Hedda Sharapan, a woman who worked closely with Mr. Rogers throughout his career, sends out a wonderful newsletter each month through the Fred Rogers Center.  This month, she sent her thoughts on “The Other Transition Time” and discussed how we tend to focus heavily on the transition to school but need to equally focus on the transition from school.

We talk about this a lot in the beginning of the year but as routines settle, it becomes a little less of a thought since the kids have adjusted and often know what to expect as they move through the different parts of their day. However, this seems like something worth discussing, as it can pop up from time to time throughout the school year.

We have referenced several articles from NAEYC, Carrie Contey and now Sharapan about some tips for the transition from school to home.  And we have also now seen a lot of different methods, some that seem to work really well for both the child and their family.

One thing is consistent in all approaches that yield a happy result is the importance of giving the child time and space to adjust to the transition when they are leaving school.  Often, they have been putting their best self forward for 6 to 10 (maybe even 12 in some cases) hours.  When they see a familiar face, someone who loves them unconditionally, sometimes all of their emotions come through at once and they cry–and not just a tear on their sweet little cheek; it’s usually a big, hearty cry if this occurs.  They are able to release all of their emotions and states of mind and being they have experienced through the day–happy, sad, so excited, focused, satisfied, frustrated, loving.  Sometimes this release can be overwhelming and looks like they are upset, however, most of the time, they are just releasing with someone they know they can release to and that can sometimes feel overwhelming.

Do you remember feeling this ever as a kid?  Maybe?  I think it was less common during our childhood since a lot less of the time was spent directed and structured.  We weren’t necessarily at school as long–and if we were, it was probably not until we were much older than early childhood age (birth to age 8).  As a result, we weren’t expelling so much effort throughout the day with adults guiding us through routines and watching and guiding our play.  If you ask 9 out of 10 adults, they will tell you stories of hours of after school fun–playing with a large group of kids, outside, in their neighborhood.  Often, these afternoon-to-early-evening-time was just for kids–there weren’t adults watching over their play, correcting kids as they go outside of social norms, which may or may not be helpful to kids actually learning and retaining what is appropriate.

Many kids today are guided through their entire day.  They are often told (by adults) when, where and how to sit, how to play, what to play with, who to play with and when things cross a line.  In the age of more and more working parents, early childhood programs are necessary.  However, it’s definitely a different way of growing up from how most of us recall our childhood–for certain, many of us had a more free-range, “figure it out” through experience versus adult-directed and structured.

So, all of this takes a lot of energy from kids.  Sometimes there can be frustration when kids are not able to do what they want or play with who they want or sit in a way that’s comfortable to them.  Now, some of this structure does help prepare kids, for sure.  And, perhaps some see it as necessary to accomplish things with children–more and more parents are asking about whether or not their children will read in preschool and more and more teachers feel pressure to do everything they can to “make that happen”, which often results in more structure implemented.

However, is it what’s best?  Are kids really learning more and learning earlier because of structure?  And, more importantly, are kids going to be able to think for themselves if their elders are constantly telling them what is ok and not ok?  It seems like that is a conundrum that is definitely being discussed as more and more children who had “directed childhoods” grow into adults.

There is definitely a balance of freedom and structure that can be struck if teachers keep this in the forefront of their mind.  Ample opportunity for autonomy in the classroom, the time and space to work out issues that arise with peers independently and establishing a culture of mutual respect and love and care for others can all foster an environment that allows kids to be more independent and think for themselves.  And, that can definitely lead to happier, more balanced kids who have the ability to think critically and independently.

But, I definitely digress.  Regardless of the environment and how well set up for success and autonomy it is, sometimes kids just don’t want to make the transition from school to home.  Maybe they’re just not ready when Mom or Dad arrives to pick them up.  Picture yourself, in the middle of your favorite pastime with your buddies, happy and content, and then someone tells you it’s time to stop and leave.  That’s tough, no matter how old you are.  The difference is that we have more governance of ourselves as adults.  We can usually keep going if we choose or at least know what time it is to begin to wind down.  Kids don’t necessarily get that choice–the majority of the time–especially in our busy lives where we have to quickly get from one place to the next.

So, with this in mind there are some tips to making this transition a little bit smoother! —

First, as discussed, giving the child time and space to making this transition.  Maybe that means taking some extra time to let them finish up whatever they are engaged in.  Or, it can also mean taking some time with them to look at some of the things they worked on that day in class.  If you slow yourself down and take an interest in that moment with your child, often times, they will slow down and ease into the next step–especially if that next step means they get to show you something they’ve worked hard on that day or really enjoyed.

Second, if at all possible, just give a giant hug and kiss–when your child is ready for that–and let them know how much you love and missed them, versus asking them how their day was or what they did that day.  Often times, kids are still “in their day“.  Even on the ride home or in the first moments–or hours–when they get home, some kids haven’t even begun to process their day enough to recall it to you.  The wait (to find out) will be worth it.  Here are some things you can do in between.

Give them something to drink and eat.  Give them time to relax at home and ample time to engage in something–or several–that they love.  All without asking those famous questions.

Finally, maybe even after dinner, play with your child.  Maybe even play school!  You will likely find yourself astonished at how clear of a picture of your child’s day you are able to see as you authentically play with your child.

Remember–this afternoon and evening, even after you and your child have made all of your big transitions for the day–“Instead of asking how was your day?–JUST SAY ‘LET’S PLAY!'”

Taking these steps may yield a positive result when making the transition from school–or any other activity really–to home!

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