, their ‘starting points’ post lockdown, and respond sensitively to any concerns or needs that may arise. Children may need time to adjust to being in a group situation and their behaviours may reflect this. Taking the time for quality supportive adult/child interactions as well as stepping back to observe and notice how the child is emotionally will support a smoother transition. If the child is upset or worried observations can support staff to understand what the child needs or is trying to communicate through their behaviour. Observations will underpin any referrals needed to other professionals such as the speech and language service or Early Help support. Observations also help to support the professional discussion with parents and carers around a child’s needs, progress and development.


Transition is about change. Changes are better understood when children know what to expect as far as possible. Children need to be well supported through the process of transition by clear, consistent and calm interactions from adults, both at home and in the setting. Observations of each unique child and consideration of their individual family circumstances and needs will be crucial for childcare providers as the sector opens up further following the Covid-19 lockdown. In addition, if future local lockdowns or changes are made to attendance at childcare settings, more transitions may occur which will need a sensitive response from providers.

Providers can seek support from their local council as well as access resources to help.