End-of-the-year transitions can be successful or traumatizing. Your efforts to plan and organize this critical component of your program and classrooms can make them successful year after year.
Both human nature and research show that change is hard for most people. Too much change for children can contribute to feelings of insecurity and dread of a specific situation. In adults, change can cause stress, irritability, and in severe cases, depression.
One of the primary goals in early care and education is to help children develop a positive self-concept and a love of learning. Smooth transitions can be an integral part of helping a child adjust to and make the most of a new situation. A new teacher and/or a new classroom should be an exciting event, not one of fear, concern, or apprehension.
Can you remember how you felt at the beginning of each school year? I have vivid memories of the excitement and apprehension I had on my first day. A box of beautiful, new crayons was so exciting to me! My new teacher was the source of much apprehension. Would my new teacher smile and be fun? Would she like me? If we had met before, I would have known the answers!
Planning helps everyone handle change more readily. The unknown is the core of discomfort with any change. A new room and/or a new teacher may be an unknown to the parent and the child. Building confidence in both parents and children will help smooth transitions of all kinds at any time of the year.
Share with teachers the following strategies for smooth transitioning:
- Provide continuity in routines. Don't make drastic changes to your classroom routines at the end of the year.
- Use classroom activities and themes that offer play experiences related to transitions. Observe and follow children's interests, create a bridge from old to new in dramatic play, read books about new situations, provide open-ended art materials.
- Give children as much information as possible. Talk about what is going to happen ahead of time. For children under 3, a week is plenty of time. Older children can retain information over a longer period.
- Acknowledge to children that they matter to you. Even though they will be moving, you will be in the same room and can wave to them, or they can come by and say hello. Respect and acknowledge their emotions.
- Ask their new teacher to visit your room. Children will feel more comfortable meeting their new teacher in familiar surroundings.
- Schedule small group visits to their new classroom. Keep them short. Ask their teacher to greet them and give them a short "tour." Set up at least two more visits that last longer, before they make their final move.
- Let children see your emotions about transitions. They are comforted knowing they are not the only ones who are sad about this move. Let them know that you are happy you had them in your class and got to know them this year.
Share the following strategies with parents:
- Talk to parents about the child's move during the end-of the-year conference. Give specific examples of how the child has progressed and is ready for the next level of growth and development. Talk briefly about how you see their child responding to the expectations and goals of the next teacher.
- Ask if they have questions or concerns. Wait for a minute or two while they think. Don't rush through this discussion.
- Volunteer to share information with the new teacher. Parents may have specific information they want to include in their child's portfolio.
- If possible, find a potential connection between the parents and the new teacher. Try to identify something that may bring them together or establish the new teacher's credibility. For example, if their child loves music you might mention to the parents that the new teacher incorporates it consistently in her program.
- Offer to personally introduce them to the new teacher. Adults, as well as children, benefit from the security of the familiar when moving on to the new!
Supporting Teachers Through Transitions
Themes, teaching topics, and books can all bolster a child's ability to cope with a transition. To play-act what might happen, children can use dramatic-play scenarios such as Old School/New School, Bridges and Boats, or Moving.
Use group discussions, brainstorming, and individual conversations when evaluating your staff's teaching "fit." It's your job as supervisor to coach and counsel teachers and to help them find their perfect niche. Ask:
- Do they like children of this age?
- Do they have the right energy level for this age?
- Can they keep up and stay a step ahead in planning and thinking?
- Do they enjoy their job and the children?
- Do they have fun?
- Do they feel relaxed and accomplished?
- Is their education and training a good match for the age?
If anyone on your staff needs a transition to a new age level, the beginning of the year is a great time to make one!
Strategies for Establishing a Transition Policy
Apply these ideas and suggestions as you design your school or classroom transition policy.
Discuss your goals. Involve staff and a small group of parents in an inclusive process to generate acceptance of the new policy.
Design a policy. Keep it simple and straightforward. Start with the goal and then describe the process step by step.
Share the policy and implementation date. Set the date at least two weeks into the future to allow time for questions and discussion before implementation.
Observe and document the transition. Look for the attitudes of children and parents and the "mood" in the classroom. Does it settle easily into a happy, humming routine, or do you hear chaos and feel unsettled? Watch the staff. Do they look relaxed and enthusiastic? Are parents happy and confident when leaving their child in the new class?
Evaluate the success. Wait at least a month to allow the routine to meld into place. Then talk to parents and teachers again. First, ask how they feel. Next, focus on their observations and perceptions of how children reacted and adjusted. Did you achieve the goals you set in the beginning of this process? If so, congratulations! If not, consider making modifications that will better meet the needs of teachers, children, and parents.
Remember: Policies are an ongoing process. You have designed this policy to accomplish a specific goal. Different teams of teachers and groups of parents may have slightly different goals or react very differently to the process. Be open to slight adjustments in your policy. The end result must be a policy that keeps in mind the best interests of the children in the program!