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Classroom Transition Strategies That Work at Home


Classroom Transition Strategies That Work at Home

Rebecca Brown-Wright

Explosions. Angry screaming. Mayhem to the extreme.

A battle scene from a war movie? Nope. We're talking about the battle scenes in our living rooms whenever we try to transition our kids from one activity to the next.

Kids resist, get confused, and become disproportionately emotional during transition times. If you're totally over the transition meltdowns, take some tips from the molders and shapers of our society; the ones who have transition strategies down pat -- teachers. Use these classroom transition strategies in your home for smoother days.


It seems so obvious, but we'll sheepishly admit we needed this pointed out to us: Before you can begin teaching your child how to manage smoother transitions, you need to see what's currently going on.

When longtime teacher, Tina Valentine, decided to implement classroom transition strategies, she began by collecting observations on how her students currently reacted. She announced cleanup time, and instead of getting involved in the routine chaos, she sat back and watched. She saw children who immediately complied, children who slowly finished their projects before cleaning up, children who bossed other children around, and more. No wonder the room was typically a scene of chaos during transitions! Everyone was doing something different.

How to Apply it: In your home, give directions as normal for a day or two. But instead of scurrying around to tie shoes, wipe hands, or straighten toys, sit back and watch. What are your children doing? Are they ignoring you? Wandering aimlessly? Focusing on completing whatever they were working on?

This information will help you figure out where the problems lie.

Create a Signal

Come up with a signal you will use when it's time to make a transition. It could be a bell or a timer, or it could be a simple phrase: "Time to listen" or "Please give me your attention now."

Once you have their attention, and when you give instructions, use this handy tip from Michael Linsin, longtime teacher and creator of Smart Classroom Management: Begin your instructions by saying: "In a moment..." These transition words for kids cue them to not only listen up, but to keep listening as you talk so they can hear the end of what you have to say. 

"In a moment, we're going to get ready to go to the store."

Another tip from Linsin: After you've told your kids what you're going to do, begin your next sentence with: "When I say go..." These transition words keep your children listening until they hear the full instructions.

"When I say go, you need to get your shoes on and hop in the car.... GO!"

Teach the Transition Strategy

You've observed the crazy chaos, and you know what's holding everything up and causing meltdowns during your transitions at home. You've instigated a signal.

Now it's time to teach your kids what you want them to do instead of freaking out.

Teach them in two ways: Both tell them and show them what to do.

For example, let's say that when it's time to come inside for dinner, they need to put their outside toys away, wash and dry their hands, help get food and dishes on the table, and sit down quietly. That's an awful lot to remember.

First, tell them what you expect. Then, demonstrate each step as they follow along. As you go, demonstrate what they shouldn't do as well. For example, they shouldn't skip soap when they wash their hands. They shouldn't leave their bikes right outside the door where someone can trip over them.


Hand the reins over to your children. Explain that you've just told and shown them what to do during this transition, and you'd like to see them practice. Start with your signal, and ask them to do as much of the routine as they remember.

For fun, and to let the lesson sink in, have them show you how not to do the routine. They'll do something silly, which will lighten the mood and give you a chance to reinforce the desired behavior.

Let Them Go, and Then Change It Up!

They'll begin their routines with a new enthusiasm once they know what's expected of them. But motivation can get old, so be prepared to change things up after a while by offering new incentives, fun, and motivation:

  • Add a timer to the routine -- See how far they can get in one minute.
  • Create a competition -- Can they finish their routine before you finish yours?
  • Dangle a carrot -- Offer a fun and quick activity or reward if they finish their routine in record time (Maybe they get to skip setting the table just this one night. Maybe they can pick dessert. Maybe they get to play a quick game. This one-minute challenge works well in a classroom, and we think it would work well in your home too!)
  • Create a transition routine using Brili.

Tell Us

How do you make transitions go smoothly in your home? Leave a comment, or talk to us at Honest Parenting Talk, a safe Facebook group for honest parenting discussions.