Miss Night's Marbles

Musings, mumbles, marvels, and sometimes mockery, live from kindergarten.

Ask Miss Night: Taming the Transitions

on 28 October, 2012

Oh crap, that’s right, I HAVE A BLOG!

Hello friends. I know you have all been losing sleep, wondering what has happened to your beloved Miss Ni… Oh, who am I kidding?! You all have been living your lives, most of you teaching your kiddos, getting by just fine without me. Let’s all be honest here for a minute, and admit that one of the strongest realities of this line of work is how completely the day-to-day nitty-gritty can consume us – to a point that it seems we blink, and suddenly it is the end of October.

CAN I GET AN AMEN ON THAT?! (Or a what-what, or a whoop-whoop, or a hallelujah, or a hell-ya, or whatever exclamation of agreement you prefer…?)

Anyway, have no fear: I am back, with a great question from a reader we will call NE. NE is new to kindergarten, and is struggling with transition times. She says:

Well, since this is my first experience with Kindergarten I have no expectations of what is going to happen but here’s something I’m struggling with. My dismissal time routine is really rough as is right after lunch. With our schedule we eat lunch then start math. What are some attention grabbers you use to help keep the attention of your students? After unstructured time (lunch) my class is really wild and hard to settle down……
When I dismiss, I dismiss bus students then have the walkers get their backpacks from their lockers. As I’m watching for parents another unstructured time, the students seem to be wild and not wanting to read or do a puzzle.

First, dear NE, please know you are not alone. Dealing with transitions is one of the hardest part of teaching little ones. Even the most angelic group of kiddos can seem to turn into a whole other species at the times of day when there is more than one thing going on at once, or when they are waiting for the next thing to start. To make things worse, transitions often seem to happen at times of day when kids are tired (Post-recess! After lunch! End of the day!) and/or hungry (Pre-lunch! Before snack! End of the day!) And, even when you have  GREAT transition routines, there are still random days where those in-between times go back to being a 3-ring circus of chaos, and all you can do is breathe through them. The good news is: by their very definition, transition times MUST come to an end.

That said, there are things you can do to help things go more smoothly. Since it has been several weeks since you submitted your question, you may have discovered some of these, or stumbled into other solutions. I’m also going to ask the readers to share their best tips and tricks in the comments, since they are  ALWAYS much smarter than me!

My first approach would be to eliminate as many transitions as possible. Look critically at any time of day when you are asking the entire group to stop one thing, come together, and than start another thing. Is there a way to change it, or to create a routine that has less stop-and-start. My favourite example of this is doing snack as a centre rather than a whole-group activity: during my afternoon play centres, one table is designated as the snack centre, where children can choose to eat whenever they are hungry. This saves me multiple transitions – from play to cleanup to hand-washing to snack to cleanup to bag-packing. Instead, we just do play to cleanup to packing. So, for your lunch-to-math transition, is there a way to have a routine allowing each child to finish lunch, clean up, and start a math routine of some kind, without having to wait for everyone? A math journal? A designated shelf of math-related games or manipulatives? Something they can start independently, but that is not mandatory, so that the slow eaters can skip it if needed.

My second piece of advice would be to consider the noise level, as transitions are a time when it is WAY too easy for kids to get sucked into an escalating spiral of LOUDNESS, where the LOUDNESS makes them speak LOUDER to be heard over the LOUDNESS which makes everything LOUDER… you can see where I am going with this. While I am not a huge fan of making children be silent, a “no talking” rule, when used sparingly, can help kids focus on the task at hand, and develop the self-regulation to move through a particularly difficult transition. My current group has been struggling with the “getting ready for recess” routine (we are already into snow pants and heavy coats and boots and hats and mittens), and just last week we instituted a “no talking until you are dressed” rule. It is not my favourite, and will not be the rule forever, but right now it is helping them stay focused on details like “MITTENS GO LAST.” So, for you, NE, are there times where a temporary “no talking” or “whispers only” rule would help create a habit of calm and focus?

My final addition to a transition tool kit is songs and chants. Songs, poems, and fingerplays are your best weapon at any time that some of the kids are waiting for others to be ready, or when ALL the kids are waiting for an event or activity. Sing, sing, sing. Find songs for the transitions themselves (like a cleanup song), and sing songs while you wait. If half the kids are at the circle and the other half are still wrapping up lunch, start singing with the carpet kids. It will keep them out of trouble, and the slower cleaner-uppers will hurry to join you. SInging a familiar song at steadily decreasing volume can help bring a group together and quiet, so you can start instruction without battling chatter.

There you go, NE: my three best techniques for taming the transition monster. Now, awesome readers, please share your brilliance in the comments, because I  KNOW you know way more things than me.

And don’t worry, i won’t leave you hanging this long again!

Have a question for Miss Night and the readers? Click on the button to submit it.

4 Responses to “Ask Miss Night: Taming the Transitions”

  1. mcgomez13 says:

    One thing I do in my class is tell the kids that transitions are the hardest part of the day. I think kids work so well when given a challenge and they really respond to this. Another idea I have used is using the Too Loud app to help them self regulate their noise level http://mattbgomez.com/regulating-the-yelling/

    • Miss Night says:

      Too funny – when I had a particularly LOUD and BUSY 1st grade class, I sat them down and, out of sheer desperation, explained what a transition was, and what a good transition should look like. From that point forward, they would screech at each other: “WE’RE HAVING A TRAAAANSITIIIIOOONNN!” This was, um, NOT the outcome I was hoping for.

  2. great idea to make snack a centre! i use a timer a lot and encourage students to help each other – even if you didn’t make the mess, you can still help to clean it up.

  3. Patty says:

    I agree with Miss Night. Sing. Then sing some more. If you don’t sing, use a cleanup song and play it in the background. Or use a timer. Kids love playing beat the timer to clean up. And limiting transitions helps a lot. Give kiddos chunks of time to PLAY as Miss Night has pointed out in other posts. It helps kids with self-regulation and they NEED it.

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