Big Little Leap: The role of transition difficulties in children’s skill development during kindergarten

Research brief
Authors: Jing Sun, Laura M. Justice, Hui Jiang, Kelly M. Purtell, Tzu-Jung Lin, and Arya Ansari

About the brief

The transition to kindergarten marks the official start of formal schooling for many U.S.  children and represents one of the most important transitions that children face. Regardless of pre-k attendance, 70% of children struggle with at least one kindergarten transition difficulty. Kindergarten transition difficulties are distinctly different from children’s kindergarten-entry skills and have a unique association with key academic and social-behavioral markers that forecast long-term development. This research brief examines these difficulties and whether they are associated with children’s academic and social skills at the end of their kindergarten year, using a sample of Ohio children. 

5 key transition difficulties

What are transition difficulties and how do they relate to kindergarten transition? The transition into kindergarten poses a number of unique challenges for young children, including adjusting to a new environment and its rules and routines, making sense of interactions with unfamiliar teachers and peers, and grappling with heightened academic tasks (Ladd & Price, 1987; Rimm-Kaufman et al., 2002)

Data was taken from a sample of 801 Ohio Kindergarteners during the 2017 school year. The researchers measure of transition difficulties covered 5 key areas.

  1. Adjusting to academic demands
  2. Making friends and interacting with classmates
  3. Working within groups in the classroom
  4. Being organized
  5. Following schedules and routines

…kindergarten transition difficulties that children experienced functioned independently and impacted their achievements regardless of prior academic and social-behavioral competencies brought into kindergarten.


– 1 –

Early childhood administrators, teachers, parents, and k-12 school systems alike should work to reduce transition difficulties and improve kindergarten experiences for all children.

– 2 –

Practitioners would do well to design interventions targeted for children specifically with difficulties transitioning to kindergarten.

DID YOU KNOW… that the Crane and Schoenbaum Centers have an entire body of work on the transition to kindergarten? From research to practitioner notes to tips for parents, the collective body of work aims to deepen our understanding and better support all children during this important transition.

Check out the full body of work here.