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How asking the right questions can help support transitions for young children

date July 24, 2020Kerry Payne

It all begins with curiosity… 

One of the most significant skills that you can learn to help support young children during transitions is the concept of curiosity. Having a strong desire to learn, understand or know more about the children in your care is the driving force for our connections with them. The usual practice involves sending information such as a learning journey or an ‘All About Me’ form. Sometimes these forms of documentation can be problematic though. They can feel both like a tick-box and a ‘rinse and repeat’ experience that lacks personalisation.

When something feels this way, we can often end up sharing arbitrary information that doesn’t necessarily equip or empower the next key person with the knowledge to connect. I have received so many transition forms which include things such as ‘likes Thomas the Tank Engine’, ‘settled well with his key person’ or ‘joins in with routines’. This type of information is useful, but it can only take you so far. To be most effective, transitional information needs to be as specific as possible.

child curious looking through a cannon

Empowering others through shared knowledge

When I am with practitioners who have deep bonds with children, I see them as possessing wisdom about that child. But so often that wisdom doesn’t always get passed on or received in the way it should. In short, transition procedures can end up being a job to do, rather than a process to value.

The way we provide transition information does not need to be limited by paperwork or prescribed questions. Our focus should instead be on developing quality information sharing and systems that recognise that transition is unique and varied. Practitioners often put pressure on themselves to have the smoothest running transition, but the reality is that it can be a messy process. Remember, it doesn’t need to be perfect, it only needs to be ‘good enough’.


Case study

Think about the case study below and compare the two types of transition information…

Liz had been receiving transition forms from the childminder for the past few years. Often these consisted of a basic set of questions with some vague answers, for example:

  1. What is important to me?
  2. Trains and mummy

Liz found that the transitional information felt quite tokenistic at times and it did not necessarily empower her to build connections with the children.

Liz decided to give the childminder a quick call, and after a short while, she learnt the following about what was important to the child:

  • Charlie displays lots of affection towards his parents and can sometimes struggle to separate from them in the morning. It is important for Charlie to be met where possible by familiar adults such as his key person. It helps if Charlie is met outside of the main environment as noise and busy spaces can lead to him feeling overwhelmed. It is important for Charlie to have a transitional object, such as his Thomas train as this provides comfort, and helps him to settle.

autistic child spinning a toy

  • It is important for Charlie to be understood. He is non-verbal and so his communication passport which is attached to his backpack will provide key indicators of his needs and wants. He also has a communication dictionary as he will use different actions to indicate different needs, for example, spinning means he is excited, and pulling at his waistband means he needs the toilet.


  • It is important for Charlie to be with his peers. He can become confused if the other children do not acknowledge him and he may sometimes take hold of them to say hello. Teaching his peers his main forms of communication help him to connect with others.


  • Charlie loves to spin things and so it is important to have items in the environment that he can spin. It is also important to embed this interest into his play because it gives him the motivation to try new things.


As you can see from the above example, there is so much more that is important to the child, and a curious conversation led to far more information that actually could be utilised in practice. The key question you need to ask yourself when trying to support young children’s transitions is ‘What information can I give that will empower and equip the next educator so that my key child can thrive?’

 child reading a map

Creative ideas for information sharing

To conclude and get you thinking a bit more creatively, here are some ideas for how you can gather and share information about a child:

  • Create a transition headlines poster. This is essentially a list or short descriptions of the key things you would want the next educator to know about the child. This is explained in more detail here:


  • Create a soundbite conversation with the parent. We have seen the usefulness of technology during the pandemic, and recording a conversation between yourself and parent (with permission) can be a great way to get to know the child from key people’s perspectives.



  • Use a piece of the child’s artwork and write key information around the work.


About Kerry Payne

 Kerry Payne Kinderly expert

Kerry PAYNE is an experienced consultant and trainer for Early Years Education and NASEN, with specialist knowledge in social and emotional behaviours and SEND. Her early career was spent in nurseries and schools working as an early years teacher and manager. She has a MSc in Applied Psychology and a PhD in Early Education and Developmental Delay.

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