30 Transition Time Tips

by Katie Brazerol

Transitions are necessary throughout the day. If you’ve been an early childhood educator for even a short amount of time, you’ve probably realized that transitions are not easy for some children in your care.

Children often struggle with transitions because change can be difficult—even for adults. Sometimes the change involves moving from a fun activity, such as playing outdoors on a playground, to a necessary activity, such as cleaning up or washing hands and preparing for lunch. A child who is focusing most of her energy on a task may have trouble switching gears. It is important to first teach children to anticipate upcoming transitions. Give warning that a transition is coming to help children prepare for the change. Then, implement transition strategies that engage the children’s attention and help shift focus.

Below are 30 ideas to help children shift focus and transition to new activities in your setting.

Cleanup Solutions

  • Invite children to “form a crew” and work in teams to clean up certain areas of the playroom. This encourages teamwork and prevents children from feeling overwhelmed by a large cleanup job.
  • Challenge children to wear mittens or oven mitts as they pick up toys.
  • Provide tongs to pick up small items.
  • Have children pretend to be bulldozers as they push piles of blocks across the floor to the bucket.
  • Form a line and pass toys along the line until the last child can toss the items in the bin.
  • Play lively music to keep the mood energetic as the children clean up.
  • Offer a clipboard and paper at every center in your setting. Once a child has cleaned up her area, have her sign out of the center by printing or scribbling her name. Children may increase their cleanup speed in anticipation of signing the clipboard.

Attention-Getters

  • When you say, “Macaroni and cheese,” teach the children to say, “Everybody freeze!” (Children should then freeze until you give instructions.)
  • Say, “1, 2, 3, eyes on me!” (Repeat until all eyes are on you.) You can also use a similar phrase as a call and response. When you say, “1, 2, eyes on me,” the children respond, “1, 2, eyes on you.”
  • Say, “If you can hear me, clap once. If you can hear me, clap twice.” Continue lowering your voice as you instruct children to clap. By four or five claps, make your voice so quiet they cannot hear you.
  • Teach children to say “Boom, boom!” when you say, “Chicka, chicka.” Repeat several times until everyone is responding.
  • Use pairs of words to create a chant. You say, “When I say black, you say white.” (Say, “Black!” and wait for children to shout, “White!”) This works great with opposites, things that go together (peanut butter/jelly, bacon/eggs, milk/cookies), or compound words (pop-corn, hot-dog, base-ball)
  • Create a simple clap rhythm that all children can follow. Start the clap rhythm and repeat it until all children are doing it with you. You can increase the challenge of the rhythm as the year progresses.
  • Use a puppet to become your attention-getter. Hold the puppet high in the air and use your “puppet voice” to tell children that there are 5 minutes left, 2 minutes left, or that time is up.
  • Use the following rhyme when it’s time to sit: “Hands up, hands down. Spin around and sit right down!” Repeat until all children are sitting.
  • Tape a straw or dowel rod to the back of a paper shape to create a wand. When you spot a child who is paying attention, tap him on the shoulder and give him permission to line up or move to the next area.
  • Designate one child to shake a rainstick or other noisemaker to signal transitions for the day. This can be one of your classroom jobs.
  • Wear a fun item, such as an oversized, decorated pair of glasses, to grab the children’s attention when it’s time to begin a new activity. Say, “Look! (Charlie) is sitting nicely on the rug,” or “I see that the block area is all cleaned up.” You might consider referring to the item as your magic sunglasses, magic hat, etc.

Brain Breaks

  • Provide a bell, drum, or other musical instrument. Invite children to tap, strum, or ring the instrument before moving to the next activity. Children love the chance to have a turn!
  • Challenge children to balance on one foot, walk a tape line from one end of the room to the other, or tiptoe around hula hoops on the ground.
  • Have children lie on their backs and close their eyes for a minute or two as they listen to music. This can help reset the mind and calm the body.
  • Perform simple stretching exercises or yoga poses.
  • Challenge children to sharpen their observation skills by looking around the room to spot letters, numbers, colors, and shapes that you have introduced.
  • Recite the alphabet, count to 10 or 20, or sing a favorite theme song in between activities.
  • Challenge children to move like a… (rabbit, frog, bird, tornado, train, etc.).
  • Toss a beach ball in the air and challenge children to keep it from landing on the ground.
  • Have children gather the edges of a parachute. Shake it, lift it high and low, or bounce soft balls or stuffed animals on it.
  • Ask children, “Would you rather (fly like a bird or swim like a fish)?” Invite each child to answer. Ask two or three “Would you rather” questions per break.
  • Create an obstacle course for children to complete before moving to the next activity.
  • Fill plastic eggs with sand or pebbles and seal. Give each child an egg and instruct children to shake them high, low, to the left/right, under the legs, behind the head, while spinning around, etc. Finish by having children roll the eggs to you.

What are other transitions that have worked successfully for you? Start the conversation in the comments!

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