Imagine that you’re back in preschool. You arrive at school for the day, hang up your coat and back pack, and get settled into the morning routine. You decide to paint this morning, and begin gathering your supplies, which takes roughly 15 minutes or so. Before your brush touches the piece of paper, you’re interrupted by loud clapping. “Okay, everyone! Put your things away, it’s circle time!”. You’re frustrated. You barely had time to even start painting, and now you must put your things away. All that time put into the preparation, only to be interrupted and forced to do something else. Circle time begins, filled with sing-along songs and a few stories. After that, it’s music lessons, then outdoor time, lunch, nap, and then it’s on to afternoon extra curricular activities. Your day is filled with transition after transition, leaving little to no time to adjust to each new activity.
This rarely happens in a Montessori community. The children are given the freedom to work, uninterrupted for long periods at a time, with calm, comfortable transitions throughout their day. The Montessori Guide observes and understands when the appropriate time is to transition from the morning work cycle to outdoor playtime, or to lunch, and so forth. We observe the children to find out their needs. We look for signs of readiness for what comes next; signs that the child is ready for a new lesson, or for greater responsibility. We make the expectations for each transition very clear. We demonstrate and model how to carry oneself during a transition, and let the older students help the younger students practice.
If you’ve ever been in a Montessori classroom, and truly know the philosophy, you understand the necessary role that transitions play in the students’ daily routine. Transitioning from one period of the day to the next, can be quite challenging, for any age group. Guiding an entire group of children during a transition takes practice; both for the Guide, and for the children. Keep in mind that you need to have realistic, age-appropriate expectations for the children in your care, and expect them to struggle or make mistakes during the learning process.
The patterns and daily routines that we establish for our children help build the foundation for their ability to adapt. This, like many other skills, is something that has to be taught, and learned through repetition and consistency. A new student does not often come to school knowing how to transition, so we have to help them.
Whatever your technique may be, do so with the utmost respect for your children’s needs, and make sure their work is not interrupted abruptly, or unnecessarily. Over the years, I’ve witnessed many different transition techniques. A popular technique is to simply sit on the rug and sing, ever so softly, as to get the attention of the entire group. Another, has a small bell to ring when the work cycle is complete. This is usually done by a senior student. Lining up is also a lesson that needs to be taught. You cannot just expect a child to know how to stand quietly, or where to stand, what to do with their hands, or feet, can they talk to their neighbor in front or behind them, are they to remain quiet…there are lots of skills to be refined!
Give your students advance warnings of an upcoming transition. Walk quietly from one child to then next, reminding them that “you have a few more minutes”, or play a quiet, familiar song. Give a set amount of time for actual clean-up. A child who’s been working on the world map all morning, and has lots of different materials, may want to leave their work out. Put it aside, with their name on it, for them to return to at a later time. Practice this “clean up” routine every day, be consistent, and encourage students to help one another. And as always, safety is of the utmost importance. Always make sure students respect one another’s space. One Guide can help clean up, while the other watch the students to make sure they are safe at all times.
Most importantly, follow the child. The dynamics of your room will tell you how to conduct each transition, in a way that is beneficial for you, and your students.
Here are a few teacher resources, to help reference when planning transitions/daily routines:
- A Typical Day in a Montessori Classroom: Daily Schedule and Routine Planning – NAMC
- Young Montessori Class Behavioral Challenges: Circle Time and Other Transitions
Parent Resource: Managing Daily Transitions at Home: