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How Transitions Enhance the Flow of Learning and Play in Early Years' Classrooms.

-Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi-

I was in a classroom during a recent education consultation as children finished their lunch. All the rostered staff were clearing and cleaning. Children were in a state of in-betweenness. Without a clear focus, one child followed a teacher repeatedly requesting a game he liked. She responded, 'Just wait, Henry, I don't have time now'. As more children left the tables, the noise rose. Children wandered around aimlessly and some became disruptive.

In the dynamic world of early childhood education, transitions occupy a curious space – sandwiched between one activity and another. It pays to see transitional moments as gateways to enhance the flow of learning and play in early years classrooms.

I've seen transitions that contribute to a sense of flow; and ineffective transitions which leave children undirected and confused. Purposeful planning for transitions makes a difference. Effective transitions engage minds, set clear expectations, and sustain momentum. Poor transitions often descend into upheaval, even chaos.

How transitions enhance the flow of learning and play.

Research findings about what benefits children's learning highlight how we might leverage transitions successfully.

  1. The brain thrives on both novelty and familiarity.  Learning is optimised when we strike a balance by adding novel activities and movement within familiar schedules and routines.

  2. Children thrive when they experience a sense of belonging. They are educable when their emotions are supported. And humour adds spice to facilitate learning. 

  3. When the brain and body operate together during fun activity and movement, various sensory areas of the brain integrate, leading to improved retention and understanding. As actions cross the body midline, both brain hemispheres work together.

  4. Pattern recognition contributes to cognitive development. Transition creates programmed patterns children can anticipate to remember what they need to do. 

  5. Transitional moments are perfect opportunities for language development, social competence, teamwork, and the nurturing of friendships. 

The Power of Transitions

Anticipation and Engagement: 

Thoughtfully designed transitions enable children to anticipate events and keep them actively engaged. Whether through music, movement, or interactive rituals, transitions serve as bridges to ensure sustained focus and enthusiasm.

Strategic Preparation: 

 Seamless transitions require preparation. Educators need to anticipate the requirements of upcoming activities and prepare the environment accordingly. Arranging materials and seating arrangements are examples of ways to smooth flow.

Catering to Student Preferences: 

Effective transitions leverage the unique interests and preferences of children. Music, challenges, or routines that resonate with students create excitement and anticipation, transforming transitions from boring to highlights of the day.

Building Unity and Security:

 Transitions offer unified connection and security within the classroom. When children know what to expect and feel valued through engaging transitions, they develop a sense of belonging to enrich the classroom environment.

Behaviour Management and Boredom Reduction: 

Seamless transitions minimise disruptions and lay out clear expectations. They infuse energy and variety into the day, mitigating boredom and keeping children actively involved.

By prioritising thoughtful planning and creativity in transitions, educators unlock the full potential of their classrooms for discovery and growth. 

Practical Transition Tactics

Music Transitions: 

Use upbeat or calming music to signal the end of one activity and the start of another. Use familiar tunes or introduce new songs to keep things fresh and engaging.

Movement Breaks: 

Integrate short movement breaks between activities to allow children to stretch, wiggle, or dance to release pent-up energy and improve focus for the next task.

Transition Games:

 Incorporate fun games like "Simon Says" or "Follow the Leader" to transition between activities. Games provide a break, develop listening skills and promote cooperation.

Visual Timetables: 

Display visual timetables or schedules in the classroom to help children anticipate transitions and understand what comes next. Graphic organisers offer a sense of structure and reduce anxiety about transitions.

Transition Objects: 

Introduce transition objects or props children can move to signal the end of one activity and the beginning of another. This adds a tactile element to transitions and helps reinforce routines. Children might collect a favourite gemstone from a collection on a table, place it in a bowl in the middle of the circle and sit in a predetermined space. 

Call and Response: 

Establish call-and-response routines. The teacher calls out a phrase or action, and students respond in unison to gather attention. The idea is to control the volume so you liven or calm the group according to the needs of the next session.

Storytime Transitions: 

Use storytelling as a transition tool with short stories or anecdotes related to the upcoming activity to capture children's interest and set the stage for the next learning experience.

Brain Break Exercises: 

Introduce quick brain break exercises that engage both hemispheres of the brain. Crossing the midline during movements integrates the senses for the next task. Simple yoga poses are calming and engage energy for learning.

Puppet Pronunciation Fun: 

Introduce a familiar puppet character who loves reading letters or short stories to the children. A twist might be the puppet mispronounces words eliciting giggles from the children. The puppet might raise a relevant issue, announce an upcoming activity or share a fun fact related to the next task. Transitions become more fun and informative.

Sensory Bag Exploration: 

Create a sensory bag filled with objects of different textures, and materials to stimulate the senses. Over time, each child has a turn to reach into the bag, feel around, describe what they sense and identify hidden articles without looking. This activity improves sensory exploration, descriptive language and tactile awareness. 

Preparation During Mealtime or Rest Periods: 

Utilise the time children are busy eating or resting to set up the classroom tables or outdoor area for the next activity. This proactive approach allows educators to maximise instructional play time and maintain a seamless flow.

Environment in Waiting: 

As children finish their meals or wake up from naptime, they enter an environment that's already prepared and waiting for them. Tables are arranged, materials are set out, and the space is inviting for learning or play.

Mutually Agreed Manner or Order: 

Establish a specific manner or order for children to transition to the next activity. This could involve assigning tables or areas for different groups of children, organising a line or queue, or implementing a rotation system.

Stealthy Movement Challenge:

 Introduce a stealthy movement challenge to transition between activities. Children are tasked with completing a task quickly and quietly but with different movements each time. For example, they might have to crawl like a sneaky spy, hop like a bunny, slither like a snake or jump like a kangaroo. This adds an element of fun and variety to transitions while also encouraging physical activity and coordination.

Enjoy adding to your artful use of transitions as a key to learning and wellbeing in the early years.

Lili-Ann Kriegler (B. A Hons, H. Dip. Ed, M.Ed.) is an education consultant and award-winning author of Edu-Chameleon for teachers and Roots and Wings for parents. Lili-Ann’s specialisations are early childhood education (Birth to 9 years), leadership and optimising human thinking and cognition. She runs her consultancy, Kriegler-Education.

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To purchase Lili-Ann's book: 'Edu-Chameleon: 7 Dynamic Learning Zones to Enhance Children's Concept-Based Understanding'.

To purchase Lili-Ann's book for parents: 'Roots and Wings - A Parents' Guide to Learning and Communicating with Children to Forge a Family with Mettle'.

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