Recently, a colleague asked me how I was settling into my new position at 4C. I told her that I loved my job, but I was frustrated with myself. I found it was sometimes difficult being new and not the seasoned “expert.” In my previous position I had a comfortable routine and families I’d developed strong relationships with. But now I’m the new girl! I’m learning new information and new ways of doing things, making new friends and trying to find my way around a new city. My colleague made a great observation: “What a great way to think about how children must feel when they transition to a new classroom, or come to a center for the first time.”
I have spent a lot of time during my career thinking about, talking about and working on making transitions easier for children and families. But while thinking, talking and doing are one thing, “feeling” the transition is much different. I began to imagine infants that might be uncomfortable with the new smells, sounds and sights of a classroom, the toddler whose new classmates don’t play the same as their former friends or the preschooler that is perhaps also hearing a new language.
During visits to infant/toddler classrooms the past few weeks, I was interested to hear about the different ways teachers helped children feel comfortable. One teacher talked to me about going to visit a former toddler in the preschool room. Another teacher talked about encouraging parents to bring in blankets from home that carried their scent so that their baby had a part of them close. I also noticed pictures of families in classrooms, and notes from parents about what comforts their child. Whether children are coming from home or the room next door, there are lots of ways we can help them transition!
- Take your cues from families. How do parents interact and talk with their child? What words do they use at home to describe routines? What makes their child happy or sad?
- Ask the child’s family or their current teacher about the child’s favorite activity, then plan for that during the first few days that the child is in your room. If the children are older, ask them about what they like to do!
- When a child is transitioning out of your classroom, talk with their new teacher. Share information about what the child likes and what words, routines and strategies have worked for you.
- Talk with the children that are transitioning about the “move” and their new classroom. Make sure that you are keeping in mind the child’s temperament. Some children need to have a lot of information and time to process things, while it may make other children more nervous if they know too far in advance.
- If you notice a child is having a hard time, make sure that you acknowledge those feelings! Talk to them about their family or the friends and teachers that they are missing. Providing pictures from home or from the other classroom can sometimes be helpful.
- Help or encourage them to write notes home or to their past teachers and friends.
Change is hard, but knowing that you’re supported and understood helps at any age. Take it from me, and from the children who will be transitioning into your classrooms this fall!