Inside: Handling transitions with toddlers can be tough, unless you have a plan. Here are my favorite tips that have been learned during my 20 years of teaching!
Toddlers and transitions. They are like oil and water.
You have a specific classroom schedule to follow. Your eye is on the clock.
But those toddlers have their own agenda.
They are not going to budge. They are, after all, busy toddlers. They want to keep on moving. They have the momentum happening.
And suddenly you, the teacher, tell them they must stop what they are doing right now because it’s time to (fill in the blank).
The response you get is either they ignore you and keep on doing their thing, or they fall apart. None of those is what you had planned. And before you know it, your perfectly planned schedule is just not happening. You are frustrated. Your toddlers are frustrated.
Yep, I’ve been there. Many, many times. But eventually I started to put the pieces together. And decided it was time to tweak some things.
It’s not magic. It’s not fool proof. We still have our moments. But transitions have gotten a whole lot easier during my 19 years of teaching.
The Secrets to Handling Transitions with Toddlers
Now, some of these things I will share you have probably heard before. I had to hear them a lot before I actually implemented them. So don’t walk away just yet. Hear me out.
Give them a Heads Up
Yeah, that’s the one you’ve heard before. But it’s really important, and respectful, to give them a reminder that their time is almost up.
And you know what? As an adult, I don’t do well with someone telling me to stop what I’m doing right now because there’s something else I should see. I have a real hard time when someone interrupts my work. I am focusing on something, I have plans to finish it, and someone tells me to stop because it’s time to do something else.
If I have a hard time with this as an adult, imagine what a toddler feels?
Give Them Something to Do
Whenever we transition from one activity to the next, we meet at the circle time carpet. I always place a basket of books in this area, so that they have something to do while we get ready for the transition.
It goes like this:
- Centers Time
- Clean Up
- Meet on Carpet to Look at Books
- Go to Gym
- Return to Class and Meet on the Carpet to Look at Books
- Circle Time
- Clean Up
- Meet on Carpet to Look at Books
- Go Outside
- Return to Classroom and Meet on Carpet to Look at Books
- Meet on Carpet to Look at Books
- Sing Goodbye Song
When looking at this in print, it appears like a lot of transitions. But they really run smoothly because our children know where our meeting place is before and after a transition (meeting on the carpet), and what they should be doing (looking at books). And this signals that we are moving on to something new.
It’s important to stop here and mention how you want to start this on the very first day of school. Yes, it will be hard at first. But don’t give up. Just keep on doing the same routine. Once they get the hang of it, they will know exactly what comes next. (A couple of times I tried to skip that step because we got a bit behind in our day, and THEY reminded me where they were supposed to be. Lesson learned. Don’t mess with their routine!)
Don’t Make them Wait Long
Even though they are busy looking a books, their attention spans are short. At the beginning of the year, looking at books is super short. As soon as I see one child put the book down, I know it’s time to tell the children to put their books in the basket and move on with our next transition.
As the year progresses, I continue to monitor how long they look at books. It increases a little, but we still keep it rather short the entire year.
Let Them Know Where You are Going
Every single time we are transitioning into a new activity, I remind them where we are going. I never assume they are going to remember what the next part of our day is. Eventually, however, they will start telling me what happens next before I can get my words out. Oh, how they love and thrive on consistency!
Have a Visual Schedule
This is huge, especially for those children that have a real hard time with transitions.
I like to have a visual schedule that has an arrow that I can keep moving down as we progress through our morning.
Having a visual schedule can help children who are dealing with separation anxiety, especially at the beginning of the school year when they aren’t familiar with our routine. By showing those children where we are in our morning using the visual schedule, they can be comforted knowing that after a few more transitions, it will be time to see their parents again.
Use a Preschool Clock
Yes, there really IS a clock that is made specifically for young children!
This particular clock is made by Preschool Collection and instead of using numbers, it uses colors and animals.
My 2 and 3 year olds know, for example, when the big hand is on the monkey, it’s time to transition to the gym.
Instead of saying “In 5 minutes we will go to the gym” (which really means nothing to young children), I can say “When the big hand reaches the frog, we will go to the gym.”
This has been a HUGE help and I wish I had this clock years ago.
This clock also works well for taking turns. (That’s for another blog post, for sure.) But rather than setting my phone’s alarm, I can simply point to the clock and say, “When the big hand is on the pig, it will be your turn.”
Scroll down for more information on our preschool clock.
When the Energy Level is Unusually High
There have been some days where the children are bouncing off the walls. I’m talking way more than their average amount of energy.
On those days, it can be a challenge to transition smoothly. I had one morning where the children eventually came to the carpet, but ended up piling on top of each other instead of even being interested in looking at a book.
So one of my solutions is just as I discuss in my Secrets to a Successful Circle Time video. Props.
Get out the Props
I can’t say enough about the importance of having props available when the children are pumped with an extra dose of energy. I love using the flannel board partnered with a favorite finger play. (Our 2 and 3 year olds adore our Five Speckled Frogs felt figures.) Puppets are awesome, too!
Speaking of props, check out our most popular sets:
Turn on Music
When all else fails, music saves the day. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t only use music during these high-energy moments. Music and movement is a big part of our every day routine. But I’m not afraid to add even more music when our toddlers have a case of the super-duper wiggles.
I pull out one of the CDs that are in my circle time basket and the children get up and move!
Once we jump and clap and swing here and there, I calmly invite them to sit before we transition to the next part of our morning.
From the very first day of school, be consistent with your daily routine. Show them how it’s done over and over again during the first few weeks of school. You might think you sound like a broken record, but you really want them to get comfortable on how things are done. It might be exhausting going over everything so many times. However, knowing what comes next in the day is very important for your toddlers. And even though it will take awhile for them to “get it”, once they do, they will feel so confident and proud.
Take that time. It’s so worth it.
About Our Preschool Clock:
I was contacted by the owner of Preschool Collection, asking if I’d like one of their clocks for free for review, using my honest opinions. I said yes, truthfully because I was intrigued. I mean, I know that 2 and 3 year olds do not understand time, but could this clock really help?
I can honestly say YES! My young preschoolers love relating to the animals, knowing that they represented different parts of our routine.
Every Preschool Clock comes with a cardboard Play Clock and 46 removable activity and hour stickers to play with.
CLICK HERE for link to the Preschool Clock.
More good stuff for busy toddlers:
Toddler and Preschool Activity Plans
Looking for an entire year’s worth of learning activities? We’ve done the work for you!
I have helped create each of these packets, along with a team of talented educators and homeschoolers.
Easy to follow activity plans include activity modifications and adaptations to meet the needs of all learners.
Every theme comes with recommended reading lists, songs, material lists, and more.
Click on the graphics below for more details.
Toddlers (18 – 36 months):
Preschool (3 – 5 Years):