Fostering Moments of Intent: How Adults Can Support Children through Change
“Moments of intent” is a phrase I read in an email from a colleague recently. It resonated with me as I thought about the importance of transitions and how adults support young children with them.
Simply put, a transition is the process or period of changing from one state to another. For adults, some transitions are big, like a change in career or moving from one home to another, while smaller transitions involve changes in routines, shifting from one activity to the next, or traveling from home to work. But what do these examples all have in common? Change!
Children, just like adults, experience emotions linked to change as they move from one activity or place to another or from one life event to the next. Change, especially unexpected change, can be difficult to manage. Thus, young children rely on trusted adults to support them with anticipated change through transitions, or, as I will call them here, “moments of intent.”
One major, anticipated change that many young children share is transitioning from one school year to the next. Because each child differs in their temperament, prior experience, and where they are developmentally, this transition will impact them in different ways. Children will have different responses and reactions. While one child may manage this experience smoothly and easily adapt to a new environment, another may struggle or require additional time to adjust.
Children manage transitions best when adults take the time to intentionally support them through changes. Consider how these strategies can help children with change as they progress to the next school year.
- Establish predictable routines.
Children like routines. Moving from one thing to the next might be hard for a young child who is deeply engaged in an activity or anxious about starting in a new class or school.
- Support children’s ability to express and manage emotions.
Young children are acquiring new vocabulary each day as they learn to understand and label their emotions, feelings, and thoughts. Adults can help children apply language to their emotions and find healthy ways to express them.
- Create a visual schedule of activities and/or daily events.
Together with children, draw pictures or take photos of classroom routines and create a schedule they can follow and refer to throughout the day. This will help children expect and prepare for changes. Adjust the schedule as changes in routines occur and call attention to changes ahead of time.
- Verbalize and/or plan for changes that are coming.
For use at home: Talking with children about who they’ll meet and see in their new environment can help create excitement and wonder. If available, look at photos of school staff together and discuss what each person’s role at the school is. Visit the new school or environment: “When we finish breakfast, we will put the dishes in the sink and then drive to see your new school! We can walk around and explore the building together.”
For use at school: Send welcome letters, photos of school staff with bios, and short introductory videos to families and host virtual or in-person meet-and-greets. Encourage children and families to bring in family photos and child-created artwork ahead of time. Displaying them at children’s eye-level before they arrive on the first day of school helps to say “You belong here.”
- Provide intentional support for successful hellos and goodbyes routines.
For use at home: Read books about change and connect the story to how children might be feeling before starting the new school year. On the way to drop-off, sing songs your child will sing in school and engage in discussion about what activities are planned for that day. At pick-up, you might say, “I’d love to hear all about what you did in school today. Tell me about it!”
For use at school: Welcome children into the classroom at arrival: “Good morning, Anita, we are so glad you’re here today. The painting you were working on yesterday is still hanging in the Art area if you’d like to continue working on it at choice time.” During goodbyes, let children know what they can revisit the following day. It could sound like, “Trever, I noticed you were interested in working with the tangrams at the end of choice time today, and then the clean-up song came on. You can work with the tangrams at the start of choice time tomorrow.” As part of these routines, also consider using Mighty Minutes from The Creative Curriculum.
When adults intentionally plan to support young children through change by utilizing transitions, they become powerful moments of intent that help children further develop the ability to successfully manage change.
Foster Positive Relationships With the Children in Your Program
In our free eBook, Six Positive Messages to Guide a Year of Teaching and Learning, you’ll discover simple yet powerful messages you can send to foster relationships and encourage children to see themselves as empowered participants in a community of learners.