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Transitions can be one of the most challenging parts of the teaching day.  One of my best tips is to shift how you look at transitions.  Clearly, transitions are the changing times between main activities and group times.   It is often transport time and preparation time.

When you view it from this perspective – it is clear that transitions are a structural space.  It is a structure that you are moving children from one place or activity to another – like a bridge.

I think it is vital to understand that transitions begin as a teacher directed and held space.  Thankfully, some transitions will eventually become motor memory and the children will do them like breathing.  But there are always a few transitions that require we continue to manage and hold the structural space.

In my experience – I have found there are two types of transition spaces:

  • Waiting Space (in line or sitting in holding pattern)
  • Moving Space (from one activity to another)

It is important to know what kind of transition you are crafting.  They require different types of activities and training.  More about that in a minute. First, I have a simple recipe for transitions: Preview, Provide, Prepare.  These are there three crucial things I know I need to deliver during a transition.  I like to think of a transition like a bridge:



This is the foundation of a successful transition.  Children need a heads-up.  I call it “priming the brain.”  It is giving children the cues that one activity is coming to a close and another activity will be starting.  This keeps children in a state of knowing what to expect next.  Some children need this preview every single day.


  • Use Verbal and Non-verbal cues for this preview.
    •  Use simple sign language cues.
    • Try a special sounding tool for the most difficult transition so it has ‘its’ own auditory reminder (bell, drum, chime).
    • Sing “We are going to wash our hands for lunch.”
      • Many times children are more responsive to singing commands versus stated commands.
  • Hold up Procedure Sign and preview next steps: (example Hand Washing before lunch)
    • “Step One: Stand in Line”
    • “Step Two: One Squirt of Soap & Rub hands together for the count of 10.”
    • “Step Three: Rinse off Soap and dry hands.”“Remember: While we wait for our turn – we listen and do”


Consider this.  If a transition is a ‘”space” then you must bring something to fill the space.  Empty space = children will fill it with mischief!   So this is the time to bring special transitional activities.

Important detail!  Keep in mind there are two kinds of transitional activities.  Expressive Transitions are those that you can use songs and normal level noise (like transitions inside the classroom).  


Be sure to download my Teaching Songs book inside the subscribers area.  One teacher printed it out with four songs to a page, laminated them and put the songs on a ring – ready to use as needed!  Loved this idea!  Here's it is in process. . .


Receptive Transitions are those that you need to remain quiet and not disturb others (like waiting in a school hallway).   If you know you have to keep a group of 22 children quiet while they wait to go into the cafeteria – you need to have that “space” filled and crafted with appropriate silent activities.



Just like the Preview of the Bridge – we want to prepare children for the next activity.   This can be as simple as a chant, song, high five or visual cue.

The goal is to prime  and reaffirm in the brain – “We are beginning a new activity.”

The keynotes of transitions:

  • Teacher holds the space (PREVIEW)
  • Teacher engages students (PROVIDE)
  • These are high energy times in the training process.
  • Pick a song for the start of each major transition. This trains motor memory.

I'd love to hear your best tips for transitions.