As the children in my cohort are slowly turning two, I have been thinking a lot about all of the transitions that happen throughout their day. Especially for children in childcare, there are many moments when they must move between buildings, cars, changes of clothing, activities, and meals. Most of this includes transitions away from their family to school and then back to family, which takes an emotional toll. The same thing happens in a classroom situation. Part of the way I build basic trust with the children is playing to their innate sense and need for order by preparing, following through, supporting the transition and then giving space and time. Transitions happen at predictable intervals through our day. They are the most visible when we move from one thing to the next, so moving from free play to snack time is a transition just like going outside. These moments can be the hairiest, because children are less certain.
My goals to support smooth transitions that support the children's physical and emotional health look something like this:
Children thrive on knowing what comes next, so giving just the right amount of preparation for the next activity is key. The amount of time, or the amount of steps you prepare for, depends greatly on a child's age. I begin this process, especially with infants, I tell them what the immediate next step is. "It's time to check your diaper. Can I pick you up?" I take my time and watch reactions.
Eventually I begin to prepare by giving a warning a few minutes before what's going to happen next. For example: Snack is winding down and some children are playing, some are washing their hands. "Snack is over everyone! Next we're going to go to the bathroom for fresh diapers." Keep it simple, as few words as possible, and then make sure you follow through.
The more practice a child has with being prepared for transitions the more they can process and eventually become part of the planning process. It might sound something like, "It looks like snack is almost over. I wonder. Should we go outside next or do some painting?"
Giving older children the next steps in a process helps them build their logical sequencing skills and even now with my 2 year olds they enjoy telling everyone what happens next. "Next we going outside! First put dishes in bus tub, go potty, put on shoes and then ride bikes!" Preparation gives a child the tools to predict and become owners of themselves, their environment and the flow of the day.
This is where trust is built during transitions. When what you say actually happens when you say it, the children know that they can trust you. The more times you're able to follow through, especially by doing exactly the same thing, even saying the same exact words, their bubble of security expands and they're able to do what comes next smoothly. The less stress the children feel the more confident they can be, and you'll start to notice that they will anticipate what comes next.
During the Transition
Take the time with the transition period to give attention where it's needed. It's easy to feel hurried, but instead try to find this as a time to slow down. I often noticed that children feel the most stress during this time and react in many ways: crying, lashing out, doing the opposite of what you say, making a mess of the room. My first reaction is to get frustrated, but when I take the time I realize that this is their way of telling me "Too fast! I need more info/space/help/time/opportunity to go my own way." The more time you devote now to transitions, the easier they will be in the future.
When I am working with a group of children I think about a few extra things, most of which are logistical, yet become highly important while navigating a group of children.
- Is everyone safe when I leave the room?
-Is everyone in my sight when we leave the room?
-Is everyone feeling secure?
-If not how can I support emotional support? Do they need more explanation? Or maybe just a hug and me being really close. Maybe they need a bit of space, within reason.
Keeping my awareness on these things helps my ability to follow through as we transition . It might look something like this: We are heading to the bathroom. I have given the next step and everyone is gathering together and beginning to make their way. I position myself at the back of the herd, gently directing "Here we go! It's time for fresh diapers! I wonder which color you'll choose today. Oh, I see you tripped here, can I help you? Oh wait, the toddlers are eating snack! You can say hi then continue onwards! Let's go!" I try to make these transitions as smooth, fun, easy and child led as possible.
The next Activity!
You did it! Now everyone is settled in with the next activity. I am either doing changes, observing, sitting and eating or supporting any spontaneous moments that have occurred during the transition. There is often a child who might need a hug or a little extra help before moving on to the next thing. I take the time to evaluate our transitions when I can. Keeping that cycle of inquiry always important, but sometimes the activity at hand is more important. If I'm able, sometimes I take a moment to sit and write about what happened, what I felt about so I'm able to process it later and figure out how I might help each child individually better or what things I noticed about what I did that could have been better. This is how I keep refining my interactions with the children and furthering my wisdom as a teacher.