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Smooth Sailing: Making transition times easier

Transitioning from one activity to another is something adults typically do not put a lot of thought into. For example, transitioning from sitting at your desk to a meeting in the boardroom will likely not result in a meltdown. However, for preschool children, transitioning can be a huge challenge. Just think, you’re happily playing with your toys and all of a sudden you are expected to clean up and eat lunch; Not an easy feat for most children in this age group! The children at the Gozololo Centres experience many transitions throughout the day and below are some tips the staff utilize to ensure smooth sailing during these times:

*Maintain a daily routine – Try to maintain as much consistency with your daily schedule as possible. Preschool children like routine and predictability. Even though doing the same thing every day at the same time every day might seem boring to adults, preschool children get comfort out of knowing what to expect. If you ever visit a Gozololo Centre, you will notice the daily schedule written out and hung on each classroom wall as a reminder to everyone:

*Give warnings – Preschool children have not yet mastered the concept of telling time so having an outline of their daily routine is great, but we cannot expect children in this age group to be able to look at a clock, know that it is almost 12:30pm, and start cleaning up so that they can prepare for lunch. However, they can understand that every day after naptime, they eat lunch. So give children a 5-10 minute warning before transitioning so that they can mentally and physically prepare for a change in activity. A great trick is to set a timer for 5-10 minutes and let them know that when the timer says 0:00 it will be time to move on to the next activity. As preschool children still have difficulty understanding what 5 or 10 minutes means, this visual aid can make it easier for them:

*Have a transition song/activity – Preschool children love to sing so what better way to engage them in the transition process than having a specific song for cleaning up/nap time/welcoming them to class/etc. Singing a song can also act a warning to children that once the song is over, they will be expected to switch activities. Similarly, you can implement a transition activity. For instance, at the Umgababa Centre, children transition from story time to nap time by tiptoeing very quietly into the other classroom while reminding everyone to “ssshhhh”. This simple activity helps to keep the children engaged and provides less opportunity for them to lose focus (preschool children do not have long attention spans!)

*Minimize idle time – If you have ever been around preschool children, you know they are not skilled at sitting still and quiet! So try to avoid large periods of time where they are expected to do so. For instance, if you know that lunch is going to be late, allow children to continue participating in their current activity in order to minimize idle time. Boredom can be a big trigger for tantrums!

*Clarify expectations – If idle time is unavoidable (e.g. other children are not yet finished eating lunch) ensure children know what they can do during these times (e.g. go to the playground, read, etc.). Children do better when they know what is expected of them

Notice that these tips are about being proactive! It is often much easier to prevent problems than to deal with them once they have occurred.

Lori Tiemer is a Registered Psychologist in Alberta, Canada. She has a master of counselling degree and has counseled children, adolescents, and adults with a variety of psychological concerns. Lori has also facilitated various workshops on topics such as parenting, child development, and relaxation skills. She has traveled extensively and first became involved with the Gozololo Centre while in South Africa last year.

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