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Staggered Transitions – Avoiding the ‘bunch up’

How familiar is this scenario?

Everyone line up to wash your hands.” 22 young children leap off the mat and bunch up at the bathroom door. Then four at a time they enter to wash their hands (often through the same door they entered), and the children waiting at the end of the line start pushing, shoving, or wandering off as they wait for their turn.

Staff may become flustered, voices are raised, and no one is sure if anyone has washed their hands properly – chaos rules – and this part of the day leaves everyone feeling frustrated.

What if we looked at this an opportunity for engagement or learning and the activity became a staggered transition from the mat to the bathroom and onto mealtime.


  • …can early years staff control the flow of traffic and in effect create a more meaningful handwashing experience?
  • … incorporate learning? And remove stress from the transition?
Let’s look at it further…

‘Transitions’ in an early childhood setting can refer to contexts such as arriving and departing the centre, graduating from kindergarten to Prep, or moving between age groups in a setting such as a long day care centre.

In this this instance, let’s focus on ‘transition’ as the act of moving the children between spaces and routines (e.g. group time to washing hands; inside to outside; lunch time to rest time etc.).

During the day we are regularly in transition between activities, spaces, and routines. So why not make these transitions fun, sprinkled with some learning in the moment? You could incorporate counting, letters, gross motor actions, games, songs, stories, activities and even ‘in the moment’ opportunities (e.g. colour of clothing; first letter of name; hair colour etc.).

But, they need to learn how to line up for school don’t they????

It’s true, lining up is something that happens at school on a daily basis, but there are other ways to learn this process in the early childhood setting.

Incorporating learning in games (e.g. follow the leader) and songs is a fun and meaningful way that will in turn lead to organic lining up. Indirect teaching of lining up and sitting at group time can be more effective than a direct (you must do this) approach.

Get creative, set yourself and your team a challenge and see what they come up with.

Setting yourself up for success!

When approaching an opportunity for a staggered transition, consider the following:

  • Have resources or props ready to go ahead of time.
  • Use pre-warning and countdown (e.g. “Five more minutes to play and then we are going to pack up” and set a visual timer).
  • Walk through the steps (keep it simple). Visuals could assist you here.
  • Careful positioning of early years staff with everyone having a role to play. For example, one staff members controls the flow from the mat, another is in the bathroom directing handwashing, and a third is at the morning tea table serving children or modelling mealtime behaviour as the children approach. This method can be adjusted to suit your early childhood setting and the number of staff in the room.
  • Think about your children. Which children do you select? Read behaviours and use that to inform your selection (e.g. if little Johnny is getting jittery, move him off sooner before other behaviours occur).
  • Can you ‘buddy’ up children to peer model behaviour/task?
  • Adjust the pace as you go. Speed it up or slow it down. Don’t be afraid to go ‘off’ script.
  • Note what is happening in the moment and consider how you can tie it in to make the moment more meaningful and promote engagement? Consider how the children be involved?

Remember to keep your ideas fresh and fun, link them in with your childrens’ interests and ensure they areas of learning.

And now for the part we all look forward to… Real life examples!


Quick transitions for when attention is wavering or at the end of circle time:


🔎 I SPY 

I spy with my little eye, someone wearing…. [Describe a specific child or make it broader – “someone wearing a red shirt…” to move multiple children at once.]



Bee Bee Bumble Bee... [Child’s name], can you wash your hands for me [substitute action for desired task e.g. “make your bed…” or “get your lunch box…“]



[Cupcake pictures are lined up on a felt board, 4 or 5 children at a time are given a laminated ‘dollar’ for when their name is called.]

[Sing together with actions.]

Lots of Cupcakes in the Baker’s Shop… Yummy and round with fruit on the top… Along comes [Child’s name – 1 or 2 at a time] with a dollar one day… [Child comes up with dollar and ‘pays’ the ‘baker’] Bought a cupcake… [Child chooses a cupcake from board] And took it to [Adult’s name – waiting at bathroom.]



[Fruit/vegetable pictures lined up a felt board, 4 or 5 children at a time are given a laminated ‘dollar’ for when their name is called.]

[Sing together with actions.]

Fruit and veg at the Kindy Shop… Juicy or crunchy with a stem on the top… Along comes [Child’s name – 1 or 2 at a time] with a dollar one day… [Child comes up with dollar and ‘pays’ the ‘shop attendant’] Made a yummy choice… [Child chooses a fruit or veg from board] And took it to [Adult’s name – waiting at bathroom.]



[Hold up both hands and swing them back and forth with children.]

Lots of cheeky monkeys swinging in the tree… Teasing Mr Crocodile, “You can’t catch me.” Along comes Mr Crocodile [Teacher become Crocodile] as quiet as can be… And snaps [child name], and [child name] and [child name] up for tea…. Go wash your hands for me….



Who is here today? Who is here today? [Child’s name] can you find your name and show us you’re here today…

[When selected children find their name tag (e.g. on the felt board), place name tag on the space for who is here today and move off to the next desired routine (e.g. washing hands for morning tea.)]


Further information and resources:

Aussie Childcare Network: Transitions Songs for Children

Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT): Transition Songs Teaching Resources


📷 Images are not to be downloaded or repurposed in any way.