Making Transitions Work

Transitions are a part of daily life that can be challenging, particularly for children.  Given the multitude of transitions children experience, this can be very stressful for them. As early education professionals, you have an opportunity to help reduce the stress around transitions.  Whether children are leaving the care of their families for the first time, entering a new age group, or going to a different program, children need to know what to expect. Transition plans can help children and parents adjust successfully.

Transitioning from home to a program begins with open communication between your program and families. Here are some strategies you can implement:

  • Suggest parents visit your program with their children before their first day.
  • Offer abbreviated days in the beginning that gradually lengthen to a full day of care.
  • Allow children to bring a special book or other item from home.
  • Have a family photo wall or an “all about me” wall so children feel connected to their family while away from home.
  • Build times for transition into the daily schedule.

Your Daily Schedule
All children benefit when you help them prepare for what’s to come. And since most young children can’t tell time, they rely on the order of activities throughout the day to be their clock. Having a predictable schedule brings children a sense of security. Too many stops and starts can frustrate children, but seamless transitions can become part of the routine and create extended learning opportunities. Consider how you can include transitions in your written daily schedule. For example, use a simple verbal countdown for cleanup time. When preparing to wash hands, sing a fun song about germs. Including transitions in the daily routine can help children understand your expectations as well as encourage positive behaviors. Using transitions in your program also demonstrates the effective use of teaching strategies, which is part of the Developmentally Appropriate Learning and Practice content area within the Maryland EXCELS Standards.

New Age Groups
Transitioning into an older age group is another important time for a child. Children will likely be changing classrooms and teachers, and helping them feel comfortable in their new environment is critical. Talk with families about their expectations and goals for their children. Provide the opportunity for the children to meet with their new teachers and spend time in their new classrooms. Give teachers a chance to discuss learning strategies for the children who are aging up. With everyone involved in the transition to a new age group, children will feel supported and confident in their new environment.

Helping children and parents through transitions is an important part of having a quality program. Developing transition plans will not just help families adjust to the necessary changes in their child’s life but will also give children valuable skills they can apply throughout their lives.

Utilizing Observation Practices

As a child care provider, one of the ways you gain knowledge about the interests, strengths, and challenges of the children in your care is through observation. Observing can give insight about how each child thinks, hears, and learns. Observations can also help you plan lessons and activities or select materials that will encourage each child’s development and growth.

What practices does your program use to observe the children in your care?

Here are several useful tools and techniques:

Anecdotal Records:

Anecdotal records are detailed notes about the children in your program. You only need a pen, paper, sticky notes, or an electronic device to record the information. These notes should include the child’s name, date/time/setting, what the child said, what the child did, and how they interacted with materials or other people. Simply record what you see and hear while the child is involved in different activities. It’s important to keep personal feelings and opinions out of your notes—focus on being objective.


Developmental checklists focus on specific skills or behaviors and are a good tool to record development and growth. Checklists offer insight into which skills a child can or cannot complete. Checklists are also a great resource to help providers plan lessons, choose appropriate materials, and set goals for each child. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a free Developmental Milestone Checklist for providers.

Work Sampling/Portfolios:

Work sampling involves collecting examples of children’s writing, drawing, artwork, dictated stories, and language samples. Photographs or videos of children creating work and audio recordings of children talking and discussing what they are creating can also be part of work sampling.

These examples can then be organized into a binder, electronic file, or other collection as a portfolio of the child’s progress. Portfolios offer providers and families a physical timeline of a child’s work and can be used in determining strengths and challenges for each child.

More information on work sampling can be found on the Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center website.

Conversations and Interviews:

Showing interest, listening, asking open-ended questions, and putting the focus on the child and their thinking helps you can gain valuable information and insight.

To make the most of observations, combine being a participating observer and an observer who stands back. Conduct ongoing observations to gain the most insight. The more you watch, listen and talk to children, the more you learn about them.  Use the information gained from observation to create a nurturing environment that encourages learning and development. By using observation tools and techniques and sharing information with families, you are supporting children’s success, learning, and development.