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2.1: Transitions

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    COURSE COMPETENCY 2. Incorporate STEM into Daily Routines

    Criteria 2.1 Incorporate STEM opportunities into transitions.

    clipboard_e9fe9f989d183d4fba1e1b97b933087ba.pngThere are many parts to a preschool day. The daily schedule includes routine activities and transitions between those activities. We will explore transitions and routines as well as how to create an effective schedule all while incorporating STEM learning throughout all daily routines. Let's start by taking a look at transitions.


    It is important to focus on creating and managing smooth transitions between activities in the classroom. Reasons to address transitions between activities in early childhood classrooms include:

    • Transitions take up a great deal of time in preschool classrooms.
    • During transitions, children often spend a lot of time waiting (e.g., waiting until everyone has finished their snack, waiting for everyone to clean up before beginning large group time). All of this time waiting with nothing to do can lead to unrealistic expectations and challenging behaviors.
    • Some children (and adults) have stressful and frustrating experiences during transitions between activities (e.g., children arguing over who took out what toys and who should put them away; children not knowing where to put certain toys when they are done with them; children not knowing what to do, children not knowing expectations for the transition).
    • Many preschool teachers and other caregivers consider children’s ability to independently make transitions between activities one of the essential skills needed in group contexts such as preschool and kindergarten.[11]

    Supporting Successful Transitions

    There are numerous strategies that can be used to ensure well-organized transitions between activities. These include strategies you use before the transition, during the transition, and following the transition.

    • Before the Transition
      • Plan your daily schedule to include the minimal number of transitions that occur over the course of the day. Minimize the number of transitions in which all children have to do the same thing at the same time (e.g., Do all children have to go to the restroom at the same time? Can some children come over to the rug and sing a song or read a book, while other children finish an activity?).
      • Plan for what adults will do during transition times (e.g., Which adult is responsible for greeting the children? Who will begin looking at books on the carpet with children?).
      • Teach children the expectations for the transition routine. Teaching children how to clean up and how to line up will reduce the length of transition times. By reducing transition times, more time is available for children to spend in other learning activities. As children become familiar with the expectations, problem behaviors are less likely to occur.
      • Provide verbal and nonverbal cues before transitions (e.g., “Five minutes ‘til snack. It’s almost time for clean-up,” show pictures of the next activity, beat a drum). Once a transition cue has been established, the cue should be used consistently to signal the transition.
    • During the Transition
      • Engage children in transition activities (sing songs, play word or guessing games, recite rhymes, organize finger plays). Transition activities provide children with an activity to complete while other children are still transitioning. These activities also encourage children to finish their previous task, so that they can play the game or sing the song. During these activities, skills related to the transition can also be taught (e.g., setting the table for snack or lunch, sorting toys during clean-up time).
      • Allow children adequate time to finish projects or activities so they do not become frustrated by activities ending too soon. Give them a warning that it is about time to change activities.
      • Plan something to engage those children who finish an activity quickly, so they are not waiting without anything to do (e.g., if some children finish cleaning up and getting to large group quickly, they might look at books while waiting for other children to finish cleaning up).
      • Individualize support to accommodate individual children’s needs.
        • Photos to help anticipate what activity is next.
        • Directions given in a child’s home language or sign language.
        • An individual warning to a child that it will soon be time to clean up and begin a new activity.
    • Support May Need to be Individualized (i.e., one child may need an adult to provide a five-minute, three-minute, and one-minute warning before clean up while the rest of the class might need only a three-minute warning).
    • After Transitions
      • Provide positive attention and feedback to children following transitions.
        • When children pick up toys without much prompting, share with them how this shows how well they take care of the classroom materials.
        • When children are working together to accomplish the task more quickly, let them know how much you appreciate their teamwork (e.g., “Nicholas and Jorge did a great job cleaning together and moving to the carpet”).

    You can also work to promote independence during transitions by

    • Allowing children to move individually from one area to another area when they complete an activity (e.g., as children finish snack, they are encouraged to go to the carpet and choose a book; as children finish putting away their coats and backpacks, they are encouraged to get a puzzle).
    • Teaching children to help others (e.g., have children move as partners from one activity to another, or ask one child to help another child gather his/her backpack).
    • Helping children self-monitor during transitions (e.g., children can be asked to think about how quietly or quickly they moved from one activity to another).

    Read and compare the two vignettes below of a teacher using a dismissal transition. The first will show you a more traditional example of a dismissal transition from circle time to handwashing before lunch. The second will demonstrate how a teacher might incorporate STEM into a transition.

    In vignette number 1, we will see a teacher use the children's interest in their names and the names of their friends to create a dismissal ritual. In vignette number 2, we will see a vignette that focuses more explicitly on STEM learning during the dismissal transition.


    Example 1

    Ms. Cone had used the children’s name tags in transition activities for quite some time, at first pointing out and naming the first letter in each name as she called children to go wash hands or to get their jackets before going outside. Somewhat later, she held up each of the nametags and pointed to the first letter as she asked the child to name it. Today, she is using the first sounds in names to send a few children at a time from the circle time area to wash hands for lunch: “If your name starts with /k/, you may go wash your hands. Yes, Connie and Carolina, you may go to the sink. Both of your names start with the /k/ sound.” Cindy sees Connie and Carolina stand up, and she stands up too. Ms. Cone explains that Cindy begins with the /s/, not /k/ sound, and that she’ll get a turn soon. Cindy says, “I’m a C too!” Ms. Cone says, “Oh, you are right. Your name begins with the letter c like Connie and Carolina, but it starts with a different sound. We hear /k/ at the beginning of Connie and Carolina—/k/ Connie, /k/ Carolina. We hear /s/ at the beginning of your name—/s/—Cindy. I’m going to say that sound next: ‘If your name starts with /s/, you may go wash your hands.’” Sabrina stood up, joined hands with Cindy, and they walked to the sink together.[12]

    Example 2

    Here's how we can modify the vignette to focus more explicitly on STEM learning during the dismissal transition from circle time to washing hands for lunch:


    Ms. Rodriguez, the preschool teacher, had just finished a captivating circle-time discussion about the life cycle of plants. As she transitioned the children from the circle area to the handwashing station for lunch, she designed an activity that seamlessly integrated STEM concepts.

    "Okay, little scientists," Ms. Rodriguez exclaimed with a smile, "let's use our observation skills as we move to wash our hands!"

    As the children lined up, she distributed small magnifying glasses and encouraged them to explore the classroom environment. "Find something that's living and something that's non-living. How can you tell the difference?"

    The children eagerly scanned the room, examining plants, toys, and classroom objects. Some spotted the potted plants by the window, while others investigated a plastic toy car.

    Ms. Rodriguez guided their observations with thoughtful questions: "What do living things need to survive? How do they grow and change? Can you find any signs of growth or movement?"

    Once everyone had made their observations, she led them to the sink area, where they continued the discussion while washing their hands. "Just like plants need sunlight and water to grow," she explained, "we need clean water to stay healthy and wash away germs!"

    The children nodded, their faces lighting up with understanding. By incorporating STEM concepts into this simple transition, Ms. Rodriguez not only made the dismissal process engaging but also encouraged scientific thinking and exploration in everyday activities.

    Built into example 1 is a dismissal ritual that takes full advantage of young children’s interest in their names and the names of their friends. As part of this dismissal ritual, the teacher invites children to use their emerging skills in distinguishing the distinct sounds of language, described in the language and literacy foundations as phonological awareness. She embeds this learning in the context of a game, one that inspires children to listen carefully to the sounds spoken in instructions for inviting small groups of children to wash hands. The transition from large group to the sink area goes much more smoothly as a result, and in the process, children get to use an important emerging skill.

    Example 2 helps the children use their emerging skills and knowledge about the needs of living things. The teacher carefully crafts her questions to help the children show what they learned in the previous lesson and she helps the children connect the learning to other areas of their lives such as handwashing to connect the needs of living things to a concept they already know, handwashing. Transitions can be used to help the teacher assess what the children learned during the lesson.

    Example 2 was generated using OpenAI. (2024). ChatGPT (3.5) [Large language model].

    2.1: Transitions is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Vicki Tanck (Northeast Wisconsin Technical College).