TWELVE-MONTH-OLD JACOB CHUCKLES AS HE holds onto his favorite teacher's pinkie and toddles back into the baby room. He is returning from his first visit to the toddler room, proud of new accomplishments but happy to be home. This first visit is just the beginning of Jacob's gradual transition into the next stage in his development. It takes time and sensitive handling for a toddler to comfortably handle transitions, but the happy, secure toddler you see makes the effort so worthwhile.
Infants are aware of changes in their teachers and environment. During the first year of life, babies often develop deep emotional attachments to nurturing adults. These emotional bonds fuel babies' growth and development. Rapid brain development leads to other competencies as well. By 3 months, you'll see how your babies anticipate regular caregiving routines and by 6 months how they respond differently to familiar people and strangers. Just 12 months from birth, babies begin to use trusted adults to help solve problems, and they easily remember where to find their crib or favorite toy.
Easing Into Transitions
Moving into a group with new teachers and friends can be difficult for a toddler. Fortunately, there are many ways of helping children. Groups can come together during outdoor-play time so that children can meet their new teachers. Toddlers can "visit" the new room on a regular basis. Sometimes older children enjoy returning to their old classrooms, and younger children see what it's like to get "bigger."
Different Children-Different Needs
Each child responds to change differently. For example, 14-month-old Santa likes very consistent routines and tends to feel anxious when there are even minor changes. She needs a long transition with several extended visits to the new room with a familiar care giver. Other toddlers, however, are easy and outgoing and adjust to transitions more easily All of them, however will need time to build connections in the new classroom.
Too much talk creates anxiety: Keep discussions short and visits to the new room frequent to give toddlers a visual picture. Refer to the new teacher by name and add concrete details about the room.
At 18 months, many new thinking skills are developing. The toddler is just beginning to be fairly certain that people who "go away" don't disappear but actually do come back! As a result, it is important that the child's familiar teacher remain available for visits, hugs, and frequent "hellos!" after the transition. Moving too fast or with too many different people makes it harder for her to develop trusting relationships.
Including twos in the process of change shows respect for their growing independence and encourages cooperation. Jamie, a 2 1/2-year-old, is moving up to the "big kids'" room. He is proudly carrying his family pictures, his box of extra clothes, and his name from his old cubby, and putting these treasured objects into his new cubby himself! After lunch, there is a welcoming party. This joyful ritual helps him have a sense of ownership and pleasure about this important transition.
What You Can Do
- Play games such as peek-a-boo or hide-and-seek that show people going away and then coming back together again.
- Gather as much information as you can about the new children in your care. Communicating with adults who have cared for them in the past will help make the transition to your room a smooth one.
- Transition a group of children together. Sharing the move with friends helps to make it a positive experience for everyone!
3 to 4 by Susan A. Miller, EdD
THREE-YEAR-OLD SUZANNE IS WALKING TOWARD her classroom door with her dad. She turns to him, calls out "kisses and hugs!" and gives him a ritual high-five before she energetically heads for the puzzle table. When Boris knows he will be moving to the 4-year-old room, he wants some reassurance. "Do they have a sandbox? Can I bring the dump truck with me?" In the process of making transitions, favorite people, activities, and toys are important to threes.
Reactions to Change
Sometimes 3-year-olds seem to adjust easily to change, as when Suzanne moves from home to school; then suddenly, they send out signals that show their discomfort. Suzanne asks: "Where is my sucking blanket?" Then her fingers go into her mouth as she reverts to a familiar comforting behavior.
Other times, 3-year-olds seem to handle changes in their lives in incidental, rather offhanded ways. Wearing a fluffy cat puppet on his hand, Danny casually approaches Julie at the rice table. "You know, my mom ran over my cat. It killed him." Julie responds, "When my cat died, we got another."
Threes need opportunities to talk about change and watch it occur gradually. Jacob says excitedly, "I watered my little seed. It's growing into a big plant." His teacher expands on this: "You're growing big too. As your feet grow, your shoes get tight. Now, you have new, bigger shoes."
Offer Soothing Support
"How will the school bus know where my house is? How will I get up the big bus steps?" Anxious about his first day in kindergarten, 4-year-old Billy asks lots of questions. Although he is very excited and wants to be independent, like a "big kid," he has some very natural fears. To help relieve some of his stress, Mrs. Latshaw suggests lining up rows of chairs to create a pretend school bus. Billy role-plays being the bus driver. Now, he can talk about what he thinks will happen: "Stop! Pick-up Latisse. Bus five is going to Elm Street School."
Four-year-olds have a very strong need to feel connected to the special people in their lives. Kevin tells Mrs. Piermattei: "You're my favorite teachers Can you be my kindergarten teacher next year too?" Many older preschoolers come to adore the opposite sex parent or teacher and find it difficult to think about separating from them. Frequently, fours form strong bonds with a best friend who may be going to a different kindergarten. Concerned, Jake and Toby brainstorm ways to keep in touch: "Maybe we can telephone each other. Maybe we can play together in the park."
Feeling unsure or extremely excited about changes such as a new baby arriving at home or riding to school in a different carpool, some fours seem bolder, bossier, or louder as they act out. They may become demanding or overly enthusiastic in unrelated situations. As he runs through a block structure, Pablo yells, "I'm king of the blocks. Crash! Now you pick them up!"
Teachers can help children with minor transitions throughout the year. When the children get tired of playing "firehouse," Mr Boursa asks how they might put the props away. Ashley, a 3-year-old who likes to please and help her teacher, suggests: "Let's pack up the fire hats in milk cartons. We'll carry them to your giant closet." By having children participate throughout the year in this way, it is not as stressful for them when classroom materials are finally stored away at the end of the year.
What You Can Do
- Stick to familiar schedules and routines as children enter new situations.
- Gradually talk about changes. Discuss long-range transitions that will occur (adopting a big brother, changing schools) so children have an opportunity to adjust.
- Arrange for nonthreatening visits to ease transitions.
- Share good memories. Help children reach closure before they move on. Make celebration books with photos of friends and drawings showing children's growth throughout the year.
5 to 6 by Ellen Booth Church
What will the new school be like? Will you take me there? Will any of my friends be there too?
These are some of the many questions on the minds of kindergartners at the end of the school year More than any other transition, the change from kindergarten to first grade can be one of the most significant in a young child's life. It represents an end of the preschool years and the beginning of a long time in what they call the "big school." The bigger school setting, with its larger classes with more "academic" expectations, contributes to both the excitement and the fears.
Kindergartners are an interesting mix of fearlessness and fearfulness. They want to grow up, but they're reluctant to lose some of the attention and security they get from being little. Of course, they should be able to have both! Five- and 6-year-olds need to feel and express their maturity by taking part in the transition to the new school or grade. At the same time, they need to know they are still supported, loved, and protected. The fear children have of transition and change is often related to the fear of losing control of their lives. In preschool and kindergarten, they've become accustomed to certain routines and the people with whom they share those routines. Now the routines will be different in ways both big and small.
Look at Change
It is comforting for 5- and 6-year-olds to know that changes and transitions are a normal part of life. Everyone and everything grows and changes.
Kindergartners need to be encouraged to look at the changes in their own physical growth. If they can see the concrete changes that are a part of their lives, such as their clothes and shoes getting too small, they can see that part of growing up is a change to new schools and maybe even new friends.
By this stage of their lives, lives and sixes are very much attuned to the role friends play in their lives. Their friends may be leaving for summer vacation or splitting up to go to other schools and classes. Friends are a "touchpoint" that children use to help them feel secure in the midst of change. Friends demonstrate that the child is not the only one going through change and transition. The shared experience bolsters children's self esteem and awareness.
Take a minute to reflect on your own experiences with change. Perhaps you remember going to a new city. Did you have a lost feeling until you recognized something? In finding our way through life, we are constantly looking for reference points, a sense of the familiar to build on. Children have similar needs during transitions. That's one reason why familiar objects, activities, routines, and rituals are so essential during times of change for children.
It is also why preparation for change is essential to children. If we help prepare them for the transition, they have some familiar reference points to use when the transition or change actually happens.
Share Your Experiences
The great thing about most kindergartners is that they really like to talk! Invite children to talk about how they are feeling about the changes ahead. Their verbal abilities serve them well in these types of situations. They may have some specific fears that they can discuss, or they might just like to sit close and talk about anything. Whatever form the conversation takes, the oneon-one time you provide is essential. Share books about school together Share your own stories about going to first grade. They will be amazed that you too once made this change!
What You Can Do
- Help children observe changes in nature. Watch a plant grow in the garden or plant a seed in a small pot and watch it struggle for space as it grows.
- Provide children with opportunities to stay in touch with friends throughout the summer and into the next year.
- Schedule opportunities to see the new classroom and meet the new teacher and children. This gives children a visual reference point for the next year.
- Provide activities that help children prepare for change. The more involved they are, the more they feel in control of their "destiny."