Mealtime, ending play time, leaving school, going to bed, these are just a few of the many of transitions your child works through every day. Transitions can be difficult for young children whose brains are still maturing – they haven’t developed the type of self control that adults have. To make matters worse, a child’s day is often dictated by factors that have little meaning to a child. Why does it matter if you have to be at a meeting or their big brother needs to be picked up? Tensions between adults and children quickly arise and often a power struggle results. Fear not, here a few SEEC-proven strategies to make transitions easier for everyone!
Visual Schedule and Calendars
Calendar time is often an important component of early childhood classrooms. Children take turns serving as the calendar helper, often sharing information with the class about birthdays or special events. Similarly, most classrooms will also have a visual representation of their day. Visual schedules in the classroom and at home help give children autonomy, provide them with a sense of time and routine, and it can eliminate having to repeat yourself. It helps to make the calendar with your child so that he or she is invested in it. Let the child choose colors, decorations, or the location. A schedule enables children to take ownership and is a great way to prepare them for any changes to their normal routine.
“Give Me Five”
Early childhood educators around the world will use the phrase “Give me five.” We might ask them to hold up five fingers or to literally say “five.” For younger children, an educator might simply hold up their hand while they get on the child’s level and try to make eye contact. This ensures that they pause what they are doing and take in the fact that their current activity is about to conclude. After “five” we may also give them “two: and when time has ended we may ring a gentle bell or sing a song. Either way, this helps alert them that their activity will be ending soon, and we will be moving on to the next part of our day.
Since time is not a concrete concept to young children, visual timers are a great way to help a child see the passing of time. Sand timers come in all different lengths and are a favorite in the SEEC classrooms. These show the children when time is up and helps to keep adults and children honest about deadlines. If children can see the change coming, they can more easily transition to the next activity.
Having a routine is essential for a child. If they can usually count on things happening in a specific order, they are less likely to be upset. A routine can be especially important for drop-offs. We find that the most successful drop-offs occur when the child has been prepared and knows the routine. This routine could include the adult helping the child put items in their cubby and then reading one book or drawing one picture together before leaving. Staying longer or changing the routine actually makes the transition harder. Sticking with the plan allows your child to recover from the separation quicker and over time will make transitions a breeze!
If a child is still playing, building, or creating when it is time to move on to the next activity, offer to save what they are working on. Part of the anxiety of transitioning occurs when children think their masterpiece will be destroyed. When possible offer to save their creation – you may even want to create a special place projects that are still “under construction.”
Don’t Start What We Can’t Finish
Sometimes, there is just not time to squeeze something extra into an already packed schedule. Leaving something fun just as a child gets started can cause them to feel frustrated and angry. That being said, not doing something they want to do can be equally as frustrating. If you have to say no, give the child a choice of two things they could do instead. With older children, you can think together about a time when you might be able to return to the activity. Maybe there will be more time tomorrow to paint – just make sure that you follow up.
Ease Into It
We try not to create drastic changes in energy levels between activities. For example, we don’t have playground time directly before nap, instead we have lunch, quiet story time, and then nap. This helps children slowly decrease their energy level and relax, making the transitions feel less severe. Its always good to avoid getting the kiddos wound up just before bed time.
Songs and Lighting
We often use songs and lights to help children through transitions. When it is time to stop playing, we will sing the clean-up song, and when it is time to eat we will sing “Open-Shut them.” As we transition from lunch to nap, we may dim the lights while the children finish their meal and turn on the nap time music. This provides a physical reminder that a change of activities is coming and helps them mentally prepare to rest.
Participate in the Transition
Having the children help clean up, set the table, etc. allows them to be an active member of the transition. Participating in the transition usually makes them more interested in the next move and thus, more willing to go along with it.
How do transitions go in your house? Have a great way to help your child change from activity to activity? Please share!