Tag Archives: transitions

Moving On


“A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every person leaves a mark.” —Chinese Proverb

In a little less than two weeks, my son will enter fifth grade, and my daughter will enter kindergarten. My son, who just recently turned 10, has gone to the same early childhood program since he was 6-weeks-old. This is the same program my daughter currently attends, and she’s been there since her first few months of life, as well. Both of my children have been there full time since infancy. When he began first grade, my son continued to attend this program for before- and after-care during the school year, and then summer camp when school was out every year since.

A couple of weeks ago, we dropped the bomb on him that this would be his last summer there— his time there was coming to an end because he was simply too old to attend anymore. Next summer it would be time to move on to somewhere that was more age-appropriate for him.

From under the brim of his baseball cap, I could see tears welling up in his big, blue eyes. “But, mom, I’ve GROWN UP there! I LOVE that place! I don’t want to leave.” I understood him completely. To be honest, I didn’t want him to go, either. The people that work at that program literally helped my husband and I raise our children— they were our village. He was safe there, he was loved.

Many of you reading this have children in your programs that are going through similar transitions this time of year. Whether you’re saying goodbye to your school-agers, sending your preschoolers off to kindergarten, or transitioning your infants up to the toddler room, there are many things that you, as an early childhood educator, can do to help ease the uncertainty of this process.

  • Develop a transition plan. The first thing to keep in mind, when helping a child transition to a new classroom or setting, is that this will be a transition for not just the child, but for their family, as well. Meeting with family members to develop a transition plan before the actual transition takes place is a helpful tool to get everyone on the same page about how and when everything will occur. Get input about what the child might need to make the transition a successful one, and find out what questions or concerns the family may have about the process. . If possible, have both the child’s “current ” and “new” teachers be part of developing this plan. The “current ” teacher often has knowledge of how the child functions in a school setting that would be helpful for the “new” teacher to know.
  • Provide age-appropriate activities in the classroom in preparation for the transition. When children are preparing to move to a new classroom or educational setting, classroom teachers can provide a multitude of activities to help ready children for their move. Keep in mind what skills or knowledge would be helpful for the child to have in their new setting, and start working on those things while they’re still in your room. For example, a toddler who’s moving to a preschool room might benefit from working on self-help skills such as throwing their own items away after lunch or snack, or pulling their own pants up and down when beginning to use the potty. A school-age teacher might role play with his/her class how to shake hands, look someone in the eye, and introduce themselves.
  • Involve the children in conversations regarding their upcoming move. Having positive conversations with the children in your care about their new classroom or school can also be helpful. Use their new teacher’s name (if you know it), show them photos of their new environment, or even take a walk or a field trip there.

Ironically, as much as we care for the children in our programs, as early childhood educators it is ultimately our goal to help children reach a place where they no longer need us. Growing up and moving on are good things—they are natural parts of life that can be exciting and wonderful!

Hurry up and wait!

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.

How to ease and minimize wait times for young children in your ECE classroom

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.

Nobody Likes Waiting! Transition Times as Teachable Moments

How to ease and minimize wait times for young children in your ECE classroomWaiting 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!


Looking Ahead

A few weeks ago, I delivered my baby daughter to college. Despite the fact that she’s the youngest of three, I’m still wondering, where did the time go? We were both excited and sad, and there were even a few tears… mostly from me. Many children have just spent the last week or so making a transition that can seem as big as moving away to college! Some children have left a certain classroom, their primary caregiver or even moved on to a new school. It’s important to recognize how difficult this can be for them, and for us!

Surprisingly, it’s often the small, everyday things that are the hardest to say good-bye to. In my years working with early childhood educators, parents and children, there are a few memories that survive to the college years and beyond.

  • For parents, knowing that the greeting they receive from teachers each morning is personal and special. You and your child are important!
  • Seeing children revel in the changing seasons, pulling dandelions or enjoying the first snow of the year.
  • Children encouraged to share their feelings over the death of the class hermit crab or guinea pig.
  • Parents make a difference! Even if they’re only donating margarine tubs and cardboard tubes.

Teachers are there at the toughest of times, like settling down for a nap on a child’s first day in a new classroom. These little moments are big in the scope of a child’s social and emotional development.

Saying good-bye to what we’ve known doesn’t mean we’ve moved on. Our memories continue to shape our experiences. When a child goes to a new school or encounters a new situation, everything they’ve learned goes with them. The same is true for parents and early childhood educators, as well. When you say goodbye to children as they move to a new classroom, to preschoolers as they transition into kindergarten, remember to take your memories along. They’re a valuable collection, and one you’re sure to keep adding to with all of the children who’ve just come to you!

For a Successful Transition, Trust isn’t Enough

I recently took my daughter to the zoo for an overnight field trip. My daughter, Maggie, is 9-years-old and in third grade. As I was leaving Maggie at the zoo in the care of her teacher and other parents, it struck me how this experience is just like what parents of young children go through every day when dropping children off at child care programs. I was nervous. I was anxious. Yes, I trust Maggie’s teacher. Yes, I knew some of the parents who were spending the night on this trip and I trust them. Yes, I trust my daughter. But trust doesn’t make the drop off any easier.

Parents may go through the same anxiety when dropping off their precious children at programs on a daily basis. How many parents do you see struggling to leave the classroom? How many parents call during the day to ask how their child is doing? How many staff members get frustrated and roll their eyes because they do not understand what the parent is going through?

As a parent and an educator, I can see both sides of the spectrum on this situation. The parent side of me feels guilty that I can’t be the one providing for my daughter throughout the day, that no one can meet my daughter’s needs like I can. The educator side of me can cite research that states parents are the first teacher of their child and the parental role is not going to be replaced by the caregiver. The educator side knows that attachment is extremely important and knows that the attachment between a child and parent is stronger than the attachment between child and caregiver.

The parent and educator sides don’t always see eye to eye and work cooperatively. Often times the emotional parent side wins and I run to my daughter’s “rescue” even though she didn’t need to be saved. What can we do as educators to support the parent’s bond with their child and assure parents that their child is going to be successful while in our care?

I believe what we can do is very simple. We can listen and empathize. We can ask questions. We cannot judge. We can take a deep breath and remind ourselves that these children are not only special to us, but they are the most precious people in their parents’ lives.

Here are some very simple things to support parents as they struggle to leave their child in the care of others:

  • Create a good bye routine and encourage the parents to do the same.
  • Have the child’s favorite book or toy ready when the child is dropped off. Not to distract the child, but to let the child and parent know you were expecting them and you know what the child likes.
  • Make sure the parents say good bye. Never let the parents sneak out. Sneaking out can be very traumatic for children.
  • Communicate with the parent while the child is being dropped off. Ask questions about the child’s evening and morning. Ask about the child’s mood, not just about breakfast.
  • Encourage parents to stay with their child for a while. Ask parents to read books with the children during the transition of dropping off.
  • Understand that drop off time is a transition. Transitions can be very difficult for children, especially if their significant adult is having a hard time.
  • Allow the child to wave goodbye through the window.
  • Assure the child their parent will return. Assure the child s/he will be involved in fun activities during the day.
  • Validate the child’s and parent’s emotions. Do not say, “You are ok” to the child because this does not say to the child you understand what s/he is going through. Assure the parent you will do your best to meet the child’s needs during the day.

All these things can contribute to a successful day, not only for the child and parent, but for the caregiver as well.