Teacher Communication across the Preschool-School Boundary

Article excerpt

Introduction

Transition to school is a topical issue in the early childhood field (Dunn & Simpson, 2000). In recent years, with the growing awareness of the importance of early school experiences, transition practices have assumed greater importance in both schools and centre-based children's services. Easing the transition to school for young children is the responsibility of the whole community, including families and educators in schools and prior-to-school settings (New South Wales Department of School Education, 1997; Dockett & Perry, 2001). Communication between these parties is fundamental to successful transitions.

In New South Wales many children attend children's services prior to the commencement of formal schooling, the first year of which is known as 'kindergarten'. Among these services are 'preschools' which are state government funded, non-compulsory care and education programs for children generally between the ages of three and five years. In this paper 'preschool' is a broad term which includes the traditional preschool service as well as other settings which children attend in the years before starting school, such as long day care centres.

Research to date suggests that schools do not build upon what children have learned in preschool (Kagan & Neuman, 1998), and that exchanges of information between preschool and school teachers are often absent (Baillargeon, Betsalel-Presser, Joncas & Larouche, 1993; Pianta, Cox, Taylor & Early, 1999). Other studies have revealed differences in kindergarten and preschool teachers' expectations of children's behaviour (Higgins-Hains, Fowler, Schwartz, Kottwitz & Rosenkotter, 1989; Hadley, Wilcox & Rice, 1994) and that school and preschool teachers have different views about skills children need for school (Davies & North, 1990).

The New South Wales Curriculum Framework for Children's Services (Stonehouse, 2002) supports the practice of staff in children's services and schools sharing information about their programs and expectations, and with parental consent, their knowledge of individual children. The New South Wales Department of Education and Training (1999) also promotes two-way communication between school and preschool or child care setting. However, anecdotal evidence from studies conducted in New South Wales suggests that preschool-school communication is not happening frequently or effectively (Dockets, personal communication).

Methodology

Two New South Wales Department of Education and Training primary schools and their main 'feeder' prior-to-school children's service were involved in the case study. A feeder setting is defined as a preschool or child care centre which many of the school's kindergarten children attend in the years before entry to school.

One of the cases involved a public school and its feeder preschool in a rural village; the other case centred on a public school and one of its feeder preschools in a regional city. To access teachers' beliefs and attitudes towards the practice of preschool-school communication, qualitative data was gathered by interviews, questionnaires and document collection. Interviews were conducted with five teachers involved in the study and questionnaires were completed by the remaining four participants. Documents such as parent information pamphlets and policies which pertained to transition to school and communications across settings were requested from each of the sites. Analysis of the data was completed by the coding of themes that emerged from the participants' responses and documents.

Participants

Nine participants were involved across the two cases in this study. In the rural village, the director and an assistant from the 26-place community-based preschool, as well as the principal and two kindergarten teachers from the local public school, were involved. Participants from the two sites in the regional city included the deputy principal and a kindergarten teacher from the public school. …