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‘What if they need help?” Supporting your child with the transition to a new setting

Using a range of simple strategies will help starting a new nursery or pre-school as stress free a time as possible.

Using a range of simple strategies will help starting a new nursery or pre-school as stress free a time as possible.

Written by Mandy Grist, a Speech and Language Advisor at I CAN, Children’s communication charity.

When our little ones start at nursery or pre-school it’s a time of mixed emotions. We often feel excitement at this new phase of their journey, but this is often also accompanied by anxiety that they’re out there on their own, reliant on their own communication skills to get them through the day.

Many of us will find ourselves asking questions … ‘will they make friends?’, ‘will people be able to understand what they’re saying?’, ‘will they be able to ask for things like a snack or going to the toilet?’ and ‘how will they be able to tell me what they’ve done all day?’. This is even more the case for parents of children who struggle with their communication skills.

There is however a range of strategies that can be helpful in preparing both parents and children with transitions and can help ensure that any child, including those who struggle with their communication, can make the transition successfully. You might like to:

  • Think, does my child have favourite nursery rhymes, songs or books? Have I told their new setting? If they can join in and sing some familiar nursery rhymes it can help to build their confidence.
  • Find out about the setting’s daily routine and what happens every day. Maybe you could try these routines at home. For example, you could have lunch at the same time that they do.
  • Make sure your child knows how to ask for help. Teach them some useful phrases like “I don’t understand”, “can you say that again”, “I’ve got a problem” or even “I need help” so that if they are stuck they know how to get some support.
  • Use role play – it can be a great way to get children used to a new daily structure . Why not set up a ‘nursery’ role play at home so you can talk about nursery through play. Using teddies, dolls or any of your child’s favourite toys you can take registers, run groups, have playtimes, set up a lunch table – just have fun playing ‘nurseries’!
  • Ask, does their setting use a visual timeline or reminder for when children start? This can let them know the routine and what happens next. If there is a picture of their parent/carer to signal the end of the day children will know when the day is finished and that they are going home. Also, having photographs of people and pets from home can give children a starting point for conversations.
  • Make sure you tell the setting how your child communicates e.g.do they use words or gestures? Are they seeing a speech and language therapist? If so, do they have any suggestions for supporting communication?
  • Stay in close contact with the adults in your child’s setting. You might want to set up a contact book that lets you share news from home (particularly helpful if your child struggles with their expressive language) and their setting can share news with you.

Starting a new nursery or pre-school is an exciting time for everyone. Using a range of simple strategies will help this also be as stress free a time as possible, setting your child up for a positive experience in their new adventures.

If you’re worried about how your child is getting on in their nursery, or you’re worried about their communication skills, why not chat to one of I CAN’s friendly speech and language therapists? The I CAN Help service offers free advice and information via phone or email, so do get in touch if you have any concerns.


Mandy Grist has been a speech and language therapist for the past 21 years and as part of her current role keeps abreast of the many developments in policy and legislation in the fields of speech and language therapy and education. She also provides advice and information to others, both within and externally to I CAN. Mandy has specific knowledge and keen interest in collaborative practice for professionals working with children and young people with SLCN, including children and young people with SLCN in educational settings.

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