Smooth Transitions In Child Care

by Cathy Abraham

As you know, transition times are usually the most difficult and stressful parts of the day in child care. A group of children are being asked to shift from one activity to another, and move from one task to another in a relatively short period of time. This lends itself to much movement - and for some children - opportunity! Some children have a particularly difficult time and react to any kind of confusion, lack of structure &/or chaos. You should plan on transition times requiring allof your attention and focus - this would not be the appropriate time to gather the materials necessary for the next art or cooking project.

Smooth Transitions...

  • Establish much better "discipline" in your classroom, preventing many behavior problems.
  • Allow for more time for educational activities, due to less waiting time.
  • Help children to respect you and feel secure, knowing that you are capable and competent, and the classroom is not out of control.

Here are some general thoughts on how to make transition times easier:

  • View transition times as opportunities for learning - Transitions hold many opportunities for skill-building, problem-solving, listening, following directions, and cooperation.
  • Make transitions fun - A good Teacher can make wearing two mismatched mittens sound like the most fun and exciting thing in the world just by facial expressions and tone of voice. Utilize your face and voice as teaching tools.
  • One adult should stay with the majority of the children who are ready (or not ready) and the other staff member should be facilitating the rest of the group. - Strategically positioning yourself is an invaluable tool during transitions. Do not penalize the children who are ready and doing what they should be doing. Don't let one child hold up the rest of the class because he won't put on his coat - that's giving that child a great deal of power.
  • Eliminate 'Lining Up' and minimize waiting. - Lining up lends itself to children being in each others' body space. This often leads to pushing, shoving, kicking and whining. Movement in small groups is preferable - and much more manageable. Stagger small groups of children. If you must line-up, or there is an unexpected wait for the next activity (example: lunch is late), use fingerplays, songs and games that require no props are essential. Think about how difficult it is for us (as adults) to wait in a grocery store line for more than a couple of minutes. Multiply that by ten! A good Teacher has a repertoire of fun little games and activities they can 'pull out of a hat' at any given moment, and also utilizes teachable moments to talk and process the child's experiences of the day, while encouraging cognitive development.
  • Give children adequate time to prepare for transitions. - You like to know what is coming next in your day, don't you? Do you like it when you're right in the middle of something and someone demands that you stop right now and do something else? We need to be respectful of children and their choices. They need to mentally prepare for changes, and feel that they have some control within their environment and their day. Predictable cues can also be an effective and helpful tool. Children respond to structure and routines, and consistency enables them to feel safe, secure, and more in control and competent.
  • Choose children first who are not engaged in any activity, (or who need some redirection), to start moving into that next phase of the day.
  • Utilize positive reinforcement as a tool. - Children generally strive to please. Reward appropriate behavior with recognition, praise and positive reinforcement. Don't fall into the "Good Job" pitfall - the more specific and concrete your comments are, the more it indicates that you are really looking and paying attention, and are sincere.
  • Try to stay away from always relying on external rewards like stickers. - This can often backfire, and you may have children who will only do what is expected if they get something in return.
  • Know upon whom you need to keep an extra close eye. - Certain children predictably 'lose it' during transition times, or take advantage of the fact that your focus is fragmented. You will want to shadow these children closely - again using positive reinforcement when they display appropriate behaviors.
  • Since we know transition times are hectic, plan ahead and have all necessary materials at hand. - You know the room 'goes up for grabs' during a transition time if someone has to leave to go get another spoon or a box of Kleenex!
  • Some children need specific directions comprised of only one or two commands at a time. - Some children cannot comprehend or process multiple directions given all at one time. Think about this the next time you get that child who just stares at you, whom you think is just being disobedient.
  • Model and demonstrate appropriate behaviors. - Do not assume the children truly know what is expected. Be patient with children new to child care - they probably know nothing about 'snack time', 'group time', etc. and/or many of the expectations.
  • Know your children. - Know what they like and what they respond to, what works, and what doesn't.

Ideas for Waiting Times

  • Songs and Fingerplays
  • Visualization scenarios/listening games ("You are sitting on the beach. The sun is warm and you can feel it on your back"); Try relaxation techniques.
  • Review of the morning or previous day; Talk about things together.
  • Have children wiggle specific body parts
  • Have children move like, or pretend to be specific animals or things
  • Read or tell a story, or have children look at books
  • Identify things in the room that start with certain letters; Look for shapes, colors, numbers, etc within the environment
  • Guessing Games
  • Memory games or clapping games
  • "Simon Says"
  • Exercising or Stretching Activities
  • Play the "Telephone" game
  • Use puppets to give directions, reinforce concepts, or just be silly
  • "Freeze!" - no one can move - "We're all frozen!"
  • "Quiet Bubbles" - challenge children to be quiet (or sit) before bubble pops
  • "Get your wiggles out!" - Have children wiggle different parts of their bodies

Remember to tie in your curriculum theme whenever possible to expand upon and enhance the children's learning experiences. Keep it fun and exciting and you'll eliminate many behavior problems.