If you work with young children then you naturally have small to big transitions that take place in your classroom. Transitions can be simply described as those times throughout the day when your students change focus from one activity to another. In many cases, transitions can be a source of trouble in the classroom so here are a few tips for dealing with those troubling transitions…
1. Take time to observe
To really know where the trouble lies in a transition, one of the first things you will want to do is to step back and take the time to observe what is happening around you. Ask yourself, “Where are my transition problems?” You may think you know the answer already but taking a couple of days to really observe the classroom in action, you will most likely see things you have missed before…
2. Be aware of yourself
In the process of observing what is happening around you, be aware of how your own actions, tone of voice, and decisions are affecting the different transitions throughout the day. Are you mentally and physically prepared for the transition or are you running around like a crazy person trying to get things done? Are you using a loud voice that makes everyone in the room even louder? Are you distracted by too many details and can’t give your undivided attention to the kids? Or are you fully present and ready to gently and calmly guide children through the process?
3. Give the children a heads up
Are you asking the children to suddenly stop and drop and roll up everything they are engaged in or are you walking around the classroom nudging them to wrap up their play because soon it will be time to clean up? Giving young children a gentle warning that soon it will be time to clean up helps them mentally prepare for the change. I recommend going around the classroom and calmly share the news rather than shouting it over a loud intercom. Remember, you want to calmly lead your children into change not make every change a 911 emergency!
4. Keep the flow
In the process of changing from one activity to another, there are ways to make the process flow more naturally which will smooth the process. For example, having one group clean up their area then head over to wash hands then go sit down for snack and get busy serving and eating their snack while another group then begins to clean up their area and so on. If all the children clean up at once then head over to wash hands, this means everyone will be waiting in line for their turn to wash hands which leads to a longer transition for the children rather than a smoother transition that keeps them flowing from one thing to the next
5. Adjust classroom setup
Classroom set up makes a difference in whether children will be successfully independent or constantly dependent. To help transitions run more smoothly, you will want the set up of your classroom to lead the children towards taking care of their own needs rather than always being dependent on you. From simple to big changes may be needed. Simple things like making sure paper towels and a trash can are within kids reach and right next to sink so kids won’t have to walk across the room (dripping water that you will have to dry up) to dry their hands and toss a towel in the trash can. Bigger things such as making sure you position the furniture in your classroom so it gives clearly defined areas for play and ultimately clearly defined places to put things away. Whenever you find yourself having to follow behind the kids sorting things that landed in the wrong place, consider whether your classroom needs to be more clearly defined and intentional in its design so the children can meet expectations with greater success.
6. Limit the number of transitions
Consider your daily schedule or routine. Does each part of your day naturally lead to the next or does it require a complete stop and start over? When planning your classroom routine or schedule, visualize how your students will be able to naturally migrate from one part of the day to the next or one experience to the next without having to come to a complete stop and without having to wait on you or wait in line or wait, wait, wait!
So far we have been talking about about how to view and manage transitions as a whole in your classroom. But there will always still be transitions so let’s take a look at a few tools for transitions…
7. Sing songs and Finger plays
Sing simple songs with hands and motions that promote fine motor control, listening, working together, rhyme, rhythm and so on. Songs such as “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” can be shared with sound, without sound, and the words can be changed to a teeny tiny spider to a great big fat spider! Choose songs or finger plays that help to keep little hands and voices and bodies busy and focused on enjoying time in music together. And remember, a transition isn’t a time to teach a brand new song as much as it is a time to pull out the old favorites and modify them.
8. Play simple games
Play games that build on math and language concepts such as “I Spy a Shape” or “I Spy a Color” or “Simon Says Touch Your Nose!”
Clap and Tap with the kids to build a sense of listening and completing simple patterns. For example, “clap hand, tap knee, clap hand, tap knee” and so on. As the children improve in their ability to follow a simple pattern, you can make it more complex.
9. Build in teachable moments
Keep a few tools in a bag and carry the bag with you. You can use the tools for simple teachable moments. For example: place an object like a pair of scissors in your bag. Pull out the scissors and say, “Hmmm, I wonder what these are?” “What can I use them for?” “Are they for eating food?” “Are they for cutting hair?” “How should I hold them?” “How should I walk with them?” “Should I leave them on the floor?” and so on. Essentially you are taking a few minutes to teach a mini-lesson in a fun way that will help improve children’s understanding of simple tools around the classroom. You can also fill your bag with a pair of mittens or a ball of play dough. Don’t spend time on every tool in one session – just one will be fun then save the other things for another day.
Transition times (or times when children have to wait) are also a good time for teachable moments in classroom routines such as hand washing or throwing a paper towel in the trash. For example, place a few paper towels in a basket and set it in your lap. Talk about how we only need one paper towel to dry hands and demonstrate the process. Now invite each child to come and take a paper towel, pretend to dry their hands, and throw the towel in the trash. Then send each child off to wash hands and put his or her new understanding into real life practice. As your student become more adept at meeting small expectations, your transitions will naturally start to run more smoothly.
10. Build Community
Use transition times to build community. This is never going to be achieved if you are spending all your time trying to control all kid-movement and discussion. Instead you need to lead kid-movement and discussions by being fully present and prepared with ideas for keeping kids engaged in the process of going from one thing to the next. Building community is all about positive interactions and conversations so bring your best to every transition as a teacher and lead your students toward having a successful experience. Where things start to go awry, then observe and modify and rethink your plan for next time. You will only get better and so will your students!