It’s great watching children get deeply involved in their play. However, problems can occur when it is time for children to stop what they are doing and change activity or task. For some children, moving around causes a lot of stress and anxiety, especially if they don’t know or understand what is expected of them next. Here are some ways that you can make daily transition times happier and less stressful for both you and the children.

Give warnings

Let children know that it is nearly time to stop. If you were engrossed in making something and you got told to stop immediately you would feel annoyed, or you might just take a bit more time. Don’t expect children to be able to stop what they are doing without giving them a warning that the end is approaching. A sand timer is great for this – it allows a child to see how long they have left.

Have a routine

This isn’t always possible, but if you can try to stick to the same routine, then as children spend more and more time in your setting, they are going to learn what to expect next, and what is expected of them.


As an early years practitioner, you will already do this a lot. Now apply singing to your transition times. Sing as you tidy up, as you get in a line, as you moved around the setting. Sing as you choose groups of children to go to their next activity. Include actions to stop little fingers from fiddling with things that they shouldn’t be. Not only does this improve transition times but you are then also working towards Phase 1 of Letters and Sounds and giving children all of the benefits that they get from songs such as rhyme and alliteration.

Use movement in different ways

Standing silent and still in a line is very unnatural to children. We’ve already talked about using our voices, now think about how you can get children to move as they transition from one topic to another. Can they pretend to be a jungle animal? Can they move as quietly and gracefully as a snowflake? Can they be a little mouse as they tidy all the things away?

Use your imagination

Just like above, this links closely to movement. Get children thinking. Can they pretend to be an astronaut walking on the moon? What is it like? Question the children along the way and find out what they are imagining.

Visual timetables

Showing a child visually what is happening next relieves their anxiety because they can understand what is coming next. It must be really scary to leave the safety of an activity you like to move to something else when you don’t understand what it is. You can really help with this by displaying some simple pictures showing the schedule for the day. This is particularly important for any child with communication difficulties.

Object of reference

Another great visual tool is to show an option linked to what you are going to do next, again to help the child understand. If you are about to take a child for a nappy change, what better way to help them understand than by showing them a clean nappy as you take them? Better still, get them involved by letting them carry the nappy and collect their change bag etc.

Plan for transition times

You plan most other aspects of the children’s curriculum; now think about ways to incorporate your transition times into your planning too. This isn’t intended to add to paperwork – just jot down some transition ideas whilst you think about your topic and share with other staff.

Remain calm!

Finally, it sounds obvious, but remain calm and try your best not to get frustrated if things aren’t going to plan. Children will pick up if you are not calm and therefore will not be calm themselves.

As always, understanding is key. If a child understands what is happening, they are far less likely to resist the change. Keep calm, have fun and you should see happier transition times throughout your day. Good luck!

About the author

Gina SmithGina Smith is an experienced teacher with experience of teaching in both mainstream and special education. She is the creator of ‘Create Visual Aids’ – a business that provides both homes and education settings with bespoke visual resources. Gina recognises the fact that no two children are the same and therefore individuals are likely to need different resources. Create Visual Aids is dedicated to making visual symbols exactly how the individual needs them.



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