Friday, October 7, 2016

Supporting Transitions in the Early Years

Every school year, we try to reflect on how we are going to reduce the number of transitions to help support children’s development and learning. We brainstormed some strategies that we have found helpful and with consistency in communication between your educating team we hope these strategies will support your ongoing conversations and reflections.

Visual Schedule
Providing a visual schedule with real photographs allows children to make connections to the different learning that is happening throughout the day. When posting a visual schedule, it is important to post it at the children’s eye level. This provides them with a reference for transitions that will be coming throughout the day.

At the beginning of the year, we make reference to the schedule many times throughout the day to help ease anxiety about when families will be coming or when lunch will be. Spending time making connections to the schedule and role modeling how to use it supports the children’s understanding.

Environment as a Third Teacher
Provide an environment that supports children when organizing. Having materials and shelves labeled can be helpful when building independence with routines. One example of this in our classroom is that we have pictures on the building shelves to help support the children when organizing. Sorting materials is a part of the mathematical learning that happens in Kindergarten and if the children are unsure where the blocks may go we use it as an opportunity to embed mathematical language, “I see an edge and a curve, let’s look for a picture that matches this semicircle”.

Less is more
Too many materials and clutter in the classroom can be overstimulating. By providing less materials, we can reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed for children as they begin the year. With less out, we focus on how to find things they may need or want to use, where things are stored, and how to organize them when done.

At the beginning of the year this is especially important as we find it supports us in the management of keeping the room clean, teaching respect for the materials, and redirecting them to learn the expectation of tidying before going somewhere else to explore.

Beyond that, it has also made us more intentional with what we put out and we have found that the children go much deeper into their learning when they have intentional materials and the space to explore.

Providing Students with Language
When teaching children how to enter and exit play, we focus in on having them slow down to understand how they can contribute to the group. Our goal is for them to feel like they are a part of the team, rather than just being told what to do.

Two prompts that we support the children in using is:
“May I join you?”
“How can I help?”

When children jump into play situations without an understanding of the context and materials, it can be overwhelming for them and the other children. These prompts support them in slowing down to understand why certain materials are taken out and how they are being used by those engaged in the play.

Before leaving we encourage the children to ask:
“Is there anything you’d like me to tidy before I leave?”

This supports the other children in understanding that their peer is leaving and provides them with an opportunity to ask for help in putting away some of the materials if needed.
The other students then have the chance to share with that child what they could help put away or the group can have a discussion if this is something they would like to continue or clean up together if uninterested.

With that said it is important that the educator take a role in providing language and ensuring the children are following through to also support their understanding. Without the beginning support and modeling of an adult, many children do not follow through with this which can be frustrating to their peers. Developmentally, some of the children need to be shown what those words mean by modeling to ensure full understanding.

It takes a lot of time and patience to develop some of these skills and an understanding of the language with our youngest learners but they are important skills for the children to learn while also developing their sense of belonging.

In our first few years as a team to be consistent with our prompting and supportive language, we thought of short little scripts that we would use so that everyone on our team provided the same messaging.

To provide some research to support our thinking and learning, Dr. Jenny Horsman stated at a professional learning session that it takes children 30 days to grow new neural pathways. As these neural pathways strengthen so does the skill as it becomes a natural habit of the mind.

Whole Group Tidy
Before tidying up as a class to meet as a whole group we provide the children with a 5 minute warning to give them time to process the transition and supporting them to think about how they might plan to save their work.

In the past we have used a calming song to cue the children in knowing that it is time to tidy. Be mindful of the song that you are choosing and the energy that it can bring into the room. Selecting calm music may support those in remaining calm while transitioning and up beat music may bring extra energy that some children will then need support in staying focused due to extra energy.

Working as a team one educator is up modeling, supporting the children in tidying and filtering to the meeting space while the other one is engaged with the students who are done tidying.

This year we have changed our filtering after Learning Centres. We still providing the 5 minute warning although we are not using music for a whole group tidy. We find each year the group of children can be so different in terms of what will support them and found that the music this year was too over stimulating for some. One educator will be at the whole group meeting area and the other will slowly filter children to the space. With that said do what makes sense for your group of children by reading their bodies.

For times in the schedule that you may not being meeting as a whole group afterwards we would encourage a slow filter to where they may be transitioning (e.g., washing hands for nutrition break). When implementing this type of transition, we are still consistent in providing the 5 minute warning prior to cleaning up. Instead of music, one educator would slowly look for and direct children by reading their body language. The other educator would float and support where needed.

Challenging Areas
One of the areas that we find typically a challenge during tidying and transitions is the building area due to the volume of materials and space needed to create. Depending on the amount of materials that are out we may also provide these children with an extra 5 minute warning before the rest of the class so that they can get a head start and timing can be in line with the others. Verbalizing the reasoning to the children will be important as this will help them in understanding why as well.

These are just a few of the ways that we are mindful of transitions in our learning space. All of the strategies take time so give yourself permission to support these skills by actively being involved in modelling with your body and language. You may feel like a broken record but with repetition and consistency children’s stress, anxiousness and understanding of belonging will continued to be supported.

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