Transitions – Why are they so hard?

For our family, transitions can be some of the most difficult times of day – you’re not alone.

Time can be so abstract for young children who can only lean into their internal and subconscious urges. As adults, we know time based on our circadian rhythm, the wristwatch or phone in our hand, or the sky. Even for us, time can slip away. Just this week I reminded two members of my extended family that indeed it was Tuesday instead of Monday. With our calendars, charts, and careful planning, we can still feel as if time is unpredictable and cunning. The best moments of our lives seem to be so fleeting! And the worst, well… they seem to last a lifetime.

If time can feel like it is “slipping away” or a “thief” to us (as some say), imagine the ability to only live in the present moment and guided by your inner and subconcious urges. Montessori calls the inner guides of the young child the “horme.” Imagine that you have no plans and only the moment you are sitting in is what you are absorbing and processing. This is the moment-to-moment reality of the young child. Now that you are in this headspace, you can understand that moving from this present and most important moment to the next moment can be a big challenge. Add in fatigue and/or hunger and the child becomes sensorially overwhelmed. (Insert here: anger, disappointment, upset, sadness, irritability – major show of emotion)

What we can offer our young children is an increasing awareness of time, our routine, and signals for transition times. The big work here, caregivers, is that we need to be predictable and consistent. The younger the child, the more consistent. Here are some ways to offer security, predictability, and consistency, while offering an increasing awareness of time and time management. When we offer an environment that is predictable, we allow confidence in the child and joy in the present moment. The child has an ability to know what will come next. If you have heard a caregiver or teacher say: “we don’t see those behaviors here at school (meltdowns, tantrums, or the like)” it is usually because a school day is the same everyday – it is predictable. When can aim for being predictable at home too.

Daily Transitions: Decide what sequence works best for your family during the weekdays and write it down. Make a “schedule of the day” for home care and school-at-home. Throughout the day, consider transitions that are meaningful and mark them with a ritual. 

When we are transitioning to lunch from our work/play, we sing a song: “This is the way we set our place, set our place, set our place; This is the way we set our place, when it’s time for lunch.” (Look out for “Songs” in our InstaStories!). Some families also use the “Clean Up” song regularly as a signal that a transition is taking place.

Another way to signal can be through physical modeling: turning out a light or beginning to set out materials for a new piece of work or lesson can signal that you are preparing the environment for a transition to take place. Once your child has completed his or her work/play cycle, you can invite them into the next activity.

*Keep in mind that when your child is engrossed in an activity, that is important work! Our job is to observe and allow this work to completion, ensuring a more smooth transition to the next activity. Less interrupting, more observing. This is why Montessorians always say: “follow the child.” We are always observing the activity and needs of the unique individual before us!*

Weekly Transitions: The Days of the Week Song can be so helpful. As a child gets older and becomes able to think logically (around 6 years of age), predicting the pattern of the week becomes easier. Getting a tangible calendar for the wall, or calendar cards are helpful with this abstract pattern as well.

Monthly Transitions: Monthly awareness can come with a small wall calendar, singing the “Months of the Year” song, and practicing seasonal rhythms to correlate with the monthly calendar in mind. Highlighting your child’s birthday can be a way to begin monthly awareness and grow from there: “Which month comes before your birthday month? Which comes after? Hmm?”

If you have specific questions about your family’s unique rhythm and planning transitions, I am happy to help! Contact me for a one-on-one consultation. Happy planning!

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