Transitions in early childhood education settings are inevitable. Children are expected to go through many transitions everyday and they usually provoke anxiety to them. Transition can occur in various situations and they begin from the home to the early childhood education centres and eventually between rooms and groups within a centre. Whatever transition a child needs to go through, it is advisable to have a strategy in place to minimise struggle with transitions.

The ability to transition independently and successfully is considered to be an essential skill that children need to learn at an early age. The good news is that we can help children be more successful during transitions by implementing a transition strategy that can support children who are still developing this skill.

What is a transition strategy?

Attention and planning for transitions will pave the way for a child. Since most kids, a struggle with transitions, a strategy will help make smooth transitions and minimise potential stress for both children and adults. A transition strategy may include techniques and little tricks that can help avoid struggle with transition, prevent tantrums and promote self-regulation by helping children know what to expect and actively participate in the schedule.

Transition strategies also promotes children’s learning, creates a calm environment, sets a positive tone and helps everyone move seamlessly through the day. Strategies will make transitions easier, support children develop emotional foundation and prepare educators and staff for alternative courses of action that can result in successful transitions.

Mother and child having fun playing in the garden

Why transitioning can be difficult

Young children are still learning to control emotions and manage behaviour. They have not developed the skills to cope with frustration and disappointment independently. Now, think about how many times a day children start and stop activity, pack away, clean up, eat, go outside, come inside, among other things. Being asked to move from one activity to another usually triggers challenging behaviour in young children.

Changing from an activity or place they like to something they do not like can trigger whining, negotiating, delaying, meltdowns and tantrums. Transitions then becomes difficult because children feel they are no longer in control and, therefore, become overwhelmed by their emotions. For kids with special needs, for example, autism, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, PTSD, or other special needs, transitions can even be more difficult.

Importance of transition strategy

Early childhood educators should make time developing and customizing a strategy as they get to know each child. The tips below can help in smooth transitions by making children feel prepared and confident for change that is about to happen.

Eases pressure on children

Individual children have various responses change. Some go through difficult transitions easily, but other children might not. Having a plan eases the pressure on children by allowing them to prepare for change that is about to happen. When educators support transitions, they help build a child’s social and emotional foundations. Doing so teach children that they are not on their own and the pressure is not on them.

Healthy development and wellbeing

Children’s emotional and social development are closely linked to well-being. Feeling at ease and being free from emotional tensions is crucial to a child’s mental health.

Children are expected to go through different transitions so you need to manage the impact strategies may have on the child’s early learning.

Feeling of security

When a child goes from the home to child care or preschool, he or she may experience separation anxiety from their parents or carer. Such transitions can lead a child to confusion or produce worried feelings from a lack of structure. During these times, they need to know that they are going to be safe and secure in the new setting.

Childcare storytime

Transition strategies for childcare

It is important to ensure that transitions are clear, consistent and manageable for each child.

Applying these few strategies may help:

Establish a routine

You can transform wait time by establishing a routine. Expected transitions are handled easier than unexpected ones so make sure a schedule is in place. In each part of a schedule, a routine is also extremely important. Routines not only promote independence for a child but are also comforting for them as there are no guessing games.

Balance active and calm activities

When you develop your schedule, remember that children like to know that they have fun things to look forward to throughout their day so try to balance or alternate between active physical activity and calm activities. Activities that are most challenging for the child can be done at the beginning of the day when they are less tired.

Quiet activities can be planned in between physical activities that allow children to run around, get exercise and be loud. View several tips on how to plan physical environment here.

Sensory breaks

Long periods of doing the same thing can be tiresome. Sensory activities be great bridges for transitioning to the next activity. Another option is to have a place in the hallway with a sensory activity. Kids can do a sensory break as they move from one part of the centre to another. Check out these sensory break cards.

Transition songs and stories

Kids love music. Using a fun song can help a child get ready to do something new. Singing can be a good addition to your daily schedule to cue what is about to happen next. For example, you can have a line up song, clean up song, hello and goodbye songs. Find what you like and what makes the children excited to join circle time.

Visual cues

You can use a visual schedule, visual timer or have a transition object or toy in the classroom. A visual cue reminds what a child can expect and what is coming up next. It can also be a visual countdown system for them to know how much time they have left in their current activity.

Allow for extra time

After giving five minute warnings, even when everything goes smoothly, transitions will take time. Accounting for transition times into the schedule will allow both early childhood educators and the children to stay on track and not feel flustered. Sometimes it is okay to be flexible and give a couple of extra minutes instead of trying to rush everyone away from their activity quickly.

Be consistent

It is good to have structure but it will fail if you are not consistent. Be sure that educators and staff will to stick with the transition strategies you’ve laid out from one activity to the next. None of the things you’ve prepared will work if you don’t put them to use consistently with the child or in the classroom.

Father and daughter having fun

How parents can help

Transition strategies are not only important in centres but also at home. Story time can be useful for a child who has a particularly hard time with transitions. It can be beneficial to share relevant stories ahead of time so they can be prepared. Parents are more familiar with their children’s challenging behaviour so they can help educators by helping their child transition starting at home. When you register to Space, you’ll be able to access other helpful articles. Other ways parents can help include creating routines, using rewards and praising good transitions.

Create routines

It can be helpful for children to start the day with a conversation about what you have planned for them. A daily routine they can refer to throughout the day must also be established. Family members should be aware and help teach and implement routines.

Use rewards

Other parents may not support this but rewards can be an effective tool for a child. The reward does not need to be extravagant. For example, little things such as stickers, snacks or even a point system that is tangible can be a good reward. You can implement the reward system up until your child gets comfortable with difficult transition.

Praise good transitioning

A child will remember if you recognise not only achievement but also effort. Give specific positive feedback by pointing out the behaviours that the child did well instead of reminding them what not to do. Telling children that they are in the right direction with their transitions can minimise challenging behaviours.

Having a plan in place will help children devlop the skills to self-regulate when things become difficult. Apply tips and tricks mentioned, remember what worked well throughout the day and try to replicate them in the future.

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