Routines and Transitions in Early Childhood

Established routines in childcare help children to learn, grow and develop with confidence and certainty. Understanding and managing routines and transitions in early childhood can help make establishing a schedule that gives a level of predictability to the child’s day.

What do we mean by routines and transitions in early childhood?

Routines are essentially the regular activities that a child becomes accustomed to expect in their life. Transitions are those times that the child moves from one activity to the next. Transitions can present challenges for carers and children alike, as one activity may be preferred to another or the child may be at a stage in their development that they find difficult to adapt to changes. These challenges can be alleviated by giving careful consideration to  the effectiveness of the schedule.

Creating an effective schedule

Creating an effective schedule is not an exact science, although there are some key areas that the schedule should address. How you arrange those areas into your childcare daily routine is up to you but you will need to include each piece. View the construction of the schedule as a “big picture” view of the childcare centre’s daily activities.. Routines in childcare settings can be viewed as the steps that need to be taken to complete the schedule.

Independent free choice activities

Routines in early childhood education should allow children time and space to follow what interests them through the freedom allowed in play. This can be best addressed by providing free choice time. Interestingly research has shown that children are more likely to be more fully engaged in the activities that they choose during these times than in those where the activity has been selected by the educator/carer. The educators role though remains critical as they will need to keep a close eye on everyone being able to gain full access to activities. It is recommended that at least one hour in an eight hour day be dedicated to free choice activities.

Outdoor activities

In many ways, similar to free choice activities, time spent outdoors enables children the freedom   to follow their interests. Outdoor play encourages interaction with other children and promotes interaction with the larger outdoor world as well as building muscle strength.

In full day programs sixty minutes per day should be allocated to outdoor activities.  The outdoor childcare routine and transitions can take a  variety of forms and will be dependent upon the environment and materials available. While fixed playground equipment is handy, children are happy and engaged with simple portable equipment like balls and bicycles. Teachers  and carers can provide children with choice by using these types of equipment and other outdoor toys to create separate interesting outdoor areas.

Outdoor routines in childcare settings can be further enhanced by using some indoor equipment that lends itself to outdoor use. Indoor equipment that can be creatively utilised outdoors include such items as sand and water tables, paper and  pencils, baskets of books placed strategically in shady areas and building blocks. Providing as much variety as possible will help to stimulate engagement and create extended learning  opportunities.

Organised activities in a group environment

Preschool children also gain great benefit from teacher initiated activities for both large and small groups.

Typically, large group activities may include such activities as story time, singalongs, and discussion of the daily schedule. In these sessions, the opportunity can be taken to encourage children to share their special events such as birthdays.

Research indicates that large group routines in childcare settings are particularly effective in helping children develop literacy skills as well as developing social skills such as controlling emotions and paying attention. Ideally large group activities should be kept to maximum times of twenty minutes as this is the optimum period for learning in such a format.

Small group sessions allow for more personal targeted activities that aim to promote the child’s engagement. As less children are involved, children are able to more easily interact with otters as well as get more personal attention from their educator.

Organising effective small groups takes some careful planning and may make a good option for free choice activities..  Some ways that small groups can be used effectively include:

  • Reading stories to small groups
  • Offering a science experiment for children to participate in.
  • Creating a group to work on a specific art project,
  • Board games
  • Any activity that requires extra input and attention by an adult.

Ideally small group activities should run no longer than fifteen minutes per group.

Developing strong transitional skills

Transitions are part and parcel of the child care daily routine and they can often cause some difficulty as children need to cease one activity before commencing another. Effective management of these situations can go a long way to making the daily routine ru as close to seamlessly as possible. Some factors to consider include :

  • Consider combining different activities into the one block – small group time could be incorporated into free choice time for example.
  • Consider staggering activities such as hand washing before meals by selecting groups of children to wash their hands while the main group continues with a group activity such as singing
  • Consider whether some children are capable of transitioning on their own
  • Use strategies like a five minute warning to preposition children that an activity is coming to an end and another is due to start.

Engagement in Routines

Routines and transitions in early childhood centres are part of the day to day activities. Some children engage naturally in these processes while others find it more difficult.  To assist in making engagement easier consider the following:

  • Are routines planned in a way that would be easily explainable to a new arrival?
  • If children are struggling with a particular routine critically examine the process to see where it is breaking down
  • Is the centre designed to facilitate smooth transition from one activity to another without distraction?

Ultimately helping children to navigate their way through routines is about leading and guiding them to adapt to their new environment.