One of the greatest challenges I face as an educator is minimizing the number of transitions that occur in the classroom. A routine day generally consists of anywhere between sixteen and twenty transitions, which over the course of eleven hours makes for a very long and tiring experience for a child under six (as well as a teacher in his twenties).
It should be noted that when I refer to transitions in the classroom, I am not merely suggesting activities such as carpet time, free playtime, playing on the playground, and such. I am also referring to the number of faces that pop in and out of the classroom like a sporadic cuckoo clock to read a story, observe the classroom, or provide coverage for a teacher while he/she is out. I do not argue that the nature of pop-ins is with the best intentions; the problem is that these unexpected visits frequently distract a child from otherwise engaging in a classroom discussion and/or activity taking place that moment.
Perhaps teachers need office hours like my professors implemented in college, or a two-way mirror like the one my brother had in his preschool at Norwalk Community College (NCC). I recall watching my younger brother jump up and down on his cot during the nap period, and quickly pretend to be sleeping as soon as one of his teachers came over to check on him. The mirror provided the perfect means by which parents and others could observe the happenings in the classroom without disrupting the learning environment for the children.
Parents and teachers learn that children are best suited to consistency. A four-year old child may not have a firm grasp of days of the week or the number of hours in a day, but she does rely upon certain activities to occur regularly during the day. Meals, periods to play, times to rest, and the like become part of a routine children quickly pick up on if when these activities are performed consistently. Of course, there are unforeseen interruptions to a child’s otherwise consistent schedule—medical appointments, family emergencies, fire alarms, snow days, sick days, and the like. But when the unexpected occurs, it is important for adults to guide children through it all with as much grace as we can muster until things are back on course again.
For example, last January our school lost electricity right after lunch. All of the children’s parents were called to come and pick up their children, since we were told we would be without power until the next day. Following our regular routine, I brought the children to the bathroom after lunch and then had them prepare for the scheduled nap period. One of my coworkers, a teacher from a room down the hall, came into my room and asked me why I was even bothering with putting the children down for a nap when their parents were on their way to bring them home. I told her that we were just following our normal schedule. Who knew how long it would take twenty children to be picked up from school on such short notice? And what good would come from twenty overtired children deprived of getting at least some sleep?
Minimal and routine transitions provide structure and stability in the classroom, let alone sanity for the teacher(s) in charge of implementing them!