Montessori theory,  Parenting

Transitions: Support your Child through Change

“An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking; it involves the spiritual development of humans, the enhancement of their value as an individual, and the preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live” Maria Montessori.

Transitions in early childhood are any time a child passes from one place, activity, condition, form or stage, to another. Passing from one condition to another isn’t always smooth sailing. There are always factors that might make us feel off-kilter. 

The congruence of what we expect and what actually happens is an essential part of what keeps us calm – and it is the same for our children. The only difference is the concept of time and how children experience this. In this blog, HMP’s Lead Guide Anki, defines different transitions, how they are experienced by children and how we can support them. 

In our life, we experience all sorts of transitions. Early childhood researcher, Pia Vogler (2008), categorised these as horizontal, vertical and education-associated transitions. 

Horizontal Transitions

Horizontal transitions would include times when the child moves from one activity to another. Common horizontal transitions in our class include circle time to the work cycle, work cycle to snack, work cycle to play-time, play-time to lunch etc. They also include transitions from weekend to week time, holiday to term time, and waking up in the morning. 

Vertical Transitions

Vertical transitions are orientated around the child’s development as the child grows. Maria Montessori explains the planes of development as the child transitions from one stage to another. The planes of development are Early Childhood (birth to age 6), Childhood (6-12), Adolescence (12-18) and Maturity (18-24). Each of these transitions also includes bodily transitions and brain transitions. An example of a concrete vertical transition would be going to a ‘big school’, through puberty or going to university. All of these come with many new experiences where the child needs support.

Education-Associated Transitions

The final category would be education-associated transitions. Transitions that might not be directly connected to school but rather connected to their understanding in another way. These are transitions that would happen within the family that changes the child’s life in some way. That could be the family moving to a new city, divorce or moving to a new school.

The Mind of the Child

Transitions are a natural part of life, so why do children tend to struggle with these changes? Based on Montessori’s observations, the child between the ages of 3 and 6 does not yet have a concrete concept of time. They cannot understand and reason with an abstraction like time, yet. The ‘reasoning brain’, as Montessori describes, only develops after 6 years old. As a result, children between the ages of 3 and 6 believe that what they are doing in the present they will be doing forever. And that is where the role of parents, caregivers and teachers becomes important. 

Role of Parents and Caregivers

Being aware that transitions exist and are tricky for your child is a crucial part of your support. We can break down the support into three main steps: Preparation, Routine and Emotional Support. For all the many transitions a child faces there can be a multitude of ways you could support your child. I’ll use the example of the New Week horizontal transition to explain the three steps. 

For preparation; you can have a calendar at home where your child can mark off the days they stay at home and the days they go to school. You can talk about ‘school days’ vs ‘weekend days’ and what activities you do on those days. This is a preparation that can help them form an idea of the routine you establish after. 

The second step would be starting the routine. Sunday evenings can be a time where you prepare for the week ahead such as laying out clothes for Monday morning, planning what you’ll have for breakfast etc. The routine is up to you. The only important thing is to stick to this routine – whenever possible. 

The last is emotional support. Some days routines will work and other times not. Unforeseen changes will likely mess up the routine, and that is okay. Your role then is to stay present, calm and remain consistent with what was agreed upon when you prepared your child. Your communication during these times is crucial for appropriate support. This is the tricky part, but your child is needing your consistency. Remaining warm and present will help them feel safe. 

Take some time as a family to highlight some difficult transitions, this will bring intention to the support and love you offer to your child. After this, you can brainstorm ideas of how to prepare them and what changes you could make so that you and your child feel calm through the transitions. If you have any difficulties coming up with ways to prepare or ways to set a routine, please reach out to any of the Hatfield Montessori staff. We are more than happy to set a time to discuss this with you. 

Food for Thought

  1. What transitions do you remember from your childhood?
  2. What sort of routines are already in place at home? Do they support you? Do they support your child? 
  3. What transitions does your child struggle with? Coming home after school/party/playdate? Or waking up in the morning? 
  4. What transitions do you struggle with? Coming home from work? Late-night working times? Bedtime? 

Further Reading: 

Vogler, P (2008) Early childhood transitions research: A review of concepts, theory, and practice, Working Papers in Early Childhood Development, Accessed at: []

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