It’s a few weeks into the new term, I have now met all my new nurture children and their staff. It is common for new children starting school to bring something with them from home, often a toy, sometimes a bit of a blanket or a scarf, this is the case for several of my new children. Some schools allow this for a week or maybe two but then want it to be stopped. Many teachers feel that bringing toys and items from home is a distraction, can cause unnecessary disagreements between children and fear they might be damaged.
I understand these concerns but for some children, there is another reason for bringing something in from home, it is comforting, it helps them to feel safe, it is a connection between home, their carer and school. Donald Winnicott in 1953 introduced the term transitional object for items that children use to help them cope with changes. Some children have one object that they take everywhere, e.g a piece of blanket or one very loved, old toy, for other children it is about taking something from home, which acts as a physical link to home.
Early years settings are often really good at understanding the importance of a transitional object and the comfort this provides to children. I think it is really important that this knowledge of child development and good practice from early years settings is shared with staff in schools.
While we are helping children to transition into school we can sometimes forget that for some children this settling in process, helping them to feel safe and secure can take a while, this does not always happen in the first few days or weeks. Some children still need their transitional object to help them feel secure, this doesn’t have to be on them all the time, it could be in a pocket, on a shelf or in a drawer. The very knowledge that they have something with them from home in school can often be enough to help them feel safer and secure.
There will be some children who are still arriving at school and are deeply upset and distressed at leaving their parent, I often suggest for these children that they are allowed to bring in something to school which reminds them of their Mum or Dad e.g a small scarf which smells of mum or a small lego man that they play with Dad. I encourage the parent to explain to the child “I know you are feeling sad that I am not with you at school, have this scarf to look after for me, when I pick you up you can give it back to me, I will be thinking of you today” the parent can also have something of the child’s e.g a toy that they will look after until the child comes home. The object from home can be kept in the child’s pocket or in their drawer, when the child is feeling overwhelmed or sad they can feel the object and remember they will see their parent soon.
I have been having conversations with the staff working with my new children about the importance of transitional objects and encouraging the staff to recognise that some children still need this.