Living Arts Daily: Discipline Help with Effective Transitions

April 1, 2020

Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of a behavioral consequences. – Dr. Dan Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child

LifeWays graduate and Waldorf early childhood teacher, Jerilyn Burke, has some really helpful advice to help your days with young children go more smoothly.

“Transitions from one activity to another are often the times when children are more likely to engage in challenging behavior.  Sometimes this challenging behavior comes about simply because the child is in a new environment and/or doesn’t know what to expect. This issue can be addressed by creating a predictable schedule, one that allows for a sense of expansion and contraction.  Children thrive on predictability, a comfort that allows them to live more deeply into their daily exploration of the world.  When you plan your day, think of the activities that allow you to come in with your child and then out, as though there was a breathing quality.  An example of what would be an in-breath would be meal time or story time.  When these activities are not rushed, there is a sense of coming in together. The child feels ‘ah, here I feel my parents, they are there for me.’ And then you can breathe out, your child can move on to self-directed play and you can do what you need to do.

Connect & Collect

What if you have a schedule in place but your child just doesn’t want to stop what they are doing?  What can help motivate them? What we wish is to smoothly collect our children so we can move on to the next activity.  But first we must connect with them. Emily Milikow gives wonderful examples in her blog entry, ‘The Magic of Transition Songs’ stating that ‘the key is simply to come alongside him and intercept his attention:  sit with the child and play for a moment; comment on his play; sit next to him and take him in your lap; [then] sing a transitions song!’ This example is great for parents.  But often for teachers working with numerous children, the song itself is the connection point, allowing them to collect the children to move forward in the day.


Tips for effective transitions

Be present!

As with finger plays and nursery rhymes, presence is essential. Milikow so clearly explains, ‘we have to be present when we sing the song or we will miss the opportunity to connect.  We can’t be irritated or anxious or checking email on our [smart phone] as we sing; we can’t be standing by the front door, looking at our watch, tapping our foot impatiently as we sing!  We must look at the child, make eye contact, smile, and sing with warmth, delight and enjoyment.  These are the important primers to engagement.  Only when we see that the child is engaged (eyes, smile, nod) is it safe to gently put an arm behind him to help steer him toward the front door’ or to our goal.

Set clear expectations.

This is useful not only for your child, but for yourself as well.  When you have thought the sequence of events through, you can feel confident in what needs to be done next and follow through.

Be consistent.

Consistently sing the same song, going through the steps the same way each time.  As stated previously, predictability is important for children. This stability will allow the transition to go smoothly and help the children feel less anxious or confused.  Children learn through repetition and you may find that your child becomes self motivated during transition times.


The following is a song I wrote for clean up and how I would carry it out.

Children are busily playing. I quietly hum.

I sit by one of the children and engage her, pretending to pull out a little mouse from my pocket (this could also be a finger puppet or a tuft of wool).

Oh! Hello little mouse!’ I quietly listen to the little mouse in my cupped hands. The children’s interest is piqued. ‘What’s that?  You are having trouble finding your way through the house?  Ah-ha! I see you need some help.’ Turn to the children. ‘It’s time to help this little mouse find his way by putting all our things away.’ Put the little mouse back in the pocket.  ‘Alright mighty mice! Let’s get to work!’  (Children love pretending to be animals!)

Now I would begin my song.


The Little Mice


We are the little mice

We make our house so nice

Now our work has begun

We can pick up every crumb

And work until the work is done 

We work at a steady pace

To put our treasures in their place

To make a lovely lovely space

Here are some other transition songs you can use.


For putting on shoes:


Cobbler Cobbler mend my shoe

Have it done by half past two

My little toe is creeping though

Please dear cobbler mend my shoe


For going up the stairs:


Stomp stomp stomp great big bears

Stomp stomp stomp up the stairs

Nice and slow, here we go


And a song I sing to signal that it’s time to return indoors:

Trot trot trot

Go and never stop

Where it is smooth and where it is stony

Trot along my little pony

Go and never stop

Trot trot trot trot trot”

Sources:  Heckman, Helle.
“Daily Rhythm at Home and Its Lifelong Relevance.” Waldorf Today.
Kindling: The Journal for Steiner Waldorf Early Childhood Care and Education, 2011. Web. 30 Aug. 2014.

Milikow, Emily. “The Magic of Transition Songs.” The Wonder of Childhood. N.p., 25 Feb. 2012. Web. 04 Sept. 2014.

5 thoughts on “Living Arts Daily: Discipline Help with Effective Transitions”

    1. Mary O'Connell

      Julie, thanks for asking! I think the best tunes are the ones we make up ourselves in the moment. If you have a favorite tune that will help you remember it, feel free to use that one.

  1. A compilation of rhymes and Songs to sing while washing hands would be nice anytime.

Comments are closed.