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Ten Ways to Handle Transitions in a Preschool Classroom

written by: Bonnie • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 1/5/2012

This article will give ten tips and activities for making smooth, effective transitions in a Pre-K classroom setting. It will also explain the importance of transitions and how they can make or break the tone of the day or the atmosphere of the classroom.

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    Transitions in the Classroom

    There is no place on Earth like a preschool classroom.It is rarely quiet- even during naptime. Tears, whining, and pinching aside it is a charming, curiosity-provoking place for three and four year olds.

    As a preschool teacher, there are several things you can do to calm the atmosphere of the room and facilitate the day effectively. Transitions between activities or events during the day can feel like you are herding cats.One student may decide to lay his head down for a cat nap and another might be on the prowl looking for a playmate or a toy.If you observe the students’ behavior, it is usually easy to tell what the students need to get them engaged in the next activity and through the rest of the day.

    I am going to give ten preschool transition activities and suggestions that have worked for me in my classroom.I have also added details that will tell you when it is a good time to use these particular Pre-K transition strategies.

    Ten Ways to Handle Pre-K Transitions in the Classroom

    1.Music. There are several ways to incorporate music into transitions.In my room, I put on calming music every morning as the students arrive.When it is time to come meet on the carpet I put on a more upbeat song.After a few times of telling them it is time to come to the carpet when they hear this song I don’t even need to tell them anymore.The students get so used to coming to the carpet when this song comes on I can use it at any point during the day.

    2.Exercise. If you see several students dragging it is time to change activities.Before moving to the next one it is a good idea to have the students do some exercises.I usually call on the leader of the day to pick a few exercises (jumping jacks, arm circles, hopping) and we do about 5-10 of each.

    3.Imagine. After snack or playtime (if the children are a bit rowdy) the students may benefit from this activity before moving on to the lesson. The students sit at their tables and the teacher dims the lights.The teacher asks the students to close their eyes and imagine. The teacher then spends about one or two minutes describing something (like the beach). This has a calming effect on the students.

    4.Getting in line if you have a lot of time. Hand out small pieces of writing paper.Ask students to try to write their name.As they finish they bring it up to you and line-up. If anyone runs or pushes in front of someone I send them back to where they were to try again.

    5.Getting in line if you don’t have a lot of time. Say, “Anyone who is wearing yellow can line up.” Continue with colors until the class in lined up.This can be done with pets or anything you can think of.It takes about one minute.

    6.Getting in line if you have NO time (during a fire drill). I call them to line by groups (you can use tables, rows, carpet colors-whatever you have in your room) reminding them to walk.This takes about 20-30 seconds. If there is running or pushing, the student goes to the end of the line or walks with me.

    7.Pre-snack. I always read a book before snack.I ask a few questions about the book and as students answer they may go get their snacks.This keeps traffic at the cubbies down to avoid a jam.The students then go to their seats and get their snack ready-but they can’t eat it yet.When everyone is sitting down we sing a song (about thankfulness) together. They can begin eating after the song.

    8.Extra time between lessons or activities (to calm students down).When I find we have extra time I always read a book.I usually let a student pick a book from our class library.This is a good idea if the class is acting a bit wound-up to calm them down.

    9.Extra time between lessons or activities (to perk students up). I play a game such as 7-up, Simon Says, Red light, Green light, or Duck Duck GOOSE when the students need to be livened up and we have extra time.

    10.Clean-up time. After an activity or playtime the students must clean-up before they can move on to the next activity.I ask the students to turn on their vacuum cleaners (they pretend to be vacuum cleaners) and I put on a song.We see if the vacuum cleaners can have the room clean by the time the song is over.

    Students like structure and routine.We teach them new lessons everyday, but I find if I use the same basic songs and ideas for transitions in the classroom, the students find it comforting and easy to do what they are supposed to do.

    Remember: Each child, teacher, and classroom is different.Use your judgment to add to or tweak these transition activities to match your students’ needs.You can also use your creativity to think of your own ideas.