The Key Strategies to Successful Transitions in Your Kindergarten Classroom

transitions in kindergarten

Transitioning from one activity to another can often be challenging for young children in a kindergarten classroom. However, with the right strategies in place, these transitions can be smooth and successful. In this blog post, we will explore the key strategies that can help teachers effectively manage transitions in their kindergarten classroom – from clear and consistent routines, using visual cues or timers, and singing or chanting directions. By implementing these key strategies, teachers can create a more structured and organized environment, leading to successful transitions in the kindergarten classroom.

Giving Directions

Kids hear directions all day long. Remember the adult’s voice in Charlie Brown… how it’s just become background noise? I feel like my students start to hear that voice when I talk, after I’ve been talking all day long to them. So, instead, I use these strategies to keep my kids listening to all my directions. Giving clear directions is an important part of strong classroom management.

Sing your directions!

giving directions and transitions in kindergarten

I have a few chants and songs that I use for directions but changing it up keeps my students on their toes and keeps them listening. Changing up what I’m saying into a song instantly makes them listen because it snaps my words out of “background” noise they can ignore. Anytime I feel like my students aren’t listening to directions, I just immediately start singing. The tune that I use most often is Frere Jacques.

I like using songs and chants where kids have to respond to what I’m saying. This helps me to know for sure that they are listening to me. I’ll sing, “I have a message” and then children have to respond, “What is your message?” Before I give my message. This is one I usually use for a quick reminder or quick point. If I really need undivided attention because a transition is happening, I use this chant: “Hands on top” and then everyone puts their hands on their heads and responds with, “Everybody stop”. This is so they have to let go of whatever is in their hands. If they keep holding on to their marker or lego or whatever they were doing, chances are very high that they will keep doing what they were doing instead of listening to you.

Magic word

The other key strategy I use when giving directions to students is I give them a magic word to listen for. They aren’t allowed to put their hands down and start going again until I’ve said my magic word. This is so helpful because students often will start following your first direction, but then they will lose the second or third direction you give them. When you have them wait for your magic word, they have a clear signal for when you are done giving directions. I use the magic words, “Go Ahead”.

The trick to using a magic word (and really all of these strategies) is to be consistent with it and hold students accountable. If you aren’t done with your directions and students have started moving ahead, stop them and say, “wait a minute! Did you hear my magic word?” Because as soon as you keep talking with your directions while they aren’t listening, they learn that they don’t have to actually listen to you. And that is not the message you want to send students. So, if you are going to use a magic word, make sure that you don’t let students start following the directions before you’ve said your magic word.

giving directions and transitions in kindergarten

Keep It Simple

When giving directions, we have to remember that kids can only remember so much. You should make sure to keep your directions clear and concise before each transition to help children understand their next steps and promote a smoother transition. I try to limit my steps to 3 things and if I am doing more than 1 direction, I have students repeat after me. For example, if I want my students to clean up the tables, put away toys, pick up the floor, and come to morning meeting, here is what I say to them: “First (they repeat first) Clean up playtime (clean up playtime). Second (Second) check the floor (check the floor) Third (Third) morning meeting (morning meeting).

My students already know the expectations for cleaning up playtime and what I expect for morning meeting (to sit in a circle on the rug) because I have spent the first month of school going over the expectations clearly with them and slowly introducing each routine. You can learn more about setting expectations and introducing routines here. But you’ll notice that I kept my words very simple, I limited my directions to 3 steps, and I had students repeat my directions so I knew that everyone heard and understood my directions. My students are so used to it that they repeat anything I say after I start with “first”.

These tricks will not only help your students listen to your directions but also ensures that students will follow them.

Cleaning Up Transitions in Kindergarten

cleaning up transitions in kindergarten

Clean-up time can be tricky and time-consuming in kindergarten, but there are a few things that you can do to help students be successful in the clean-up transition. One tip is for teachers to give a time warning before asking students to clean-up so they aren’t surprised when you give the clean-up direction.

Students that Struggle with Transitions

Some students need more warnings than others. If I have a student I know will struggle with the transition, I will give them an individual warning before I tell the class. Like I might say, “I’m about to tell the class that we have 1 minute left to play. Then it’s clean up time.” After I tell the class that we have one minute, depending on the student, I might give them a more specific warning. For example, you have time to color 1 more flower, or you have time to put two more blocks down. If I know a student will resist the transition, I might help them make a plan. I might encourage them to take a picture of the structure they built, or if they can save something they are working on, how they can do that.

Transitions Tips and Tricks

Sometimes, the whole class struggles with cleaning up the classroom. Here are some different ways that I ensure that everyone in the class is helping to clean up. I can set a visual timer for the whole class to see and tell them that our challenge is to beat the timer. I’d say it works 8/10 times – the other two times the kids get distracted with the timer changing. Second, I give the reminder with the direction to clean up that we are all a team and this is our classroom, so we all need to help all areas of the classroom. Third, if the room is really messy and I am not seeing everyone helping I can give a specific number of things to pick up. I could say, “everyone pick up 10 things off the floor or tables!”.

Fourth, when I see students being first-time listeners and cleaning up right away or the whole time, I make sure to announce that. I’ll say, “Wow – I see 3 students who are cleaning up the block table even though they weren’t even playing there! That’s really helping our classroom!” Finally, just like with listening to directions, we need to be consistent with our expectations. If students start to come to the rug when the classroom isn’t cleaned yet, send them back to help clean up another area. They might need a specific direction, like, “Zoey – go help table 5 clean up”. 

If you know a student will resist cleaning up or who gets overstimulated and silly during clean-up time, put them in charge of a specific job or area. For example, I could say, “Max, clean up all the red cars today” or “Max, you’re in charge of cleaning up the block table today.”

This is why it is so helpful to know our students. When they struggle with showing expected behavior, we can think about why that might be and how we can best help them. Try out these different strategies with them and see which one helps! It’s always a good idea to keep more ideas in your back pocket in case one day a strategy isn’t working as well as it used to.

Transition from Activity to Activity

Kids need to know what is happening for the day and what to expect for their schedule. All children benefit from this, but especially students with ADHD, ASD, and/or anxiety. It helps them to know what is coming next for their day. All classrooms should have a visual schedule for students to access to see what is upcoming for their day. This helps them with the transition to other activities because they know it won’t be forever and they know what’s coming next.

It’s also important to keep your daily routines as consistent and predictable as possible so that students will know what to expect and will be better prepared to transition from one activity to the next. Obviously, that’s not always possible, so when changes in the routines do occur, you should warn students at the start of the day or the day before about all the changes in the routine and what to expect for their day.

For students that struggle more with others, using “First, Then” language or schedule is very help. You are telling them what they need to do first (usually something non-preferred) followed by what they get to do after they finish that task (usually something preferred).

As mentioned earlier, the more that you can establish routines and expectations for each part of your day, the better that your transitions will be. My students know what to do when I say, “writer’s workshop!” – they know to come to the rug and start talking about the writing warm up. Then they know when I dismiss them to their tables that they need to get out their writing folders and writing pens and get new writing paper from the writing paper shelf. That doesn’t just happen overnight – it happens from weeks of practicing and slowly introducing each part of the routine. But now, the classroom moves completely independently through all the different parts of the day.

Lining Up Transitions in Kindergarten

lining up transitions in kindergarten

Lining up in kindergarten can be chaotic if you don’t spend the time going over expectations, practicing the routine, and holding kids accountable to the expectations. When I introduce the line-up routine to my students, I show them how I expect them to line up with arms by their sides, giving space to the person in front of them, and standing quietly. Then we practice this again and again. If students line up and are not meeting the expectations, we don’t leave. I wait until they are ready. I even have a “Caboose” whose job it is is to show me a thumbs up for when the line looks and sounds ready, and we don’t leave until they give that thumbs up.

Kids often fight about going first in line. Having a line leader and a door holder (second spot in line) helps avoid the majority of this fighting because the jobs are assigned. Everyone will get a turn at some point in the year.

When calling kids to line up, never just call all the kids at once. That will most certainly lead to pushing and shoving and fighting over going first. Instead, try lining kids up in different ways each time. This has them listening closely to your directions to see when they can line up. Changing up the way they line up also helps to change up who they line up with time after time, which can definitely help lessen misbehaviors like pushing in line. You can get a bunch of different line-up prompts here! I like lining kids up by the row they are sitting on, the color they are wearing, who is sitting quietly on the rug, the letter of their name, etc. There are some fun ways to tie in what you are learning about – like how many letters are in your name, how many syllables, etc.

Conclusion: Promoting Successful Transitions for a Thriving Kindergarten Classroom

Classroom transitions don’t have to be chaotic and a free-for-all. By incorporating these strategies into your kindergarten classroom, you can transform transitions into opportunities for engagement, learning, and growth. By creating structure and routine, using visuals and timers, and communicating effectively, you’ll set your students up for success. With these techniques, your kindergarten classroom will thrive with seamless transitions, reducing disruptions, and enhancing the learning experience.


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