It is so hard to wait. It seems we are constantly waiting. We wait in line at the grocery store. We wait in line at traffic lights. We wait to talk with customer service on the phone. Waiting seems to take up much of our time throughout the day. As adults, we are used to waiting and have learned to cope with the lines. Although it is difficult to wait, we know that at some point it will be our turn and we will eventually get what we need/want.
Young children, however, have neither the self control nor the social skills to wait for long periods of time. They often do not understand why they are being required to wait and sometimes they don’t have a strong enough relationship with their child care provider to trust they will eventually get what they need/want. In fact, waiting for an extended period of time can cause anxiety and behavior issues.
Wait time for children often occurs during busy times of transition in the classroom. For example, children are often expected to wait in line for the bathroom or for washing hands, they wait to finish group time and go to center time, and they are expected to wait for others to finish eating so they can get up from the table. It is imperative teachers know how to tell when the waiting has been long enough and too long. Below are some tips for transition times and for reducing and avoiding unnecessary wait time.
Have a routine so children know and understand what is happening next. A daily schedule and regular routine gives children the security of knowing what to expect, avoids confusion, and therefore helps the day move along more smoothly. Staff should have a realistic expectation of children’s attention span. When a teacher sees the children becoming restless and irritable she should know to stop the activity and avoid any further wait time. Along with the routine, planning and preparing materials before they are needed is crucial so children are not waiting for the teacher to gather what he needs for a lesson. Also, allowing the children to transition from group time or meal time to center time without any wait time is optimal.
When children are waiting for the bathroom or waiting in line, sing songs, play word or guessing games, recite rhymes, or do finger plays. Sometimes short waiting periods are unavoidable. A simple activity can do wonders by helping the time pass quickly and offers some priceless teaching moments.
Be prepared for some children to finish one activity sooner than others. It is best to plan something for those children who finish an activity quickly so they are not waiting without something to do. For example, if some children finish cleaning up from one activity, maybe they look at books while waiting for other children to finish cleaning up, and then everyone begins the next activity at the same time.
These are just some basic tips to help children during times of waiting. Remember, best practice is that children have as few wait times as possible and when unavoidable, the time spent waiting is short. Children shouldn’t be sitting and waiting for a turn. They need to be moving, exploring, and interacting with the world around them.