Foundations of Transition for Young Children

Today, most families of young children use and move between different types of early childhood services — like Head Start, private child care, public preschool, or kindergarten. Moving between and among these various programs is often referred to as ’transition’.” This 8-minute video provides an overview of the desirable outcomes of transition, research identifying effective transition practices, as well as the legal requirements of early childhood transition (running time: 8 min. 19 sec.)


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Welcome to the Foundations of Transition for Young Children.

Today, most families of young children move between different types of early childhood services — like Head Start, private child care, public preschool, or kindergarten.  For example, Jenny is receiving early intervention services and her parents are planning for her to attend Head Start when she turns three.

Sometimes families may use different providers across a single day or week. For instance, Juan’s mother drops him off at child care in the morning, where he is picked up by the school for preschool, then dropped back off at child care until his mother picks him up in the late afternoon to go home. Moving between and among these various programs is often referred to as ’transition’.

During this presentation, we’ll present information about:

  • Desirable outcomes of transition
  • Research identifying effective transition strategies
  • Legal requirements for some particular early childhood transitions

Families and providers across programs need to talk and work together to plan for these transitions. This is important for all children.  But for children with disabilities these transitions can be more involved and complicated.  They often need more coordination among providers so that everyone can support the child’s special needs.

Now listen to Nancy Peeler, mother of Emma & Zoe, to hear her perspective on why transition planning is so important.

Nancy Peeler:

Both of our girls were in early intervention, for concerns about their speech and such.  With Emma, our oldest, we had a great service coordinator when she was a toddler and she made great progress.  We were comfortable with the people and the services, and how it worked around our family and our needs.  Then, age 3 arrived.  Transitioning out of Early Intervention was really difficult, and it was scary.  Everything we counted on was changing.  New people, new rules, new place, and even a bus.  A bus, for my 3 year old.  Some parents talk about it as falling off a cliff – going from solid ground to – who knows what.  But having people to help, people from early intervention and from the new program, can make all the difference in making the change a good one.


To help professionals and families of young children with disabilities understand this process, the National Early Childhood Transition Center developed a conceptual framework.

Every community has its own unique set of programs and services for young children.  This means programs need to develop relationships with each other to support children and families as they transition.

Conversations might include how program practices and curriculum are similar or different across programs. The communication and relationships across programs impacts the type of transition supports, practices and activities children and families receive.

The goal of good transition planning across the early years is for children to be successful in school. To reach this goal, we must prepare them for new experiences and opportunities they will have after transition.  When prepared, children are more successful in their new setting or program.

Children are more successful when they can:

  • Engage with their peers, teachers and classroom environment,
  • Quickly adapt to the rules, expectations and routines in their new setting or program,and
  • Continue to grow, develop and learn.

Now Dr. Beth Rous will discuss the research that supports effective transitions.

Beth Rous:

As we work with families to identify specific transition practices and activities, current research evidence can provide some guidance.  There are a number of transition practices which have been shown to support children’s successful adjustment to new programs and settings.
A close, positive relationship between the new teacher and child is critical.  This relationship needs to be developed before, during, and after the actual transition.  When teachers work to develop these relationships across time, children have fewer problem behaviors and better cognitive outcomes in their new setting.

There should be a good match between the curriculum and teaching practices across programs. This includes identifying and supporting specific skill sets children may need in the new setting, like following directions or staying on task.

Children adjust better in the early grades when they have participated in high quality and developmentally appropriate classrooms.  In these environments, children learn critical skills to support their adjustment, like initiative and self-directed learning.

Social skills are important. This includes a child’s ability to negotiate conflict, develop relationships with their classmates and teachers, and follow class routines.

Parent-school involvement and satisfaction is related to better academic and social outcomes across the early elementary grades.


While transition planning is important for all children, for children with disabilities served through early intervention programs (or Part C), transition has a solid legal backing.

Every child in early intervention has a service coordinator.  This service coordinator is responsible for overseeing the child’s transition planning process, which is documented on the child’s Individualized Family Service Plan or IFSP.

To support this planning, every child and family has the opportunity to participate in a special IFSP meeting devoted to transition.  This is called a Transition Conference. This conference must be held at least 90 days before the child’s third birthday, but can be held up to 9 months before.

At the IFSP meeting where the transition conference occurs, a transition plan must be developed. In this plan, specific steps and services needed to help the child and family transition out of early intervention services are outlined like:

  • Identifying with the family their needs and goals for transition.
  • Providing information on programs their child may be eligible for at age three.
  • Identifying outcomes and goals for the child to support their preparation for a new setting or program.

Young children with disabilities and their families make many transitions across and between services, service providers, and settings by the time they enter school.  This includes changes across the day such as moving from home to child care to preschool; and changes across time, such as moving from early intervention into public preschool programs.  These changes require that professionals work closely with family members to identify specific transition practices and supports that can meet their needs and support their child’s positive adjustment to new environments.

Now returning to Nancy’s Story…

Nancy Peeler:

With great people and great help, Emma transitioned into special education.  We found new allies who helped her and helped us get comfortable with preschool.  We found common goals we could work on together.  We learned really important lessons in that process, things we used when our younger daughter, Zoe, was in early intervention and then transitioned out – although we had much less support that second time.  We looked back at what had worked with Emma, and used that same information to make the new situation better.  And we’ve used that information ever since – going into Kindergarten, into middle school, and high school.  The support and information that providers can give parents at critical times like transition can make all the difference at that time, and it can have long lasting benefits.  What you do to help at such critical times is really important!