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Helping Children Transition from One Activity to the Next

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L
Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

Here at NESCA we often talk about Transition as the process by which an adolescent or young adult develops the necessary skills to function independently in the adult world (Big “T”), but many younger students are working to master much smaller transitions throughout the day (little “t’s”). Classroom teachers are all acutely aware of the difficulty that some student have when transitioning back from activities, such as lunch, recess, physical education or art class. These students also frequently struggle switching from math to English or social studies to science. It is a balancing act when determining what is a reasonable expectation and what supports we may need to build in for our kids to be successful during these times. Here are some tips to try at home, as parents continue to take on the role of teacher and attempt to keep children on task and sticking to a schedule.

  • Give warnings. Some children just need a quick heads-up, such as, “In 5 minutes we will be heading inside to practice your math problems!” Other children may need repetition, with 5-minute, 3-minute and 1-minute warnings. Consider using a timer if your children seem hesitant to believe that it has truly been a whole 5 minutes!
  • Remember that children love to finish! Allow adequate time for kids to complete the project or activity that they are so diligently working on. If this is not possible, identify a specific time that they can come back to the project. For example, “It’s time for you to move onto your math homework, but at 1 o’clock you can take out your art supplies and finish your picture. 1 o’clock will probably be right after we eat lunch.”
  • Use movement. Movement breaks or “brain breaks” are often great transition activities between two sedentary tasks. If a student is transitioning from Delta Math online to a reading comprehension activity, movement can help them re-regulate their bodies and wake up their nervous system a little bit. Getting outside for a quick run around the backyard, kicking a soccer ball back and forth or doing 10 jumping jacks are great outdoor options. On rainy days or when there is limited outdoor space, consider videos from GoNoodle, Cosmic Kids Yoga or The Learning Station YouTube Channel. Try to keep these movement breaks to under 5 minutes so that children do not lose their focus.
  • Use calming activities. While movement breaks may be a great option between two low energy tasks, kids may need a different strategy to help them transition back to schoolwork from a high energy activity. This is the case for many of our students after lunch in a traditional school setting. Creating a calming environment (i.e. soft music, low light and minimal distractions) and allowing children to choose one peaceful activity, such as coloring, building with Legos or reading a favorite book, to focus on for 10 minutes can help them calm their bodies and prepare for work. Make sure that it is something they truly enjoy.
  • Try a transition “cue.” A transition cue is really any prompt that is used to notify a child that it is about to be time to switch activities. It acts as a concrete representation of the upcoming shift. These prompts can be auditory, visual or tactile. Examples of each include:
    • Auditory – Many teachers use songs as auditory cues throughout the day. From the Welcome Song to The Clean Up Song, teachers prompt their students to change their behavior and get ready for the next activity of the day through song. If you do not feel comfortable singing at home or this feels too immature for your child, consider picking a song to play when it is time to start transitioning. Challenge your student to be ready for the next activity by the end of the song. Provide a direct explanation of expectations, such as, “By the end of this song I want to see the table clear of your art materials, your science notebook in front of you, and you seated at the table with a pencil.”
    • Visual – Visual cues could include a transition card that is carefully placed next a child 5-minutes before they need to move to a new activity, a visual timer or even a pre-agreed upon hand signal.
    • Tactile – Tactile cues are less frequently used in the school setting, but may be helpful at home. Some children benefit from a transition object, such as a fidget, a ball or favorite stuffed animal to hold and play with while a new activity is being set up.
  • Give feedback and teach children to self-monitor. Make sure to give feedback on both the positives and the negatives. Many children thrive on positive reinforcement and love having their successes highlighted. Consider including children in this process and allowing them to reflect on how they did during a transition. Use questions such as, “How did playing that song work for you? Was it helpful?” or “I noticed that you had a hard time calming down after we played outside today, do you think that coloring or a listening to a book on tape would help? What do you think might work for you?” Giving our children the language they need to describe how they are feeling and experiencing this learning process will help them to develop the ability to self-monitor and reflect on their own performance.

As we all do our best to get through these unique times, remember that sometimes the littlest things are the most difficult. Accept that our children are almost all still building the ability to transition successfully, and they will need time to practice, especially in the new remote learning environment.

 

About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.

 

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.