It’s just a tatty teddy! Or is it?

How important are transitional objects or objects of transition in supporting emotional well-being in ELC?

Research practitioner:

Senior practitioner:

Project summary:

An observational study of a small group of 2 – 5 year olds during horizontal and vertical transitional periods. The project explored the impact of transitional objects on children’s emotional well – being.

Teddies on a shelf


  • This project looked at the impact transitional objects or objects of transition had on the wellbeing of children within the setting with a targeted group of children being observed. Objects of transition are any objects that can be discarded or shared. Transitional objects are the same object that stays with the child for long periods of time.
  • It takes into account the need to support children’s wellbeing within the setting and how practitioners respond to this and embed it in practice.
  • Policies that supported this project include, ‘Realising the Ambition’ (Scottish Government 2020), which discusses the importance of practitioners understanding and encouraging transitional objects being brought into the setting to help children make sense of their new surroundings and make connections between home and the setting.
  • Froebel’s theory supported self-regulation through his idea that ‘Educators will have a variety of tools and strategies to support children who are finding transitions difficult.’
  • Furthermore, Winnicott (1953) and his idea that transitional objects are an extension of the caregiver is explored further in many papers around attachment particularly to objects and the links these have with environments. This is individual to each child and their situation.


The setting takes children from 2 – 5 years within an area of high deprivation with many children living in SMID 1 or 2.  There can be up to 56 children aged 3-5 years and 2 rooms with either 20 or 25 children aged 2 years old. Currently there are 67 boys and 50 girls with 9 children with ASN.  Many children live in accommodation that has little or no access to green spaces.

Previous observations and data highlighted that 53% of our children were observed as Level 3 and under for wellbeing using the Leuven scale. We observed that some children were bringing objects from home into the ELC, therefore we wanted to research further, if the importance of these transitional objects or objects of transition could positively impact children’s wellbeing. We wanted to ensure that practitioners extended or gained knowledge on supporting children’s wellbeing and a robust understanding of transitional objects/objects of transition.

In relation to the researchers positionality on the subject of transitional objects or objects of transition she thought these were essential for children who needed them and should be available to children whenever they needed them to support the big or small transitions they experienced throughout the day. It was key for her that the practitioners she worked with shared this view and understood the importance of these.

There was  much thought and consideration given to the methodology that would be used.  A range of qualitative and quantitative methods to conduct the research. As previously said the setting has a high number of children and practitioners therefore consideration has to be given to the number of participants due to the project being small scale.  It was decided that a focus group of 6 children and 6 practitioners would be used which would be 2 from each playroom to allow comparable data. A poster was designed to explain to practitioners what the difference between the types of  objects are which was a nice simple way of introducing it to practitioners and gave them something visible to refer back to. When looking at how best to find out how objects were used to support wellbeing by practitioners it was decided that they would gather separately in their focus group to have a professional discussion relating to how they do this and to discuss what we could do next as a team. Practitioners then spent time observing the children in their play environments using the Leuven scale to measure wellbeing before and after having their object. This was recorded on a sheet given to them along with a box for notes about what was happening in the situation. Having this section allowed practitioners to reflect on the circumstances leading to a child needing their object and how their wellbeing was affected by this.


Ensuring consent was given by practitioners and families as well as children had to be considered. Some children had limited to no language therefore practitioners had to be skilful at understanding children’s non-verbal means of communication through enhanced “what matters to me” skills. Adults had to be sensitive to how children were feeling on days observations were taken and reflect this in the findings. There were no issues gaining consent from any participants. There were no actions that took place in the research that had a negative impact on participants.

“Educators will have a variety of tools and strategies to support children who are finding transitions difficult. They will be attuned to an individual child’s preferences for specific resources or friends who might be able to help calm them.”

McNair, Lynn and Cerdan, Carol (2022), A Froebelian Approach Nurturing Self-Regulation, Froebel Trust: Roehampton


Twenty seven observations were taken of the 6 children. In these observations children’s wellbeing was measured and it was found that when having their object it increased on 12 occasions, decreased on 4 occasions and stayed the same on 11 occasions. In more than 50% of the observations children were measured at having a wellbeing level of more than 3 when they had their object.

For children aged 3-5 it was found that their wellbeing level mostly stayed the same when having their object but for children aged 2 their wellbeing level mostly increased when they had their object.

When wellbeing levels stayed the same, practitioners noted things such as “happily interacting without her dummy”, “left object on table when putting something in tray then goes back for object”, “put object next to her”.  These notes appear to show that children are using their object as an object of transition not a transitional object.

When wellbeing levels increased practitioners noted things such as “child settled”, “when he found it he instantly stopped crying”, “happy to leave it when knew exactly where it was”, “when transitioning to a different routine child asks for object”, “mention of item brings child to level 2 then cuddle brings to level 3”. These notes appear to show that children are using their object as transitional object as the object impacts directly on them and their wellbeing.

When wellbeing levels decreased practitioners noted things such as “held onto object for a while when his friends wanted to play with it, became upset /angry and shouting”, “when noticed friend had object became really emotional”. These appear to show that objects of transition are important to children to keep their wellbeing levels high as when someone else has their item they show a visible upset. This poses the question of how do we ensure that other children understand the importance of items to individual children.

When exploring what practitioners understood about these objects and how they supported this within the setting it was clear that the practitioners were very knowledgeable about this subject and that they felt children were supported well with their objects. They identified things they did well such as “ cuddle shelf to place their objects so they know where they are and they know they are safe”, knowing individual children’s objects by what they call them”, “Asking parents if their children have comfort items at initial paperwork”. They identified areas of development for the setting which poses the further question of how do we support families to understand about transitional objects or objects of transition.


This practitioner inquiry project has provided us with evidence that transitional objects and staff valuing the importance of these impacts on many of our children’s wellbeing particularly our children under 3 years old. These findings strengthen our knowledge of children’s development and milestones, as highlighted in best practice documentation such as realising the ambition. The findings will also impact on our centres transition policy, our home visit policy and indeed on the way practitioners plan out home visits using newly learned thought processes. Strategically we would like to share our findings looking inwards within our setting with all practitioners and families and also outwards across the local authority with fellow colleagues which we hope will positively impact on children across the authority.

Dissemination/Impact Report

To share this research project with the nursery team each playroom was given a copy of the poster that was created for the practitioners who took part in the focus group.  This would allow all practitioners within the setting to identify what the different object where and help them support children with these.

A presentation was given to the whole staff team about the project and its importance and impact. A poster was created which summarised the project and was given to each team member. This gave everyone a clear understanding of where the project started, the process and what will happen next.

The project link was shared via social media which allows families and colleagues from across the local authority and beyond to read the findings and impact.


Research implications

Undertaking this research has allowed myself and the practitioners taking part to gain a better understanding of what is happening in our setting in regards to a specific area. For this practitioner inquiry project, being the value of transitional objects and how as practitioners we give them importance. The research project findings will inform possible changes to our pedagogy and policies within our setting. The research findings will give our practitioners evidence to advocate for change to our current practice.

As a leader within my setting I value the importance of practitioner inquiry in helping to improve the experiences, interactions and outcomes for our children and families. By undertaking this practitioner inquiry it will ensure that we are constantly providing a high quality environment for our children by following our current child centred pedagogy approach. Within current national guidance in ‘Realising the Ambition’ (2020) Froebel’s principles are widely reflected within the guidance highlighting the importance of the child being at the centre and embedding Froebelian principles in our practice which support practitioners values and knowledge of how children learn. The questions that practitioners are hoping to address through the project really focuses on what we are learning from the child, about their attachment and reliance on their objects of transition and by focussing on what the evidence the children are giving us will support practitioners to ensure we are respecting and giving value to our children’s thoughts, needs and wishes. In turn this will also ensure we are being responsive to personalised needs of the children and providing enabling environment.

This practitioner inquiry impacts on the resources that we are providing. Our setting currently offer families a “Play at Home” session. This involves a senior member of staff and keyworker taking some time to informally meet the family in their own home, a chance to play and chat. There is no form filling during this time but gives an opportunity to discuss transitional objects that their child may have. What is important for us to consider is purchasing resources for taking to the play at home session that is also available for the child to play with when they come to their first visit at the centre.

The findings will impact on our current “Home visit” policy and our centre brochure to ensure that the benefits and requirements for transitional objects are included.

I ensured I provided protected time, to enable staff undertaking the practitioner inquiry programme to meet, plan and discuss their findings.

Practitioner enquiry

I place a high value on practitioner research. The opportunity to really observe children closely, collaborate and unpick what the evidence we have been presented with is so worthwhile. Practitioner Inquiry enables us to implement positive changes based on evidence. It encourages everyone to be reflective practitioners.

Going forward, practitioner inquiry projects could help to inform our improvement plan and it is certainly something we will share with our wider staff team who have not had the opportunity to undertake the project. When gathering evidence of our improvement a practitioner inquiry is a great way of showing progress following a change in practice.

Leadership learning

As a leader, I have been giving the opportunity to revisit my belief and knowledge that, just how in tune practitioners are with the children they are responsible for and how well they know their children through observation. As a leader my role in supporting staff to analyse these observations was important. Using practitioner research is an excellent process to undertake when thinking about a change in practice. That using practitioner research has also given the practitioners an opportunity to lead and collectively gather evidence to support their change idea.

Author and role

To be completed

Comments from other network members

What did you appreciate about this research? What forward-looking questions did it raise for you?

  1. Donna Green
    Donna Green
    30 May 2023 at 7:47 pm

    Fantastic Ashleigh, great to see how you have used this practitioner inquiry to not only increase your knowledge in the differences between transitional objects and objects of transition but the positive impact this has had for children when families and practitioners collectively have a deeper understanding.
    I do think this piece of work is important to share wider and hope we can enable some opportunities for you to do that across our authority and through our Falkirk Froebel Network.

    Just a suggestion to consider: Going forward I would pose the question to capture through a what matters to me approach (Being Me 2020) : What does my transitional object mean to me to gather the individual child’s perspective during their time in nursery. It is good to draw on the Leuven’s scale but in addition documenting through the child’s perspective could also be very personalised and powerful. (The child’s story… qualitative data) through observation (how do we support and extend in our adult role we need to understand each child) E,g, how does the child communicate e.g. “need blankie” pointing , crying – how often is this happening – does it hinder other interactions or support them etc.

    Report comment

  2. Yvonne Wright
    Yvonne Wright
    30 May 2023 at 8:31 pm

    I found this a really interesting topic, when you were discussing it at the foundry. It increased my knowledge of the difference between transitional objects and objects of transition too. It made me curious to explore the impact of transitional objects in my own nursery setting. Thanks for sharing your project:)

    Report comment

  3. Chelsey McClurg
    Chelsey McClurg
    31 May 2023 at 5:30 pm

    This was really interesting to read Ashleigh as it’s been a point of consideration for us on terms of self regulation. It’s great to see how you have shared this information of your project with the staff team and families. Well done!

    Report comment

  4. Ruth Johnson
    Ruth Johnson
    07 Jun 2023 at 9:42 pm

    What a brilliant idea to look at the value of transitional objects. I found this research really insightful and one I will share with my colleagues. I like that the 2 year olds really benefitted from having a familiar object from home close by. Thanks for all your hard work putting this together and its usefulness.

    Report comment

  5. Jean Aitken
    Jean Aitken
    12 Jun 2023 at 10:02 am

    Interesting to look at the transitional object and object or transition for staff. I am in similar setting and have had to reassure staff that it is ok for the child to have their blankets/toys. Having read your work, I would like to revisit transitional object/object of transition with the staff team. I suppose the next step would be looking at building resilience in the child to allow longer periods without the object.
    Well done.

    Report comment

  6. Kristine MacGilp
    Kristine MacGilp
    12 Jun 2023 at 8:18 pm

    I was looking forward to reading this project after hearing earlier discussions. I have increased my knowledge of the difference between transitional objects and objects of transition. I have loved reading this project and look forward to sharing it with my colleagues as we welcome our new children.

    Report comment

  7. Emma Barrons
    Emma Barrons
    13 Jun 2023 at 2:37 pm

    It was great to read about the different ways children are using their objects from home and how the team have a sound knowledge of each child’s transitional object and what it means to them. Great read which I will be sharing with my colleagues as we welcome new children into our ELC in August.

    Report comment

Add a comment