Transition Activities for Preschoolers

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Transition Activity Ideas

Use these transition activities for preschoolers when you when children need to move somewhere as a group, such as down a hall to a cafeteria or to the playground. The logistics of a line seems to create opportunities for children to talk with one another and poke and push the student in front of them. The longer they wait before the line actually moves out the door, the more apt they are to get into mischief.

Table of Contents

Transition Activities


Walking quietly — Try having children act like their favorite animal: have them be a mouse— and then ask them to walk as quietly as mice down the hallway.

You can also ask them to tiptoe down the hallway. Pretend there is a family of sleeping bears in the hall. Tell the children, “We don’t want to wake the sleeping bears. Let’s tiptoe very quietly!” These are good activities to use as you go to specials and walk past open classroom doorways.

  • You could wave a “magic” wand and turn them all into butterflies, or perhaps horses. Maybe you have some “fairy dust” (a tiny bit of glitter) in a bag to sprinkle around the children that causes them to be airplanes or to ride motorcycles. Maybe they are “walking on clouds” or “swimming” to the playground.

Send half of your children to line up and then have a teacher/caregiver take them to wherever they are going. As soon as they begin to move out of the classroom, tell the rest of the students to line up and then follow the others. This step eliminates having children waiting and decreases their opportunities for getting in mischief.

Play a follow the leader game where a child takes a turn doing a physical movement such as hop on one foot or touch a wrist to an ear, and the other children copy him/her.

  • You can sing a song with it to the tune of “London Bridges”.
  • Tyler, show us what to do, what to do, what to do. Tyler show us what to do. Tell us when to stop.
  • Tyler then demonstrates an action such as jumping. When he says, “stop”, all the children are to stop, and Tyler chooses the next person to take a turn.
  • This works really well as a self-esteem builder and can be used to move children outside or down a hall.

Have children line up in two lines near your door. One line can face the door directly and the other line can run perpendicular to the first one. Designate a name or color (such as red and yellow) for each line and alternate as you ask students to line up. Call on two children and send one to the red line and the other to the yellow line. You also can place some colored tape on the floor to give students spatial and visual clues. Shorter lines mean that students have less time to wait before they can start moving out of the room.

Plan transition themes which meet the needs and interests of children in care. Continue to use the transition theme until the children tire of it. Then think up a way carry out transitions in a new manner when the old one grows uninteresting. An idea from the book, Transition Magician–is to use themes in a box or basket. For example, have children each draw an object out of the box, and then line up by type of object. If it’s shapes, all Circles line up–now all squares line up, etc.


Shapes           Colors
Circles              Red
Triangles          Green
Squares            Blue
Rectangles        Yellow

Marshmallow Toes: Tell children to line up quietly like marshmallows.

Walking through the hallways,
Everyone quietly goes…
Being respectful all the way…
Walking on our Marshmallow Toes…


  • By Color: Line up if you’re wearing the color red; line up if you’re wearing blue, etc.
  • By anything: Line up if you have a tooth missing; line up if you have brown hair, etc.
  • By birthday month: Line up if you were born in August; line up if you were born in September, etc.

Randomly CHOOSE NAMES FROM A BASKET to send a few children at a time to line up. Reverse  the order the next time so that children who were called on last will be called on first the next day.

Spell students’ names aloud and allow them to line up when they recognize their name.

This can be played in a circle, a line, or as a “Bunny, Kangaroo or Froggie Says____” game.
Give children a variety of “hopping” commands such as:

  • Hop in one place.
  • Hop and turn in a circle at the same time.
  • Hop on left/right foot.
  • Hop backwards, sideways; make a square or circle.
  • Hop over a line.
  • Hop with a partner.
  • Hop quietly to line up.

To start Circle Time, appeal to children’s imagination.

Example: There’s a little bear that lives in a cave (a puppet in a paper sack).

  • When it’s time for group time, go to the circle area and quietly announce that Little Bear is about to come out.
  • Kids hurry over, but they know he’s shy and will only appear if everyone is quiet.
  • When Little Bear comes out, he has a math problem to solve and asks kids to help.
  • It’s the perfect segue.”

While waiting with a group of children… USE SONGS AND FINGER PLAY

  • Write simple finger plays and songs on 3″ x 5″ index cards.
  • You can hole- punch a corner and hook them onto a key chain ring. They will fit easily into a pocket so that you can pull them out and lead the children in a finger play or singing activity.
  • Finger plays and songs are not only fun, but they also enable children to practice playing with language and rhythm.

To tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It”

If you’re ready to move along-stand in line (clap , clap)
If you’re ready to move along-stand in line (clap , clap)
If you’re standing in the line then be (whisper) very very quiet
If you’re standing in the line be (whisper) very quiet.

With the next verse use body movement.

If you’re standing in the line blink your eyes (blink,blink)
If you’re standing in the line blink your eyes (blink,blink)
If you’re standing in the line then be (whisper) very very quiet
If you’re standing in the line be (whisper) very quiet.

Continue with different movements such as touch your toes, turn around, etc.

Music is a very effective tool in providing transitions for kindergarten children. Play some sort of silly song such as “The Chicken Dance” to signify a transition  is coming. Children are naturally drawn to music. They enjoy singing songs they know have a specific meaning when it’s time to pick up toys or other things.

Entice students with a music and movement activity.

  • These can include different forms of dancing, such as the Mexican hat dance, the Hora, an Irish jig, salsa, line dancing, and hip hop, etc.
  • You can also engage students in circle games, such as The Farmer in the Dell, Bluebird, Ring around the Rosie, and London Bridge, etc.
  • After moving about for a few minutes, students can be asked to sit right where they are on the rug to listen to a story or engage in a lesson. (pre-K-1)

Start telling a story in a very quiet voice. There is something about a low, quiet voice that seems to draw children’s attention. We often read aloud to students, but we seldom just tell stories. (pre-K to grade 5)

Allow children to go to centers when they are finished eating snack. While this may appear to entice students to hurry up and eat so that they can play, it often levels out after the first week. This step allows students to eat at a pace they are accustomed to without being pressured to hurry up by the children who eat more quickly.

Encourage children who finish their work early to read silently or go to the reading center to listen to books on tape or do silent sustained reading. (pre-K-Gr.5)

Direct students to the computer center to work quietly with a program that you have set up for them.

Disruptions to the environment can occur when children finish activities early. Providing transition activities for children during these times can help to prevent problems from arising. Consider posting a list of activities -using pictures for younger children- or putting out “special” transition items–so that children may look and choose from them.


Something a little different from Teaching Ideas -good for ages 5 to 8

Many teachers stuggle to get their students quiet in the hallway.
I started a rubber-band ball and anytime we get a compliment from an adult in the hallway, we get to add a rubberband to the rubberband ball.

They LOVE it and it is very inexpensive. I now have the quietest classroom in the hallway! (Comment: You may need to alert other teachers of your method-so they will give compliments as earned!)

Directions for making a RUBBER BAND BALL from Craft Ideas Category…

1.  Give each child a sheet of aluminum foil; have them crumple it into a ball.
2.  Take 1 rubber band at a time and twist it around the foil many times to cover the aluminum foil; the more rubber bands the bigger the ball.
3.  Continue until the ball is the desired size and no more rubber bands will fit on the ball.
4.  When the ball is complete, the kids will have a high bouncing ball!

This isn’t a transition activitiy–but sure helps out!

1-2-3… THEN ASK ME…

In using this tool you not only free some of your time –but most importanly– build a sense of room community and altruism. You eventually will have children helping children!

If Tommy can’t tie his shoe and he comes to you—question to see if he asked three of his friends to help. If no—say, “Tommy needs help in tying his shoe…can someone help?”

This will NOT embarrass the child as it will be part of program routine and he’ll learn from his friend. In  things that Tommy can do–he will return the favor and  assist others when  asked.

For this to work it needs to be consistent. (Post a sign with the 1-2-3 as a reminder) Yes, it does work.  Children become a more cohesive unit, independent, and self esteem soars as they learn from and help each other!

I never had an instance when there wasn’t a child that would not assist another child. With consistency- it soon would become part of program routine.


#1.  Have children take a piece of tape when they come in every day and put it on their chairs. That’s their “spot.” If you have the need to calm things down during the session… or transition from one activity to another, tell everyone,
“Let’s sit on our spots!” When they get there say, “Let’s freeze on our spots.”

#2.  Have everyone stand up. Give each child two pieces of easily removable tape about 8″ long to put on the floor in an X shape. Tell them, “This is your spot. Can you stand on it please?”

Now— ask them to DO VARIOUS MOTIONS, such as,

“Can you stand on one leg on your spot?”… Or…
“Can you touch your spot with three parts of your body?” Or…
“Can you hold hands with somebody on another spot while still touching yours?” Do four or five variations.

When finished, be sure to say, “Let’s all clean up our spots” and have them remove the tape from the floor and throw it away.

Attention Getters for Classroom

A collection of classroom attention getters. These are great practices to use to get children attention in the classroom or during transitions.

Many strategies can be used to help a child transition smoothly…
The following information is designed to offer some tips and tools for planning effective transitions.

  • Keep in mind that you may need to use more than one tool or idea to address children’s transition needs.
  • Learning key strategies to keep your program on task will help you handle students who have trouble moving from one location to another-or switching from one activity to another.
  • Keeping youth productive will gain more active program time in the process!

A.  Getting Attention: The first step for children to pay attention is the awareness that someone wants their attention. At times young children have a remarkable focus on what they are already doing; attention signals need to be strong enough to get through their present concentration.

B.  What ever strategies you’ve decided upon, the important thing is to have the children practice.

  • For instance, if one of your choices is to use the “lights on and off method” tell the children the rule and then say, “Talk now and when I turn out the lights, stop. Ok, that was good, but a few people were talking; let’s try again”.
  • Keep practicing the first week or two.
  • Practice again, if you see it has stopped working or if many kids are not listening.

C.  Be clear and specific.
Children are more likely to hear your requests and pay attention when it is clear what you want them to do.

  • Keep directions short and simple.
  • Allow children time to process your requests for their attention and follow the directions given.
  • Consider that afternoons are low energy times for many children and it may take longer to process attention-getting techniques.

D.  Be aware of temperament. Some children can be easily distracted and/or exhibit impulsive behavior.
When this is the case, speak calmly, use one-step directions, and give them a gentle touch.

E.  Teach the difference between being silly and serious. Tell children that there is room for both of these behaviors.

  • Practice by saying, “Act silly!” Let them be silly. Then say, “Now, act serious.”
  • Model this at the beginning of the year so when you say, “I need to have serious behavior,” they respond accordingly and are attentive.

Some ideas are:

1. Use a clapping pattern; Clap or tap in a pattern, for example, clap slowly twice and then clap fast three times. The students are to stop what they are doing and repeat the pattern. If necessary, do it again until all children have responded and are quiet. If your classroom or program used this method, there are many ideas that can be combined with this)

2. Lights switched on/off:  Children look at the caregiver and listen when the lights are flicked off and on.

3. Whistles are harsh and can be annoying, however can be effective when outside or for an emergency.

4. The word “freeze!” For an emergency or when attention is immediately desired, the word, “freeze,” works well. When the children hear the word,” they KNOW something is serious and important! Every program/classroom should have a ‘Freeze’ option in place!

5. When you say, “Voices,” teach the children to respond with a quiet, “Shhh…” Use this if the children are too loud. If you want their attention, say, “Voices” again and they respond with a quieter, “Shhh…” Say it a third time very quietly, “Voices.” All children should be quiet and ready to listen.

6. Shout “AND A HUSH FELL OVER THE CROWD!” and the kids reply with a drawn out “HUSH!”

7. Hold up your hand and say, “Give me five.” The children put their hands in the air and shout “five!” As they count down to one, they get progressively quieter until “one” is said in a whisper. Or, after saying, “Give me five,” everyone puts their hand in the air and counts loudly using their fingers from 1 to 5.

8. Every school has a mascot.  Shout your school name and have the children respond with the name of the school mascot. Example: Caregiver/teacher shouts, “Baldwin” and the children respond with, “Lions.” After they shout the mascot name they are to be silent.

9. Just clapping is another way… and you’ll get applause!

10. Do you need a moment of peace?

Tell your students that they will often be playing, “The Still Waters Game”; they will know the game has begun when you say, “1, 2, 3, — 3, 2, 1… still waters has begun.”

Ask them to freeze like an ice cube and remain silent when they hear that sentence. Time the children to see how long they can remain still. The goal is to beat their best time. Hold your fist in the air and each time you see someone move or talk, put a finger up. Once you have all five fingers up, check your watch and tell the group how long they were able to remain still.

11. One favorite attention getter is a teacher/leader saying, “Bump-da-da-Bump-Bump” and the children reply in unison, “Bump-Bump!” This is said to the tune of ‘Shave and a Hair Cut—Two Bits’.

12. Use, “Teacher Says,” like “Simon Says.” For example, “Teacher says, touch your nose,” “Teacher says, Clap once,” then “Teacher says, look at me.” This can also be used to line up! Teacher says, “Line Up!”

13. For getting attention, you can:
Shake a shaker, touch a wind chime, ring a bell, use a rain stick, play music or use any kind of sound maker as a signal for students to be attentive.

14. Here is a fun transition INCENTIVE that can be used during football/baseball season! (For older kids)

FOOTABALL: On a large green poster board, draw a PROGRAM VERSION of a football field. -10-20-30-40 ← 50 → 40-30-20-10-…

At the beginning of the school year, introduce the football chart. Place two small football cut-outs on the center 0 yard line with 50 yards at each end. Tell the kids that you’re going to play a game for six weeks. (Staff is one team and kids the other.)

Decide which transitions you’d like to shorten—explain that each day during that transition they will be timed. If everyone is ready within the time, the children score 10 yards. If not-staff scores.

The quarters are divided within weeks. At the end of the six weeks if the children won—celebrate with a “football themed” event! You could also do a version of this for “cleaning up”-

No nagging and good job–they get to score; if there aremany reminders and lack of responsibility-the staff scores. You could also time this to end near Super Bowl weekend!

This can be adapted to just about any sport–as the baseball version image above demonstrates! (The small figures from ‘clip art’ were cut out from a ‘Google Search’. The boards by took some thought and awhile to make–but  school-age kids love the novelty of it! Barb)

15. Laughing Handkerchief
When the group sees a handkerchief thrown into the air, they laugh as loud as possible. When the handkerchief hits the ground, they go silent.

16. Use humor! Say in a robotic voice, “Ms. Linda to SAC (or Grade 2) – Come in Grade 2” and smile! This method is especially good when used with individual children….

  • Other methods for getting individual attention: Engage children with your facial expressions, such as smiling and making eye contact; say “excuse me”; put your hand on child’s shoulder; obstruct the child’s view of activity.
  • Be welcoming; use children’s names to get their attention. Use your body language to convey warmth and acceptance.

18. When needing attention

Instead of saying, “Boys and girls”… Say your “school’s name combined with SAC or Grade. (Or whatever your program/classroom is called) Example: Hampton Grade 2—you attention is required.

19. Say, in a normal tone of voice, “Clap once if you can hear me.” Those listening will quiet down and clap one time. Then say, “Clap twice if you can hear me.” More children respond with two claps. Finally say, “Clap three times if you can hear me.” By this time you should have the attention of your group. (Personally I never cared for this one-it can take longer than other methods-but it is popular in many areas. Barb)

20. Important: Post a schedule with approximate times of routine activities

  • The schedule informs children of “What comes next”; this prepares the children for upcoming transitions.
  • Student reminders are required to accustom the children to look at the schedule.

21. For Pre-K to Grade 1– sing the following words to the Frere Jacques tune:
“Are you listening? Are you listening? Everyone! Everyone! If you are listening, if you are listening, look at me, look at me.” Other ways to end the song are: “Snap your fingers” or “Pat your head.”

22. Music (Click here to see comments on using music in transtions)

23. Let the children know when they need to do something; give them the reason why it is necessary.

  • Get into the habit of saying, ‘We’re going to…because…”
  • When children understand the ‘whys’, they are more apt to cooperate.

24. THE TALKING STONE, STICK OR MOUTH (Use with Pre-K and up!) 
Often during circle or group time, many children want to talk at once. One way to help children learn how to take turns is to use a visual clue.

Teachers/caregivers might try using a “talking stick” or “talking stone”. You can use a colorful rock or decorate your stick in a special way. This technique helps young children learn to respect the speaker and to wait and listen. Continue with this idea and soon the children will be reminding each other.

This version is adapted from; however, I’ve used this method for the last 20 years when having group meetings with youth. I’ve  made a “Talking mouth” out of a rolled up pair of white socks and in the past used a stone and feather. It works!!! Until recently, I didn’t know that it has Native American origin. It was something  I just thought of… 20 plus years ago! Barb (Sock image by

25. Say to the students in a loud voice, “All set?” They answer, “You bet.”


This chant can be used to facilitate classroom transitions.  If your group/class is noisy, start chanting loudly, then lower your volume with each successive repetion.

For the next-to-last time it is said, whisper the words. For the last repetition, only lip-sync or mouth the words.

I said a boom chicka boom
‘Students repeat’

I said a boom chicka boom.
‘Students repeat’

I said a boom chicka rocka
Chicka rocka, chicka boom
‘Students repeat’

I said a boom chicka boom.
‘Students repeat’

Oh yeah (echo), uh huh (echo), next time (echo)

A little softer (echo).

A little louder…
A little slower…

A little faster…

The end!!!


1. To get children’s attention, use one method consistently. If you are committed to a method it will usually work; if you don’t commit 100%, it won’t work.

  • Meet with the children at the beginning of the school year and discuss what method or methods you will use.
  • Present a few ideas to them—and have kids decide which to use! Do this each year.
  • You can add fun by keeping tally and charting their opinions.

2. Students will welcome any attempt you make to add transition activities into your daily routines, especially if they involve a little movement or a challenge. You will be surprised at how these activities change your group environment. If you periodically change the activities, you will keep their interest piqued as they wonder what you will do next.

3. Be sure all children know what is expected when these systems are used
Individual guidance may be necessary for children who have difficulty with transitions or are new to your program. With consistency, your group will easily follow the routine when they hear the selected music or signal!

There you have it, some transition activities for preschoolers. These are great ideas to help the kids move from one area to another. Make sure to use the attention getter ideas to help get the kids to listen and follow directions.

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