Transitions to School

It is that time of year…the start of a new season and a new school term. Another word we can use is “Transition” it is a time that children are learning Language and Literacy! It is the perfect time to introduce, explore and practice the literacy skills you teach throughout the day. In fact, these mini-language lessons can be an essential part of your program. They provide children with the opportunity to apply the skills they are learning to “real life” experiences. Thus demonstrating to children how language and literacy skills are something they use not only in school but also in life!

Literacy transitions can be used to quiet the group, gain their attention, to move them from place to place, to provide a creative break in the action, or to positively fill waiting time. Use these transition ideas as a way to reinforce skills, to develop new skills and build memory and retention. Remember the importance of repetition. The more you use a particular transition the more children gain understanding. So have fun exploring a transition for a while and then switch to another. But remember to revisit the transitions throughout the year as a way of assessing children’s understanding and expanding their thinking!

Transitions And the Brain

Interestingly, brain research has found an important fact that supports the use of transitions as a teaching tool. Studies have shown that the brain pays the most attention to (and remembers best) the first and last thing presented in a lesson. The stuff in the middle just doesn’t engage the mind (and is not remembered) as much as the stuff on either side of it! So when you are using transition time to teach you are supporting children’s natural brain development.

Transition Tips

Sing children’s names to praise their cooperation: Children always want to hear their name in a song. Just use their names in a simple tune reinforcing a positive behavior. For example you can sing this phrase to the tune of the “Wheels on the Bus”. I like the way that (child’s name) is listening, And I like the way that (child’s name) is listening. I like the way that (child’s name) is listening; Now we’re ready for story time.

Use gerunds: short and sweet reminders of appropriate behavior are more effective than all the direction words in the world. Try using one gerund (a word that ends in “ing”) as a quick reminder. If children were starting to run down the hall you would say, “WALKING”.

Be specific: simple short phrases that specific tell children what you want them to do is much better than a complicated and detailed sentence. Emphasize the important word in the phrase that speaks to what you need them to do. (IN, OUT Down)

Be surprising: Just about the time children are getting used to a particular way you are making transitions-change it! Brain research tells us that novelty or change in a particular pattern or sequence will increase children’s attention span and engage their thinking.

Designate a Model: Often early childhood programs have more than one adult in the classroom. It is extremely helpful if one adult is the transition leader or caller and the other adult acts as a model for the children. This adult can model listening for directions or following directions while encouraging the children to join in. Modeled behavior is more powerful and instructive than spoken directions.

Record Music: Invite children to help you choose music to be used as specific transition reminders or cues. They may like to record an energetic sound for cleanup, some quiet-mood music for rest time and a marching sound for circle time. Change the music frequently to keep interests (and cooperation) high!


Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho it’s Off to School We GO! Take a rousing song from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and turn it into a march to meeting time song. You will have children following you in no time!

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho
Heigh ho, heigh ho,
It’s off to school we go.
With a hop in our step
And a rhythmic clap,
Heigh ho, heigh ho,
Heigh ho, heigh ho,

(Repeat as many times as it takes to gather children)

Start the song by the door and begin marching around the room picking up children in a train behind you until all children are marching to your circle time area. When children arrive at circle, add a quiet verse to settle children down. Put your fingers to your lips as you whisper this last verse.

Heigh ho, heigh ho,
It’s time to sit down slow.
With a quiet clap
Put your hands in your lap
Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho

One Child, Two Children: Here is a fast paced game for learning each other’s names using the traditional One Potato, Two Potato chant. Teach children the chant. Explain that when the rhyme stops on the word MORE whoever is holding the object says his or her name! You might want to demonstrate passing the object and having it land with you so you can show how to say your name. Say the chant and start passing!

One child, two children
Three children, Four
Five children, Six children
Seven children, MORE!

Repeat the chant several times so that children get to hear and say the names of their new friends. Play the game frequently so that children can begin to name the child who is “the MORE”. Children will be proud to be able to say their new friends’ names with gusto!

Duck, Duck, YOU!

Practice each other’s names with a fast-moving game! Play the familiar Duck, Duck Goose game. Then explain that you’re going to play a variation of the fame, in which the child who is “it” walks around the circle and says “duck” as she lightly taps the head of each child. But when she gets to someone whose name she knows, she touches his head and says his name and begins to run around the circle as the child gets up and chases after her. The child who is “it” tries to get back to open space where the child she named was sitting before he tags her.

“With a Ha-Ha Here and a Ha-Ha There” Old MacDonald may have had a farm but this teacher has a very vocal class! Use this rendition of the familiar tune to introduce children and to practice each other’s names.

Start by singing a few verses of the old favorite, Old MacDonald Had a Farm. Encourage children to suggest different sounds for the various animals. Then invite children to sing the song in a new way. How would you like to turn this song into a song about our class? Who is the “farmer” or leader in our class? Let’s make up new words using my name as the farmer. Then we can use the verses to name each child in the class and have them make up sound! Okay let’s try it! Tip: Use the ha-ha sound if children are too shy to make up a sound. That will get them laughing and might suggest some new sounds.

Mrs. Browning Has a Class (Tune: Farmer in the Dell)
Mrs. Browning (teacher’s name) has a class
Ei Ei Oh
And in this class she has a
Brooke (child’s name)
Ei Ei Oh

With a HA- Ha Here and a Ha-Ha there (child provides a sound)
Here a Ha
There a Ha
Everywhere a Ha-Ha
Mrs. Browning has a class
Ei Ei Oh!

A Symphony of Words: Have you ever heard the cacophony of night sounds in nature? They are a wonderful mixture of unrelated sounds, both high and low, that create together a symphony of sound. You can create a similar sound in your classroom using vocabulary words. This is a great way to get take a “silly break” when things are getting too tense in the classroom.

Choose a category of words (they can match a current curriculum theme.) For example you might choose to words for vegetables or fruits. Brainstorm a list on chart paper of all the different vegetables children can think of. Children may like to discuss which are the vegetables love and hate!

Divide the group into three sections. Invite each section to choose a word from the list. Have them practice saying their word (i.e. broccoli, lettuce, peas). Now ask one group to say their word in a low voice, the other group in a high squeaky voice and the third in a normal voice.

Use a pencil or dowel as a conductor’s baton and strike up the symphony. Tell children to watch your baton and start saying their word (in their special voices) when you make a downbeat. You can raise your baton when you went them to say the word louder and then end the symphony by lowering your baton to make the sound get quieter and quieter, until the symphony is silent.

Variation: You might want to start with vegetables they love the first time you play the game and do the ones they hate the next time around. Encourage children to use ‘yucky” sounds when they say the words and make funny faces. Don’t laugh!

Sound Waves: This is similar to what people do at concerts and sporting events.
Children stand in a line and are bent over at the waist with their arms hanging down .The teacher or first child makes a vowel sound. As the child chants or sings the sound she stands tall and raises her arms over her head. As soon as the first child does that, the second child then “picks up” the sound and rises and waves her arms skyward. The sound rolls down the line until everyone has their arms high and waving! You can then start from the back with a new sound and everyone rolls back down one by one. You can keep going back and forth so it becomes a smooth wavelike movement.


Perform it in a circle standing
Perform it seated in rows
Perform it seated in a circle
Use other letters of the alphabet bedsides vowels.

Every Sound Tells a Story: We have all heard the old adage of “every picture tells a story” but what about sound? Have you ever noticed that a sound can trigger an image in your head? Perhaps you have heard an airplane and that inspires images of travel. You can use this same skill with children as a wonderful calming and centering transition or as a positive time-filler when waiting in line, outside or in the classroom.

Use the sounds around you to start a story. Depending upon where you are you might be hearing an airplane overhead, a cat meowing, a car starting, children down the hall, etc. Invite children to close their eyes and LISTEN.

What do you hear?
What sorts of imagines come to mind when you hear the sound?
What do you imagine is happening?
What might happen next?
Can we tell a story about what you hear?

You might want to start the story yourself using the images and happenings suggested by the children. Then invite children to join in the process. Children can also add another sound to the story to extend it! Variation: Children might want to go on a “sound recording” hunt around the classroom, playground and neighborhood. They can collect sound samples to bring back to class and use in storytelling.

Say it with Puppets: Puppets can be a big help for creating smooth transitions. This is because the puppet becomes an impersonal (and fun) leader, direction-giver and/or rule-setter. Interestingly it is often easier for a child to follow a direction given by a puppet than a person. This might be because children are fascinated with a puppet talking to them! However it works…it is a great trick to keep in your transition time bag of tricks!

Children can also help create the transition puppets. Their cooperation in creating the puppets makes children more interested in following the directions given by the puppets. Invite children to help you make puppets for different transitions. Children can brainstorm and help create a variety of puppets according to the needs of the class. They might include:

Welcome puppet, Line up puppet, Clean up puppet, Attendance puppet. Good-bye puppet

Variations: Add a song to give children transition directions. Here is a line up song for the puppet to sing to the tune of “This is the Way We Wash Our Clothes”
(child’s name) and (child’s name) please line up
Please line up, please line up
(new child’s name) and (new child’s name) please line up
It’s time to go outside.

Children may like to make their very own puppets for clean up time out of disposable plastic gloves. Children can decorate the glove with markers. Then use them as cleaner picker uppers as they clean the room!

The Alliteration Name Game: Introduce alliteration to the class. Provide examples to show how fun it sounds when the beginning sounds are the same e.g. “Bouncing, Bubbly Bobbie” or “Delightful Dancing Dawn”. Invite children to join the group or excuse them from a group activity by using their names within an alliterative phrase. Together create it into a chant. Whenever applicable children can use the description with a particular movement to make their entrance or exit e.g. “Happy, Hopping Henry” or “Wildly Waving Wanda”. Ask children to generate their own examples of alliteration. Remind children to devise descriptions that are fun, playful and positive.

Variation: Provide alliterative clues to help children guess the name of the child who could fit that description. e.g. “I am thinking about Smiling , Singing _______ who needs to come to our circle” Explore descriptive words. Explain how certain words help us to make a clearer picture in our minds. Illustrate by having children close their eyes and ask them to imagine seeing an apple sitting on the table. Ask children to describe what they are imagining. Then add a detail. Ask them to pretend they are seeing a Golden Delicious apple. Now what do they see? Apples can be several different colors.

Pass A Rhyming Story Around: You can use this game as a quieting transition when children need to focus their attention and calm down. Keep your rhyming bag full and ready to go. Then whenever you need to take a calm and centering break, you are ready to go! Fill a pillowcase or bag with objects that rhyme and use these for creating a group pass-along rhyming story game! Choose rhyming objects such as cat, hat, bat, rat, and mat -or- bear, chair, and pear.

To play: just pull out an object and start the sentence. “The cat was looking out the window one day when….” Pass the bag to a child who removes another object and continues the story. “When he saw a bat fly by!” Continue passing until the group has created a story using all the rhyming objects.