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3 Tips for Transition Times with Young Children

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Rae Pica, author of Teachable Transitions: 190 Activities to Move from Morning Circle to the End of the Day and many other books, invites us to question why we often ask children to do things during transition times that they are not yet developmentally equipped to do. For example, be quiet, stand still, and stay in line. Oftentimes, these “asks” can make transition times stressful and frustrating for young children. Nature has put a process in place to help children develop the skills they need over time. Rae Pica proposes that we keep this developmental process in mind, and offers 3 developmentally appropriate tips to make transition times with young children less chaotic and less frustrating. 


Hi, I'm Rae Pica. I'm the author of several books for Gryphon House, including Teachable Transitions: 190 Activities to Move from Morning Circle to the End of the Day, which I'm here to talk about. These days, my favorite questions begin with “what if”. So I'm going to start by asking a couple of “what if” questions for you.

What if transitions didn't have to be among the most frustrating parts of your day? And what if transitions could be as much a part of the children's learning experiences as are other parts of the day? 

To address the first question, when I do a presentation on transitions, I begin by asking participants to name some things not related to academics that young children aren't yet developmentally equipped to do. Inevitably, some of the initial responses I receive are: be quiet, stay still, and stand in a line. And what are three of the things we ask them to do when it's transition time? You've got it. Be quiet, stay still, and stand in a line. 

Put Ourselves in Children’s Shoes

Why are we asking the little ones to do things they’re not yet ready to do? The thinking I imagine has been that if we require them to do these things, they'll learn how. But we have to remember that nature has put a process in place that helps them develop the life skills they need over time. They wouldn't learn how to read Plato or drive a car simply because we told them to. The same principle applies to being quiet and still. 

So my first recommendation is that to make transitions less frustrating and less chaotic, we put ourselves in the children's shoes. The little ones are motivated by what feels good to them—by what's fun! So, why can't we make transitions fun?

Make Transitions Learning Experiences

This ties into the second question about making transitions into learning experiences. What if instead of insisting over and over and over again that the children remain in a line as you transition down a hallway, you play a game of Follow the Leader. If you lead them in this game, they'll be focused on replicating your movements and they'll be enjoying themselves, so it's much less likely they'll need to act out. Also since physically replicating what the eyes see is necessary in both art and in learning to write, you'll be addressing concepts in two content areas. If you need to transition quietly, you can tip toe in an exaggerated manner as you lead them. The kids will love it!

They'll also love it if you invite them to move like weightless astronauts or tightrope walkers. These are occupations, making this a lesson in social studies. If you invite the children to move while making themselves big or small, you are addressing math in the form of quantitative concepts. If you use piggyback songs, both music and emergent literacy are involved.

What if for transitions to lunch, you invited the children to move as though there was soup sloshing in a bowl or Jell-O wiggling. They really love that one. When it's cleanup time, they can pretend to be little elves or vacuum cleaners. These kinds of activities draw on the children's imaginations and engage their minds.

I think we too often believe that the shape of a day in the classroom has to consist of: learning, transition, learning, transition. But if the transitions themselves are also learning experiences, that adds to the continuity of the day and gives you and the children an opportunity to reinforce their understanding of various concepts.

Plan Transitions

My final word of advice is to plan transitions as you plan other parts of the day. This doesn't mean you have to create lesson plans for them, but we can't act as though we didn't know they were coming. Instead, if you keep a collection of fingerplays, piggyback songs, and activities on hand for each kind of transition, they'll be both trouble-free and teachable.

Just because transitions have always been handled in a way that ignores what we know about children, that doesn't mean we have to continue to handle them that way. I'd love to hear how it goes! You can reach out to me at RaePica.Com

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