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Rituals to Ease Transitions for Young Children

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Dr. Sandra Duncan, coauthor of Inspiring Spaces for Young Children and author of Through a Child’s Eyes: How Classroom Design Inspires Learning and Wonder, discusses three ritual-related activities that can aid children in their transition back into the classroom. When returning to the classroom from an extended holiday break, many children can experience a feeling of disruption and displacement. Rituals and recurring activities can help children gain a sense of stability and predictability, ultimately making their transitions back to school less stressful. Through Duncan’s recommended exercises, children can regain their sense of structure and belonging within the classroom.

Hi there, I'm Dr. Sandra Duncan. Transitioning from home into the classroom might be challenging to young children, especially during times of COVID, if they've been out for a while or perhaps transitioning back from the holidays. Rituals are actions that help provide predictability, stability and structure to children and their day. They can help strengthen children's sense of belonging and their sense of security. 

Here are three rituals that you might establish in your classroom that can help the transition from the outside world to the inside world a little bit better. 

Walking sticks

The first idea is a walking stick. Children simply decorate sticks that they find outside and bring them into the classroom. You can provide yarn, ribbon, or pieces of fabric, feathers, most anything that you might find in your art center. At the beginning of the day, the teacher takes the decorated walking sticks to the outside of the classroom and places them right near the classroom door. As children come into the center and walk to their classroom, they find their walking stick and transition it from the outside of the classroom to the inside of the classroom.

Inside the classroom, there should be a special place for children's walking sticks to stay during the day. The transitioning of a walking stick from the outside of the classroom to the inside of the classroom sends a message to children that I'm important; I belong here. It gives them a sense of security and a sense of belonging.

A variation of this walking stick is for families to make walking sticks. And so when the children arrive with their family or their caregiver, they find the family walking stick and transition it into the classroom. At the end of the day, when children leave, they take their walking stick from inside the classroom and take it back outside. Again, the message for the family walking stick is that my family is important. 

Welcome stones

A second idea for a ritual would be welcome stones. Each child decorates his own stone. The best kind of stone is a flat river rock. You can buy them at nurseries or yard companies that deal with landscaping. Each child decorates their own stone. You can decorate with tempera paint or perhaps markers. And if you wish, you can have the children put their name on the stone, if they know how to do that, if they don't just an X or any kind of decoration on the stone will do. 

At the entrance of the classroom, you have a container of decorated stones, the children's stones, and you have another container that's empty. At the beginning of the day, the children come in just like they did with the walking sticks, they find their own personal stone, they take it out of one container and they transition it into another container. Again, the message is I'm here, I'm important, and I belong in this classroom. 

Children’s Sign In 

The last idea that I have for rituals is children’s sign in. It's one of my favorite ideas that I saw in a classroom in Baltimore. When the parents sign in, they do their own sign in, but the teacher also put a little table out by the classroom entry door and every morning the teacher asks a question like “how many birds did you see today on your way to school?” “Is it raining outside?” Of course the children can't read those questions, but the parent or the caregiver can help the children read the questions. Then the children write the answers to these questions. And I use the term write very informally because maybe they don't know how to write the word but they could put a happy face or a smiley face or whatever they want, but it's their way of signing into the classroom. 

Again, even though the children might not be able to read or spell the words, it really doesn't matter. They respond to the question in any way that they wish and it is a ritual; it's a children's signin ritual. 

I hope that these three ideas, the walking stick, the welcome stones and the children sign in will give you some ideas for helping children transition into your classroom. Bye for now!