EARLY CHILDHOOD — Transitions with young children in early childhood classrooms

By Jaci Foged, Extension Educator

There is so much that happens in an early childhood classroom in one day — checking in, outdoor play, classroom activities, lunch and naptime — just to name a few. Between all of those activities are transitions.

Transitions are going to happen. Incorporate strategies that work for your age group to help the children be successful and save you from possible challenging behaviors.

Webster’s dictionary defines a transition as: “a passage from one state, stage, subject or place to another.” Some transitions in an early childhood classroom are so fluid that you hardly even noticed one occurred. For example, waking children up from a nap to change diapers. Others are a little easier to spot, for instance parents dropping their child off in the classroom after a long weekend. This transition from parent to provider can sometimes be difficult and requires a little extra patience for both the parent and provider.

Moving a group of young children from point A to point B can be stressful. Parents, you know how hard it is to simply leave the house with one or two kids. A toddler classroom with one teacher has up to six toddlers which the teacher needs to be able to move safely from one place to another. Anytime teachers leave their classroom with a group of children, they need to be focused and aware of the number of children they have with them, as well as the temperament of the group.

Young children are easily distracted by their environment. Stopping to smell the roses, watch the worm wriggle across the sidewalk or the bee buzz around a flower are all possible distractions.

In the classroom or home, teachers and parents have the walls to help keep the little ones safe, but as soon as that door opens, it is like a passageway to a new, exciting place. Adults working with children should remember that children are naturally curious and excited to go and explore their new world. When transitions are poorly done, the end result can seem chaotic and may result in challenging behavior in the children.

When I was an early childhood teacher, some of the trickiest times for me were after lunch, clean-up time, and going in and out of the classroom.

Remember, children are naturally curious. Combine that with the fact they absolutely love attention and you have a learner on your hands! The best time to teach your child or a group of children something (or review something they have already learned) is when they are happy and ready to play. Please note, the best time is NOT when they are angry or upset.

Young children (two and three year olds) could be expected to sit and actively participate in a group discussion for about five minutes. Four and five year olds will be able to listen for a few minutes longer. Keep your discussion short, and actively practice what you are teaching.

Buddy bands is one way to teach a group of toddlers to walk in pairs. Buddy bands are inexpensive and easily washable. Simply tie two scrunchies (ponytail bands) together and pair two children up. Each child holds on to their ponytail band and follows in line. This is great because instead of a long line of six toddlers, you now have a shorter line of three groups of two.

Sometimes children are not quite sure where they should stand. This creates more of a messy blob than a line of children. Try making a pattern of pairs of feet. Tape or use contact paper to stick them to the floor. These feet will assist the children with knowing where they should stand.

Teachers should also make transitions as fun as possible. The children want your attention, and they learn by doing. Every moment can be a learning moment in an early childhood classroom.
• Count steps as you move from one place to another.
• Walk backwards.
• Clap, snap and stomp your hands and feet.
• Skip, hop or slide from one place to the next.
• Play eye spy, look for a specific color or try to find a bug.