What are some words that come to mind when you think about transitions in your early childhood setting? Might they include chaotic, noisy, unmanageable, frustrating, or time-wasting? These are some of the responses I receive when I ask that question in my presentations. I then ask: Not academically speaking, what things would be at the top of your list when you consider what young children are not yet developmentally ready to do?
Can you guess some of the answers? They include being still, being quiet, and being still and quiet in a straight line.
And there, in a nutshell, is the trouble with traditional transitions – because those skills that young children don’t yet possess are exactly what we ask them to do during transitions! And when we ask children to do what they’re not yet capable of doing, frustration and chaos are the natural results. Yes, they want to please us. But when it’s beyond their ability to do so, they will often act out. And that means squandered time. It’s no wonder many experts have called transitions a waste of valuable learning time.
What if, instead, we asked children to do what does come naturally to them? Among the possibilities are having fun and using their imaginations. You might think that would also result in chaos – or, at the very least, noise. But imagine if, instead of fighting to get children to move quietly in a straight line up a flight of stairs, or down a hallway, you played a game of Follow the Leader. If you led the line and moved in an exaggerated tiptoe, occasionally changing your body’s shape, the children would want to follow your example! They’d be too busy having fun and concentrating to act out.
What if you were studying animals and invited the children to move like cats stalking a bird, turtles, foxes, or giraffes? What if you were studying weather and invited the children to move like clouds floating, a gentle breeze, or gentle raindrops or snowflakes? What if, on the way to lunch, the children moved like Jell-O wiggling, or like the odor of food wafting through the air? One thing all of these items have in common is that they’re quiet. And because young children love to pretend, chances are very good that they’ll move quietly – without you even having to ask!
Additionally, while they’re being quiet and successfully transitioning, they are also learning – because children learn by doing. With just a little imagination, you can easily link transitions to lessons being explored in your setting, adding continuity and the repetition necessary for young children to cement the skills and information acquired. Activities like these also offer chances for problem solving, creativity, and self-expression, all of which are skills tomorrow’s adults will most certainly need in this rapidly changing world. And they give children the opportunity to explore a variety of movements — an opportunity currently lacking in their everyday lives.
Yes, handling transitions in this manner may involve a bit more effort from you in the beginning. You’ll have to engage your own creativity to produce ideas. Or, alternatively, you’ll have to go looking for ideas. But once you have them (and you should definitely keep a collection of fingerplays, piggyback songs, and activities on hand for each kind of transition), you’re fully prepared for trouble-free, teachable transitions!
If we let child development guide us, we understand that young children have no motivation to learn something unless it’s fun and engaging. Therefore, if we make following directions fun and engaging, they’ll learn to follow directions. If we handle transitions in imaginative and developmentally appropriate ways – and plan transitions, just as we plan other parts of the program – the children will be engaged in both mind and body and will have far less – if any – need to act out.
But, if we choose to ignore what we know about young children and their developmental stages, and continue to handle transitions traditionally (i.e., as they’ve always been done), we’ll ensure that we always have trouble with transitions. And that isn’t good for you or the children.
NOTE!: MY NEW ONLINE COURSE OFFERS ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR MAKING TRANSITIONS CHAOS-FREE AND VALUABLE LEARNING EXPERIENCES. “MAKE TRANSITIONS TROUBLE-FREE & TEACHABLE!” ALSO OFFERS LOTS OF IDEAS FOR LINKING TRANSITIONS TO CONTENT AREAS & SUGGESTED ACTIVITIES FOR ARRIVAL, CLEANUP, SNACKS & LUNCH, TO & FROM OUTSIDE THE CLASSROOM, NAP OR REST TIME, & DEPARTURE!
THIS COURSE WILL PREMIERE ON FEBRUARY 13. ENROLL NOW!