Transitions in a Primary School day

Originally printed in the June 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine

For a moment close your eyes and think about how many transitions your class went through today. Transitions from room to room, lesson to lesson, even teacher to teacher. Now add in playtime, lunchtime, home time, before school or after-hours care. It’s a lot of daily change for young people to manage, especially compared to holidays or weekends. So it’s no wonder that these daily transitions often become the flashpoints for emotional breakdown or behaviour management outbursts.

Most schools are timetabled institutions and become increasingly more so as we head into senior schooling. And whether we agree with it or not, for most educators, timetables are part of our reality. But for some children, especially our youngest ones, this can be a relatively new concept and takes some getting used to. Even as adults we know and experience daily how frustrating it is to be ripped away from something we are enjoying and probably learning. It’s the same for our students. We need to prepare them for the day and the fact personal interest will, unfortunately, be interrupted because there’s an assembly to attend, computer lab time, or visit from the reptile farm etc.

We constantly talk about the importance of visuals in a classroom, but they honestly help. Visual can be digital or printed, public or on a personal device. By displaying a daily visual timetable your students and families will know what is happening. And gone are the days of finding images on clip art, as there are a wealth of free online resources to support this. Just Google visual aids, visual tools and away you go. There is also a range of digital software, purpose-designed, which your Learning Support team or resource centre can guide you to.

Forewarning students about upcoming transitions severely lessens anxiety. Take a moment to prepare your nervous and anxious children that a change is coming up. A fast and hurried announcement then being herded out the door is tremendously unsettling. You may know what’s going on, but does your class? Remember not everyone likes surprises. And while we want to encourage flexibility and adaptability, these skills, like all skills, are on a continuum. Some of your students need support to be successful with this important step towards independence. Letting children know what is coming, with adequate timing, facilitates the next transition.

Transitions can be particularly problematic for children with additional learning or behaviour needs. Timers, Clocks, tablets are a great way to prepare these children for the next change. Be clear about the time frame, “In five minutes we are leaving for Assembly.” Explain you are going to set the timer and when it goes off that will be the time for a change. If they are particularly engaged in their learning explain you will provide the opportunity to complete it. Recognise when they successfully change between learning activities to acknowledge this as an important life skill.

Having high teacher expectations are not just important for academic success they are important for all social interactions. So have high expectations for your class as they transition between spaces. Moving around the school safely and with good manners is actually important, so address it; talk about it in circle/ reflection time and make successful transitioning part of your class culture. If you know some of your students have difficulty moving from A to B, scaffold for success. Pair them with a reliable buddy, escort the class part of the way, gradually reduce your presence, and of course, recognise and give explicit feedback on success in these physical transitions.

All the students in a school are the responsibility of the whole staff. If a child in your class has issues with transitions you must let your colleagues know. Forewarned is forearmed and often being aware of this calms situations rather than firing them up.

The ability to transition between activities and places is a major step towards independence. As adults, we are often very casual about this seemingly insignificant ability to adapt and change at a moment’s notice. But this does not happen by accident. Primary schools have a pivotal role to play in preparing young people to cope with transitions, change and the unexpected. So take the time to scaffold and support this. Calm transitions are intrinsic to creative, safe and productive schools.

This article originally appeared in the free June 2016 edition of  UKEdMagazine – Click here to view.

Charlie Archbold @CharlieArchbold is an Early Years Educator living and teaching in Australia where she recently completed a Master of Education in Studies of Asia. She is also a blogger, fiction writer and her first YA novel won an award in the 2016 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. Read her blog at

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