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 all of your attention and focus - this would not be the appropriate time to gather the materials necessary for the next art or cooking project.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.