Nobody Likes Waiting! Transition Times as Teachable Moments

Waiting is difficult for everyone. I often find myself feeling impatient or frustrated when I’m stuck in traffic or standing in an impossibly long line at the grocery. I shuffle from one foot to another, sigh or start tapping my fingers on the wheel… this is just the beginning of some of my own challenging behaviors! If I’m reacting this way as an adult, imagine how it feels to be a young child to wait for extended periods of time, told to be quiet and stand in a straight line with their arms at their sides.

Transition times when children are changing from one activity to the next require lots of support on the part of the teaching staff. These are the times when children may be more likely to engage in challenging behavior, so they are typically the teacher’s most difficult part of the day! Let’s face it, if you have to stand around and wait, it becomes really hard not to touch what’s around you or to talk to the person next to you. Adults have a hard time waiting five minutes for their turn at the gas pump!

Why are transitions so difficult for children? Caregivers often have unrealistic expectations. Transitions are often too long, leaving children with extended amounts of time with nothing to do or think about. Children need a predictable schedule; they need to know what is coming next and how soon: “Mary, in five minutes we are going to start cleaning up to go outside.” If a child is frustrated by having to leave a project before they are ready, let them leave it as is and come back to it later. The world does not end if the room is not completely cleaned up and the cleaning crew has to sweep around a fantastic Lego structure!

How do we determine if transitions can be managed more effectively for the children in our classroom? Take a step back and observe what is happening. Because teachers are in the thick of things, they sometimes don’t see the obvious signs and problems. Ask yourself what you could change to make transition times more effective. Are you frequently interrupting play to move on to another space and another activity? Do you need to be?

Transitions can be great teachable moments when we plan ahead. Here are a few things to try:

  • Interactive songs that keep their minds and bodies engaged.
  • Guess what’s in my bag
  • I Spy
  • Clap and Stomp patterns for the children to repeat
  • Whisper to gain their attention. They have to quiet themselves to hear you.
  • Walk like various animals, tiptoe, stomp, fly like a plane or pretend you are on a roller coaster as you move from one space to the next.
  • Turn around facing away from the children and change something about yourself and see if they can determine what is different. Don’t forget to give the children a chance, too!

Providing children with activities and keeping them engaged while they are waiting or transitioning allows children to continue their learning and discovery while making our job more enjoyable. If only we could have this much fun waiting in line at the grocery store!