Being indoors so much in our cold snowy winters gives me a chance to really sit back and observe what is happening within our space. As children move between activities throughout the day it becomes very clear how they handle transitions affects how they interact socially with others, gain value from specific activities and just basically enjoy their day. Some children, like adults, handle change more easily than others. All children are unique and as their teachers we need to look at their personalities, ages and experiences when considering how to help them learn to make adjustments.
What do I mean by transitions? A transition takes place whenever a child moves from one activity to another or one location to another. They can include: arrival or departure, exchanging toys, entering a play area, clean up, getting dress for outside play, bathroom usage, rest time, eating. As you can see from this basic list there are many, many opportunities for learning to handle changes with all the daily transitions present in our child care space during one day.
Children learn to be comfortable with change when planning has gone into making the transitions they experience positive. Well planned transitions provide predictability, help children feel safe and can reduce or prevent behavior problems.
Some children just seem to flow through transitions, but others get confused, frustrated, or overwhelmed by changes. Some children can become so involved in what they are doing that they do not want to stop, or may not understand why they need to stop. Young children especially, do not have a clear concept of time. Understanding and following directions, exercising self-control, physically moving within spaces, handling noise and having the language skills to express their needs all affect how a child handles transitions.
It is important as their teacher to continually observe how transitions are working, how individual children are responding, and adjusting as necessary to allow these transition periods to be positive and educational. Within the child care setting I need to arrange the environment to support independence as well as creating space for the current activities of interest. Having a consistent daily schedule helps children learn to predict events/responses and get comfortable with the idea/need for changes. Having the opportunity for young children to follow a routine the older children have become comfortable with helps greatly with developing a high comfort level.
When I look at how I handle transitions I consider: the number of routine transitions we experience in a day; ease of use of our environment for moving between areas and especially for children knowing where things go; having children actively involved during transition and not always waiting/waiting/waiting; clear directions in consistent and age appropriate language; cues to signal a change is coming, such as music, lights, timer, opening a door.
For a child having difficulties with transitions, we need to do our best to pinpoint what is the situation when a problem develops. We can then try to involve them in making choices when appropriate, use rituals, and have a consistent response. Rituals are as simple as waving bye to the parent out a window, singing a special song as walk from car to door on arrival, having special place to put their coat/papers/etc., setting a kitchen timer for clean-up time, choosing their color cup for the day, or bringing a special item from home to share. Within an educational activity a child can be a “helper”, bring in snack, get lunch tables ready, hold the door, etc. You can sing silly songs during clean-up. Move in different ways between structured activities, such as quiet as a mouse, giant steps, spider crawl, etc.
Transitions and how children handle them are one of the foundation blocks for learning. What seems like such a simple thing really needs to be looked at and handled with intention, so we are providing our children with the best support for their future success that we can.