How to Help Young Children Settle Into a New Nursery
The first few weeks at a new nursery can be a tricky time for many children, whether they have moved there from another provider or are completely new to being in a formal childcare setting. There’s a lot you can do to make this transition easier, and much of that is down to careful planning and good communication.
Your nursery probably has an induction policy already, so check that first to make sure that you’re following procedure. There are plenty of other guidelines available online, and transitions are also covered in the EYFS. When you’re making plans to support a new starter, keep in mind that settling a child into nursery is a gradual process rather than a checklist to be completed. It’s also important to make sure that the parents/carers are happy too – partly so that they can help with the transition and partly so that they don’t transfer their anxieties onto the children.
Here are some of the key issues to consider when supporting a preschooler’s transition to a new nursery:
Make sure you have detailed notes
Before the child even visits your nursery for the first time, you should have detailed notes about them. This may include handover notes if they are transferring from another setting, and/or notes that you have made through discussions with the parent/carer. They should cover things like whether the child takes medication, their food likes/dislikes/allergies, routine, favourite toys/books/activities and so on. If the child has particular health or learning needs you should ensure that all staff know about them – not just their key worker.
Arrange visits before the start date
If possible, your first meeting with the child should ideally be in their own home, so that you can get to know each other in a place where they feel safe. A home visit will also give you the opportunity to understand their routine and what kind of environment they’re used to. You should also arrange one or more visits to the nursery before they actually start there, to introduce them gently to their new surroundings.
Start with short sessions
Ease new children into nursery life by starting with short sessions of an hour or two, building up to longer days. You could suggest that the child brings a favourite toy or comforter to these short sessions. Allow their parents/carers to stay (if the child wants them to), and make sure that they both understand your flexibility on this. If the child seems happy then the parent/carer can leave – but they should let the child know that they are going rather than just slipping out. You might help them to establish a simple goodbye routine, which can then be used going forward, to help the child recognise and accept that their parent/carer is leaving each time.
Help the child get to know the new nursery
Make sure that the child knows where everything is in the nursery – particularly toilets, coat hooks, doors to the garden, where their favourite toys are kept and so on. Help them understand what their day will look like by making a visual timetable with pictures or photos. Draw attention to how this might differ from the routine in their previous setting, if relevant. Introduce them to the other children and help them learn their names through small group games. All of this will reduce anxiety caused by unfamiliarity with their surroundings and new routine.
Engage with the child
Introduce a range of one-to-one and small group activities with the child, based on what you already know they like doing. Mix up the groups so that they can get to know everyone, and observe what they enjoy the most and who they gel with the best. Make sure that you give the child plenty of opportunities to talk to you and ask questions and voice anxieties, for example through one-to-one reading sessions. You could find some books that are about doing new things to prompt discussion.
Establish ongoing communication with parents/carers
It’s important to communicate effectively with the parents/carers right from the start. Make sure that they know you’re following a policy/plan and will keep them updated on progress. Give them opportunities to ask you questions and discuss how their child is settling in. Highlight any issues and let them know how you’re dealing with these, and how they can help. Ask them to let you know about any changes at home that might affect the child’s nursery life, eg dropping a nap, starting potty training.
Look out for indicators that the child is unsettled, including crying, withdrawal or lack of appetite. If the child isn’t showing signs of settling after a few weeks then you may need to review your plan and try some different strategies. Signs of successful settling include:
- Accepting being left by their parent/carer at dropping off time (or at least quickly adjusting after they’ve gone)
- Forming friendships with other children
- Engaging happily in activities
- Building a good relationship with their key worker