Am I asking too much of early childhood professionals?


It’s funny, the things we assume. It seems that there are certain understandings/beliefs that we possess that we imagine everyone possesses. But of course that’s an unrealistic expectation.

This was brought to light for me recently when I held a conversation with early childhood expert and preschool director Deborah Stewart. We were talking about transitions in early childhood settings – those many periods during the day when the children are moving from one subject, or one place, to another. Experts have contended that transitions can be an accumulation of wasted time. And anyone who works with groups of young children knows how chaotic they can become.

To address both of those issues, I’ve always believed that transitions should be planned, just as other parts of the day are planned – that, with just a little imagination, transitions could be both manageable and meaningful.

Those beliefs seem reasonable to me, but Deborah made a couple of observations during our discussion that took me by surprise.

One was when she pointed out that I obviously believe in transitions as part of the children’s learning experience. That had me shaking my head because…well, of course they are! Children learn from everything they see, hear, and do. Why shouldn’t they learn something valuable from transitions — something beyond the expectation that they stand still and be quiet, two tasks for which Mother Nature did not have young children in mind?

Why can’t transitions be linked to curriculum content (lessons in transportation or forest animals, for example)? Why can’t transitions offer the children some practice with motor skills (for instance, tiptoeing or moving in a sideways direction, using any motor skill but running)? Why can’t transitions stimulate their imaginations and offer opportunities for the children to express themselves and solve problems (moving in a crooked shape, like a whisper, or like something yellow)?

Well, as Deborah explained, most teachers see transitions as something that takes place between the real learning. The transition is just a means to get from one subject/area of learning to another.

I realize how naïve this sounds but…well, that came as a surprise to me.

Another surprise occurred when Deb informed me that the “creativity” necessary to plan such transitions might overwhelm some early childhood professionals. That perhaps they’d rather take their chances on chaos than have to think up imaginative ways for the children to transition.

I’d suggested that instead of yelling at the kids to climb the stairs (something I’d witnessed during a site visit), the teacher could have made the task enjoyable for everybody by asking them to pretend to climb a mountain. Or, if that was still going to be too noisy, by inviting them to pretend to be kitty cats stalking birds. The children would have been engaged by these challenges – by using their imaginations and problem-solving skills – and therefore much less likely to want to wreak havoc.

That didn’t really require a lot of imagination on the part of the teacher, did it? Or was I making another false assumption – that anybody who wants to work with young children is imaginative by nature? I mean, even if they believe they’re not “creative,” surely some of the incredible imagination they’re exposed to daily would rub off on them. Wouldn’t it?

Maybe that’s also assuming too much. But, if so, there are alternatives that don’t require creativity. For instance, what about a simple game of Follow the Leader, with the teacher at the front of the line, soundless and smiling? Surely that would come naturally to an early childhood teacher. Or am I making yet another assumption – that anyone who goes into early childhood education must be inherently playful, and of course would rather participate in a simple game than stand and yell at children?

Am I asking too much?


NOTE: For more ideas on how you can make transitions manageable and meaningful, check out this short, six-minute video.


  • No, Rae Pica, you are not asking too much of child care professionals. I am in total agreement. Transition time is part o “learning” and should be incorporated as such during the day. Child care professionals must have an inherent playful quality. They have to have a good grasp on child development, able to understand children’s behavior. They need to know why children do what they do and refrain from developmentally inappropriate expectations. We have to ask much of our child care professionals. Many are with our children for so many hours in the day. We have have high expectations!

  • Ann says:

    I don’t believe that you are asking too much! This should be part of every teacher’s arsenal of teaching materials. As a former K/1 teacher and a children’s librarian I do this all the time. It does take deliberation but so does writing lesson plans, developing evaluation tools, and preparing for parent teacher conferences. It can and should be done.

  • Aiicia Knight says:

    It takes training. So many ECEs have not had a lot of training to even think about transitions. I do train about transitions. I ask the group to total up all the transitions we have through the day. The totals are as rounding, as much a 5-6 hours a day! When we see that, then we understand how much productive time is being lost. The first thing to do is go through the schedules and eliminate as many tamsitiomns as possible. Then rework the transitions that remain to reduce the number of kids sitting and waiting. Them PLAN for transitions right along with the rest of the day’s curriculum. This is the curriculum that goes in your pocket – to remind you on the fly. Plan for materials that are special for transitional learning,– small books, baskets of twiddle toys, media bottles, soft cloths, texture baskets, etc. These only come out at transitions go keep them special and engaging. These can also be themed.

    Overall, once teachers are mindful of the need to p!an for the use of transition time as little learning bites, the days flow much better and they have more fun. I think we as trainers need to emphasize this.

    • Rae says:

      Great stuff here, Alicia! It’s absolutely brilliant to ask teachers to first figure out how much time is actually transitional! Thank you for the work you’re doing. 🙂

  • Aiicia Knight says:

    Sorry for all the typos! I’m writing this on a tablet with a sensitive touch screen and crazy autocorrect.

  • Janna King says:

    I am an ECE and I am in total agreement with you, it is not too much at all to expect that an ECE plan to create the smoothest and most positive transition times for the children within their care from day to day.

    I myself love planning ways to keep the children engaged and focused during these times of the day because I feel that it not only benefits the children, but also me. The relationship that an ECE creates between themself and each child is very important. It has to be a relationship that offers respect from both the teacher and from the child as well. I believe that if I do not respect these children enough to offer them the support they need to successfully move throughout our daily routine then I am not offering the children the respect they deserve. The same is said by my “yelling orders” or telling the children what to do by bossing them around, I am showing the children disrespect, naturally their response will be one of disrespect as well. This results in transition times being utter chaos, unproductive and stressful for both the children AND myself.

    So to answer your question, no I do not believe that what you’re asking is asking too much of an ECE.

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