The Transition to Primary

Miriam Winton, Early Childhood Director, in collaboration with Emily Hansen, YCC Teacher

One of the most delightful privileges in my daily work as the Early Childhood director is observing the very youngest members of our school community doing amazing things in their classrooms on a regular basis. Our beautifully prepared Montessori Young Children’s Community (YCC) environments provide many different activities and opportunities for toddlers to develop independence, tackle new challenges, and experience their own capabilities. Language development, socialization, respect for others, and desire for order are enhanced in the YCC toddler community, which focuses on these skills every single day. Within these specially prepared environments, young children are nurtured by caring adults along a natural path of optimal development. It is such an extraordinary glimpse into the blossoming life of a toddler.

Eventually, there comes a time, usually between 30 and 36 months, when a child begins to show signs that they are outgrowing this small, intimate community. The young child is preparing for the next phase of their Montessori journey: Primary.

Observable signs of readiness for Primary

Some characteristics YCC teachers notice in a child as they approach readiness for the larger Primary environment are:

  • the child’s ability to verbally articulate their needs,
  • the child’s independence with self-care activities such as hand-washing, dressing, undressing, and the toilet learning process,
  • the child’s ability to follow simple instructions, concentrate on a task through completion, restore work to the shelf when finished, and a child’s tendency to repeat activities again and again.
two young children cut up a snack

The teacher may also observe the child making conscious choices, taking initiative, and beginning to show appreciation of and helpfulness towards others. Rather than exploring out of mere curiosity, the child seems to know what they want to do. “I’m going to do some gluing.” The child might be seen getting a tissue for a friend with a runny nose or putting away a younger child’s lunchbox. In the classroom, they begin offering to set the table, help fold and put laundry away, and help put away work that is left out by others. The child now demonstrates the ability to maintain order without much support from the adults. The child will notice when a younger child puts something away in the wrong place and when asked, “Do you know where this goes?” they almost always do know. The YCC teacher observes that the child is happy, secure, and ready for more.

  • At home, parents might notice that the child can better communicate their needs verbally and speak in full sentences using a much wider vocabulary. Parents will hear the child putting words to their feelings more often. By this time, parents may hear the child using the word “I” when referring to themselves, as in “I want to ride a bike,” showing a level of understanding that they are an individual, separate from their caregiver.
  • Parents may also notice increased self-awareness in their child, such as responding to cues of their body in recognizing the need to use the toilet or being hungry and being able to communicate this to someone who can help them or by taking care of the need independently.
  • At social gatherings, parents will notice that their child shows an increased desire to play with others, moving from “parallel play” into more collaboration and cooperation with others and showing an interest in what others are doing.

What to know about the process

Once it is evident that a child is ready to make the transition to Primary, the process begins and typically lasts approximately two weeks. First, the Primary teacher will come into the YCC classroom to meet and observe the child in their familiar classroom setting. This gives the teacher a brief snapshot of the child’s personality, workstyle, interests, and level of independence. And it gives the child a chance to meet their new teacher in the place they feel most comfortable. By welcoming the Primary teacher into the YCC community, the child knows that the Primary teacher is a trusted adult with whom they can feel comfortable.

As soon as the next day, the YCC teacher may begin taking the child on walks to see their Primary classroom. At first, they may just walk by the room or linger at the door and observe what is happening in the new environment, familiarizing the child with the kinds of activities they will do in their new class. They may also walk by and observe other Primary classrooms (not just their own) through windows and doors and talk about what the children are doing. These walks to Primary (and the Peace Circle and other areas of the school) help the child orient to their new classroom in relation to other areas of the school and learn how to get from place to place.

an older child leads a younger child to a new classroom

Next, the child will begin to visit their new class. First, they are walked over by their YCC teacher and might stay for a short time (with or without the YCC teacher there, depending on what the child needs and how comfortable they are). On the following days, the Primary teacher and a chosen student mentor will come to the YCC class to invite the child for a visit. This gives the child a chance to connect with a classmate and gain familiarity with someone they can ask for help in their new class.

Having the mentor and or teacher come to offer this invitation sends the message to the child that their new community wants them to come and is happy to have them join their classroom.

Subsequent visits over the following days will provide opportunities for the child to become acquainted with new classmates and new materials. The length of the daily visits increases until the child stays for the majority of the morning work cycle. Then the YCC and Primary teachers decide on a timeline for the child’s official “move-up,” and a transition meeting with parents and both teachers will be arranged. Important information will be shared from parent to teacher and teacher to teacher.

On the day of the move-up, the child is dropped off in their YCC class for the last time, and the YCC community gathers for a little ceremony to celebrate this child’s transition and all the ways the child has grown during their time in the YCC. The child is given the opportunity to say goodbye to their YCC classmates in any way they wish (hug, handshake, smile, fist bump, etc.). Then the child gathers their belongings from their cubby and places them into a basket. With their teacher, they carry their basket to their new class, where they are greeted by their Primary teacher and often some new friends. The child then puts their things into their new cubby and has the opportunity to say goodbye to the YCC teacher. Dismissal at the end of the day will be with the Primary class, and the following day, the child will be dropped off in the Peace Circle for morning arrivals with other Primary students. The transition is then complete.

a teacher helps a young child carry a basket

Supporting your child in the transition process

Your child is prepared to take on more responsibility and grow in their independence. Our teachers are here to support you and your child throughout this transition. A whole new world has been opened up for them and they are ready and eager to engage with it. We’re excited to partner with you throughout this entire process.

  1. Make plans to come and observe in a Primary classroom prior to your child’s transition. Familiarize yourself with what the Primary environment has to offer and how it will be different from what your child has already experienced.
  2. Know that your child is capable of handling this change, even if it may bring some challenges at the beginning, as all changes do. Your child will receive the support that they need. Trust that your child is capable, knowledgeable, and in loving hands—your feelings of trust will be palpable to your child. They are more likely to feel secure in the transition if they sense that you feel secure with the process. Allow for and accept your own feelings about the change, so you can move through them and come to a place of trust before the process begins.
  3. It is normal and natural for the child to miss their YCC friends and teachers. Accept these feelings. Two things can be true at once. It is possible for your child to miss their former community AND be thriving in their new one. Accept all of the feelings (and any tears). Let them be. Validate them. “I hear you. I know you miss _____. That’s understandable.” Allowing for feelings to be expressed makes it possible to move through them.
  4. Understand that the communication from the teacher will be different because they will not see you on a daily basis. The Primary teacher welcomes open communication and will reach out to you as needed, but not every day. You can expect to see photos of classroom life in teachers’ monthly newsletters, along with important classroom news.

This is a very exciting time for you and your child. New and wonderful experiences await you both in Primary. Embrace the change and enjoy this new phase in your child’s development.

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