Transitions can be tricky for children. Young children are the most affected, especially when faced with new environments, routines, and interactions. They will often react to change by displaying challenging behaviors like throwing tantrums.
When children are taken from one activity to another, either at school or home, they may get anxious or frustrated. Transitioning from things like play time to lunchtime, or nap time to home time can be challenging. So, how can you prepare for transitions to promote a calm and positive classroom environment?
Creating engaging transition activities for children can minimize tantrums and other unwanted behaviors, making the transition process smoother. In this article, we will discuss activities that offer a solid structure and fun ways to help children focus and prepare for the next activities of the day.
Developing transition strategies is a great way for families and teachers to partner together. Whether at school or home, having strong and familiar transition strategies can minimize challenging behavior and support children’s development in both settings.
You can download a free copy of our preschool daily report template to keep families up-to-date on their child’s day.
Understanding preschool transitions
A variety of routines and transitions govern a preschool classroom’s day. For example, children may start their day off outside and, after 30 minutes, transition inside for a morning meeting. Preschoolers can experience about 10 transitions in a day, depending on how long their day is and the length of each activity.
If not planned carefully, the various transitions throughout the day can become triggers for behaviors and may lead children to become distressed or anxious. Sometimes behaviors may stem from children feeling frustrated when switching from a preferred activity to a less preferred one. Other times, the time of transition may lack structure which can cause a child to feel disoriented or disconnected, unclear about what to do or what comes next.
The goal is to establish a well-organized, solid routine for preschoolers to move through the day independently. This way, you’ll create a clear path for them to make fluid transitions while remaining emotionally regulated.
Why are transitions a challenge for preschool children?
Children do not understand the concept of time, making it difficult for them to prepare adequately for transitions. They rely on predictable routines to anticipate what comes next and to prepare cognitively and emotionally. In the absence of well-established routines and problem-solving strategies, they can become easily overwhelmed when they don’t have time or enough information and control over their situation.
Most often, teachers experience challenges with transitions when children are so engaged with activities they enjoy and are interrupted to move on to the next part of the day. This may lead to upset feelings and unwillingness to cooperate, and it may take the child some time to recover until they learn the routine and are given strategies to prepare for the transition (like a warning) or the ability to leave their work in progress with a plan to return to it later in the day.
Why is an effective transition plan necessary?
Waiting is a natural part of life and an important life skill. As adults, we can tell time and somewhat control our schedule and how we use our time. Children are still developing a sense of time, and it’s important to punctuate their day with transition cues and activities so that they can be active participants in their day.
Transition cues and activities effectively promote children’s emotional regulation, positive behaviors, and independence. As children move from one activity to the next, they are emotionally and cognitively ready to cooperate and engage in the next activity of the day.
Some transitions are a bit longer and require the children to wait patiently for their turn, such as when washing hands for lunch or waiting to be called on to get their lunch or blanket for a nap. During these longer transitions, introduce a transition activity such as singing or playing a game. Using transition cues and activities will be essential in your preschool behavior management plan to create a healthy, safe, and positive learning environment.
Strategies for smooth classroom transitions
Predictability is key to smooth transitions and with proper strategies, you will prepare children adequately to take on the next part of the day.
In a classroom, transitions are about bringing the learning community together and apart independently and confidently. Here are some strategies to use to ensure children can successfully transition:
- Offer auditory cues such as the sound of a bell or chime. Use a sound to signal to the children that it’s time to get ready to clean up and another unique sound to line up to move to the next space as a class. Each week, a new child can have the honor of ringing the bell or playing the chime as a classroom job. This nurtures the children’s sense of responsibility, awareness, and collaboration in transitioning.
- Offer visual cues such as a visual schedule. Create a visual schedule that includes pictures of the children performing various routines or engaging in the activities of the day. You can discuss the schedule for the day during morning meeting and make sure the visual schedule is visible for children to reference if they are feeling a bit overwhelmed or disoriented.
- Same time, same place. Predictability and consistency are key! Transitions are most successful when a child understands the routine. It’s important to have the same daily routine and inform the children of any changes that you are anticipating for the day during morning meeting.
- Meets the children’s biological needs. Preschool days can be jammed packed with activities from beginning to end. Your daily schedule should be anchored around the children’s biological needs such as meals, toilet visits, rest, and physical movement. Ensuring that you meet the children’s needs to eat, rest, and move in a timely manner will support their emotional regulation.
- Make time to reconnect with each other. Build in time to reconnect or take advantage of longer transition times to come together as a community to support social-emotional health. Carving out time together as a class by singing songs, reading books, practicing deep breathing and other calming activities, and sharing reflections of the day can support children in feeling grounded and connected, and promote co-regulation.
Fun and engaging transition activities for preschoolers
1. It’s hopping time!
When it’s time for the next activity, ask the children to hop around first, then have them hop when lining up. Then, make it more fun by hopping on one foot and counting while counting to five. A challenging physical activity will help their brain refocus while getting some energy out.
2. Guess what’s in the mystery bag
The element of surprise can be really fun for children. Add a familiar item from the classroom to a mystery bag and have the children ask a series of yes or no questions to guess the mystery item.
The children will be engaged while exercising their problem-solving and language skills. Give a different child the opportunity to choose the mystery item and answer the questions each time you play.
3. Discovery bottles
This is a fun and simple transition activity preschoolers will enjoy throughout the school year. Children will be engaged as they go on a scavenger hunt looking for the hidden treasures in the bottle. This activity provides a quiet sensory experience (i.e., movement of the contents when shaking the bottle) and promotes cognitive skills (searching for treasures) and emotional development (relaxing and calming activity).
Create the bottles:
- 1. Use a one liter bottle.
- 2. Add two-thirds of water and a quarter of vegetable oil.
- 3. Decide a theme (e.g., beach) for the bottle and add items to find (e.g., 3 seashells).
4. Once you fill the bottles with the items you want the children to find, secure the cover using hot glue to prevent spilling.
5. Create a list of items to find.
- The possibilities are endless with materials to include. Try adding glycerin (to help items fall slowly), food coloring, glitter, and sand.
4. Sing the shuffle song
First, you’ll need to make an index card for various songs. Include a picture on each card for the children to call out. You can make five cards or more and have them laminated.
When it’s time to transition, take the cards out and shuffle them. Let them say, ‘Shuffle! Shuffle! Shuffle! and then shout, ‘STOP.’
Once you stop shuffling, pick the card on top and sing its song. Do this for the rest of the cards.
Some of the common songs to use include:
- Twinkle, Twinkle Little Stars
- The Wheels on the Bus
- Itsy, Bitsy, Spider
- Old MacDonald Had a Farm
5. Play Simon Says
"Simon Says" is a simple activity preschoolers can play anywhere. Playing "Simon Says" teaches preschoolers to listen to others, follow directions, and communicate.
How to play "Simon Says":
- The teacher can be "Simon"or for older children, choose one child to be "Simon."
- Have Simon give the rest of the children a physical instruction that begins with "Simon says..." For example, "Simon says touch your elbow."
- Every child must follow Simon's instructions.
- If Simon gives an instruction that doesn’t begin with "Simon says..." children who follow the instruction are eliminated from the game.
6. Start a conversation
Starting a conversation with thought-provoking questions is a great way for you and the children to get to know each other on a deeper level, connect, find similarities and differences, and dream big. Put the questions in a bag and pull out a random question. The children can also help come up with fun questions to answer!
- If you could have anything for dinner, what would it be and why?
- What’s one thing you are learning right now that you are excited about?
- If we could have any class pet, what would it be and why?
- What’s your favorite thing to do at home?
- If we could take a class trip anywhere, where would we go and why?
7. Practice gratitude
Research suggests that practicing gratitude can positively affect well-being and relationships. Practicing gratitude is a great way for the children to take a break and re-center themselves before moving on to the next activity. You can practice gratitude during a strategic part of the day such as before nap and before pick-up to promote positive feelings.
You can create a gratitude tree, cut out leaves, and write down what the children are grateful for that day. Pin the leaves to the tree and watch your tree grow!
Transitions are a part of life and a life skill worth developing in childhood—it can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be. Children’s ability to move through the day confidently and independently is a strong indicator of a strong transition practice. When children are resistant or frustrated, this may signal a need to reconsider your transition plan. Follow the transition strategies and activities above for smooth and successful days ahead.
Brightwheel is the complete solution for early education providers, enabling you to streamline your center’s operations and build a stand-out reputation. Brightwheel connects the most critical aspects of running your center—including sign in and out, parent communications, tuition billing, and licensing and compliance—in one easy-to-use tool, along with providing best-in-class customer support and coaching. Brightwheel is trusted by thousands of early education centers and millions of parents. Learn more at mybrightwheel.com.