The Step-by-Step Guide to Smooth Transitions

As a homeschooling parent, you’re guiding a lot of transitions throughout the day. Whenever you are moving from one activity to another, that’s a transition, and for some children these are really tricky. I like to give my girls a large amount of freedom during the day - I think they learn best through playing and engaging in family life. But in my experience, children get the most from that freedom when there is also form. The rhythm of the day provides a safe and predictable container for all the beautiful open-ended and creative play, exploration, and art-making that happens.

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Most parents have experienced resistance, chaos, bouncing off the walls, rolling around on the floor, scattering in all directions, complaints of utter exhaustion, or refusal to budge in any of the following situations: Bedtime, getting ready for the day, going outside, coming back inside, getting ready to leave the house, gathering for circle or main lesson, coming to the table at mealtime, or clean up time.

Young children are unlikely to look at the clock and say, “Oh, right, it’s just about time to set the table for lunch, so I’d better start cleaning up my blocks now!” Or, “I know I’m having fun at the park but if I don’t get home on time for lunch my blood sugar will crash and that will be unpleasant for everyone - so let’s get going on time mama.” Transitions are tricky, right?

The key is to teach your child how to manage the transition. You can teach transitions the same way you “teach” anything else in Waldorf early childhood - with imitation, repetition, imagination, connection, warmth, rhythm, and gentle guidance.

1. Get clear on all the little steps

If you think about it, transitions involve lots of little steps that have to be accomplished in order to move from one activity to the next. This means switching attention from one small task to the next in rapid succession - not something that’s easy for grownups to do, much less children. You can really minimize the chaos by thinking through (or writing down) all the little steps that need to happen to get from here to there.

For example, getting ready for lunch might involve clearing projects off the table, setting the table, fixing lunch, pouring water, washing hands, getting everyone to sit at the table, and saying a blessing or lighting a candle.

2. Let your child know what’s coming next

The first step in each transition is letting your child know what’s coming next. For example, I like to start quietly singing, “It’s five more minutes till clean-up time, five more minutes till clean-up time, five more minutes till clean-up time, five more minutes to play,” and clean a bit myself before I ask my children to join in. It shows your child that you respect his work if you give him some time to switch attention. It also helps the day feel like it’s flowing rather than jerking along.

3. Go through the steps the same way each time.

Young children learn through imitation and repetition. If you can school yourself to go through the steps of a transition the same way each time your children will learn very quickly how to do it themselves. You might also find your own brain to be less scattered this way! This is the essence of rhythm - a predictable pattern your child can count on.

4. Give your full attention.

One of the best things you can do to help guide your children through any situation is to give full attention. Their attention will follow yours - if you are distracted and jumping on and off of social media or texting a friend then they will also be scattered and distracted. You have a powerful ability to hold the space as a mama just by keeping your attention on the people and the task at hand.

5. Make it more fun.

If this doesn’t sound fun yet, I recommend you start singing! Singing is one of the best ways to gather attention and make a gentle request. When you make a song part of your rhythm (for example, always singing the same song when it’s time to put on coats and boots), transitions will feel more joyful - you’ll feel like you’re leading rather than nagging.

If you'd like more ideas for songs to sing, check out the Lavender's Blue Song Collection on the blog and sign up for the free Sing More Challenge.

6. Connect and collect first.

The younger the child, the more children you have, or the more resistance there is to a certain transition, the more helpful it is to create a lot of form around that transition. Some children are more reluctant around transitions in general, and there are some transitions that pretty much nobody gets excited about (like when it’s time to clean up the toys). I think this is also key to managing transitions with a large group of children.

Creating more form actually means adding steps into the transition, but it works wonders.

Do something to connect and collect (attention) before you make a request. This could be telling a story, reading a story, singing a song, playing a little movement game, or doing a fingerplay. After you connect and collect via the imagination, there will be a hushed moment when you can very quietly direct attention to what needs to happen next.

If it’s time to clean up, you could start with a movement song to get everyone twirling like a leaf to the ground before singing the cleaning up song.

If it’s time to go outside, you could snuggle and read a picture book together before you sing your song for putting on shoes and coats.

If you want to sing a blessing before a meal, you could start with a fingerplay to help calm the wiggles and get everyone settled in their seats first.

7. Reap the rewards

Putting this much attention on transitions might sound like a lot of work but I think in the long run proactive parenting actually saves time.  It also goes a long way towards developing strong relationships, a peaceful home, and independent children.  After awhile, if you’re consistent, your child will be the one telling you what’s happening next and keeping you on the hook for your rhythm!