Here are my notes from a session I led at Moorlands College on the area of transition – reflecting on transition from pre-school to primary school; primary school to secondary school and out of secondary school. The powerpoint can be found here.
Psalm 84 challenges us to a holistic view of children’s and youth ministry. To help meet the physical, social, emotional, and mental needs as well as their spiritual needs.
Transition is a critical area for children’s and youth ministry. In the 0-18 age group there are three major transition periods:
- Moving to primary school
- Moving to secondary school
- Moving to university or apprenticeship or work
Outside of these three main areas we must also reflect on the occasional transitions that happen with moving home or parents work place changing, for example Forces families.
Each of these transitions has four contexts for the child or young person
If we are attempting to deliver a children’s and youth ministry that is holistic, as I believe we are challenged to do from scripture, than we need to attempt to engage and support each of these four areas.
The largest UK based report into transition is unsurprisingly based in education. The Government have for many years sponsored the EPPSE 3-14 research (Effective Pre-School, Primary and Secondary Education 3-14 Project). This is led by researchers from the University of Oxford, Institute of Education (University of London), and the University of Nottingham.
It examines transitions across six Local Authorities with a range of pre-schools, primary and secondary schools, children and parents participating in the research.
Toddlers see the biggest transition in our lifetime. Their development physically, socially, mentally, morally and religiously outstrips any other point in their lifetime.
In partnership with our two local pre-schools we are involved in supporting trips to the local primary schools for the taster sessions. This brings a bigger sense of continuity for the children as we are involved regularly in the pre-school and their Infant education through Collective Worship, RE, pastoral care and trips.
In July we give each child a copy of Get Ready Go! which is a Scripture Union resource helping both the child and parents to think abut getting ready for the big adventure of starting school. The main booklet uses simple words, colourful artwork and fun activities to explain what school is going to be like during the excitement of their first term together.
But that’s not all, Get Ready, Go! comes with a companion guide for parents, packed full of advice on:
- parents evenings
- working with your child
- looking at school through the eyes of a child
- dealing with bullying
- leaving your child at the school gates
and much more so that they can help their child on their way to primary school.
Another tool we have found to be helpful is the You’re not Alone guide from the Evangelical Alliance.
Church & Social
- Toddler Groups
- Sunday Groups are run across age boundaries to ensure the transition doesn’t happen at the same time.
I have found that when working with parents, running a session on development can be really helpful. Parents worry about their child, especially if it is their first. Everything is so unknown. It is helpful for them to see that as we look at how children develop, if we look with a big picture, we can make some broad generalisations, some broad brush strokes. I’ve often used these diagrams from Core Skills for Children’s Work which is written by The Consultative Group on Ministry among Children, a inter-denominational group.
Parents find these reassuring to be able to plot where their child is on these diagrams. To see that to some degree their child is average or normal.
Helpfully in the latest EPPSE secondary transition research the team identified five keys to a successful transition:
- developing new friendships and improving their self esteem and confidence
- having settled so well in school life that they caused no concerns to their parents
- showing an increasing interest in school and school work
- getting used to their new routines and school organisation with great ease
- experiencing curriculum continuity.
In terms of school transition this requires partnership working between primary and secondary schools. In my experience this can be patchy, and churches can play a role in helping to strengthen this relationship.
Other things that promoted a positive transition among children included: looking forward to going to secondary school; the friendliness of the older children at secondary school and those in their class; having moved to the same secondary school with most of their primary school friends; having older siblings who could offer them advice and support; and finding their new school work interesting.
Overall, children with special educational needs (SEN) or those from other vulnerable groups did not experience a less successful transition than other children. However, the survey data did highlight some interesting findings. Children with SEN, approximately 20 per cent of children in the sample, were more likely to be bullied – which is a key inhibitor of a successful transition. Out of the 110 children with SEN in the sample 37 per cent had problems with bullying compared with 25 per cent of children without SEN who had problems with bullying. On the positive side, children with SEN and other health problems were experiencing greater curriculum continuity between Years 6 and 7. It may be that the earlier and more individual transfer process that these children experience has prepared them better for the move and the work they will do in Year 7.
Of the 102 children living in low SES households 72 per cent did not get used to the new routines with great ease and 58 per cent did not settle in very well. In comparison, of the 186 high SES children, 50 per cent did not get used to the new routines with great ease and 39 per cent did not settle in so well that they would cause no concern to their parents. However, children of low SES did look forward to secondary school, which had a positive effect on them developing an interest in school and school work.
We support schools by providing a one hour It’s Your Move lesson that helps young people to explore changes, challenges and
This links heavily to the It’s Your Choice resource from Scripture Union which we give every Year 6 pupil in our parish a copy of.
In addition we provide transition support for SEN and vulnerable children from the May half-term, by working with the two main secondary schools to host an afternoon session at their school each week. This brings together 10-12 children from the area to provide a stronger transition with additional time to meet teachers, learn their way around the building etc.
Church & Social
What is particularly alarming is the rate at which we are losing those who grow up in the Church, but whose faith does not transition into adulthood. According to Christian Research, the Church in the UK will have lost an estimated 1.1 million children between 1990 and 2020. They also predict that in the year 2020, 183,700 children aged under-15 will attend church compared to 375,300 in 2010. Unless we do something about it now.
According to statistician Peter Brierley, it is possible to buck the trend if action is taken. He says the number of youth workers in recent years has meant that the Church has not lost as many young people as it could have done. He says that fewer people have left the Church than would have if we had not had as many of these dedicated workers.
A mere 104,200 under-15s left the Church between 1998 and 2005, compared to a predicted 256,000. A job well done? Clearly not. The Bible tasks us in Proverbs 22:6 to “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”. With so many children choosing not to stick with the faith, have we failed? And what can we do about it now?
The Evangelical Alliance research ‘How’s the Family?’, revealed that 45.5 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement that “in my church many young people have stopped attending on Sundays in their teenage years”. There is lots of research about just why this is. Most of the religious beliefs, behaviours and expectations that define a person’s life have been developed and embraced by the age of 13, according to Christian Research. If there isn’t a firm foundation in the Bible and the Christian life before that, children are more susceptible to succumbing to peer pressure, to doubting the faith and seeing church life as alien to the real world.
Research by Peter Brierley suggests that a thousand under-15s were leaving the church each week through the nineties, and, more recently, that the key time for early adolescents to leave the church is at the end of Junior/Primary school. Peter’s research findings underlined that 11-14s are not happy with formality. They want a more relaxed atmosphere, where it’s okay to wear what you like, sit comfortably, talk and enjoy meeting with others. They key factor above even all of this, is relationships. The lack of other young people of the same age, and unfriendliness from adults is the major reason why young people leave the church.
Early adolescence is the second most transformative time for a person developmentally, second to toddlerhood. For the first time, they have the ability to make decisions for themselves, including whether they want to go to church or not (and early teenagers don’t want to do anything but sleep and eat).
The tweenagers and early teenagers go through so many transitions during this time period, whether it’s at school or in the home. With so many transitions, they need a place that is stable.
This is a range of what we’ve done over the last few years
- writing to all year 6s inviting them to the new groups at Easter
- having youth leaders visit the children’s groups in advance of the change
- having the children’s leaders (especially Junior Leaders) come into the youth groups for a few weeks to help them settle
- joint leadership meetings between the volunteer teams to pass on pastoral awareness
- formally offering transport to help any young people who are suddenly expected to get themselves to and from church
- buddy system for young leaders from the youth team to support more vulnerable children.
- opportunity for mentoring
- one or two youth leaders attend special children’s activities such as children’s weekend away and the Holiday Club to work with the year 6s
Parents by this stage are often more confident but are still nervous of these changes, especially around the area of latch-key kids and mobile phones and social media.
Each year we host a parents meeting to explain all the activities and options to them to help them understand what we can offer.
- Intergenerational Insight #1: Involvement in all-church worship during high school is more consistently linked with mature faith in both high school and college than any other form of church participation.
- Intergenerational Insight #2: The more students serve and build relationships with younger children, the more likely it is that their faith will stick.
- Intergenerational Insight #3: High school seniors don’t feel supported by adults in their congregations.
- Intergenerational Insight #4: By far, the number-one way that churches made the teens in our survey feel welcomed and valued was when adults in the congregation showed interest in them.
University / Apprenticeship / Work
Finishing sixth form or college has gradually becoming another transition into the next stage of education rather than a time of adult-like living. Certainly, there are adult characteristics in every university-age person, but we can also make the mistake of viewing them as more stable than maybe they really are. University or Apprenticeship years have become a late adolescent stage of exploration versus a time of consistent maturity.
This is a range of what we’ve done over the last few years
- Preparation for applying to uni/work
- Summer term dedicated to Psalms and topics relevant to Yr 13s
- Mentoring relationships adjusted and cemented
- BBQ – including adults sharing their positive and negative experiences of the next stage
- Goody bag and prayerful goodbye from church as missionaries
- Postcards, chocolate and dominoes throughout the term
- Where possible university visits
Do NOT forget those who take other paths.