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Help! How can I encourage parents of toddlers with the morning transition?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, I teach in an Infant/Toddler classroom and I am struggling with how to help parents and their children with the morning transition.  Some parents want to come in and spend time with their children, others want to bolt out the door, while others want to talk to the teachers about the morning routine that day.  What would you suggest as a better transition routine, and how we might communicate that with the parents?

Lamar D, Columbus, Ohio

Lamar, it is so important to contemplate how children and families arrive each school day, so all involved can know what to expect, and get their needs met in that moment. There are several concepts you can think through to get things running efficiently in the morning.

In Italy, this first encounter at school in the morning is referred to as “l’inserimento-”   “the entering into,” or “the welcoming.” Remember that at the Infant/Toddler level, the most important thing is to build high-quality relationships with children and families, so how we welcome them into the community and make them feel a part of it matters. Constructing positive relationships with families creates trust that the child can see and rely on every day while they are in school.

So, how do we accomplish this? Three things – Routine, Communication, and Flexibility – are key to comfortable families and well-functioning classrooms. Our primary goals are to give adults the information they need and want, and for children to be ready and excited to step away from their parent and into the classroom. Take time to consider what else parents need in the morning- do they need to leave quickly? Would it benefit the children if they did? Do they have something pertinent to tell you? What do you need in the morning as the teacher? Of course, children have basic developmental needs that must be at the forefront of our planning.

Consider the ages of your students. For infants, they need a gentle entrance, and it is probably best for their grown-up to come into the classroom and be able to speak to the teacher. For toddlers who are much more ready to move from oneness with a parent to separateness as an individual, it may be best for parents to remain outside the classroom or right at the entrance, and keep adult conversations and goodbyes brief. There should always be a clear goodbye!       

Keeping all this in mind, come up with a standard routine for all families to practice in the morning. One example is for a family of a toddler to arrive, enter the building together, and the child to place their things in their cubby. A teacher can be standing at the entrance of the classroom so parent and child can say hellos. The child then gets a kiss or a high-five from their parent and enters the classroom on their own. Any vital information the parent needs to share can be in a written note handed to the teacher during arrival.

Something that is successful in many schools is for each child to have a morning ritual they complete with their parent. (This ritual would have something to do with the arrival procedures, not be a classroom activity/lesson.) A parent could do the first diaper change before heading off to work, or they could sit together with their child and assist with putting on indoor slippers. A few minutes to connect with their parent without rushing can work wonders for a child being ready to start their day at school. You can set up a beautiful classroom entryway with enough space for this sort of thing to happen.

Whatever routine you decide, communicate the plan to all families.  Just like young children, most adults like to have solid routines- they make things feel efficient and safe. If you are establishing a new method for the classroom arrival, write a clear letter to all the families in your community spelling out the steps of the morning routine, and explaining the benefits of it. Also, put a clear description of the routine in the parent handbook or school policy document.

Some extra points about communication- if you are going to make it part of your routine that teachers are not generally available for conversation during drop off, give your families another way to access information. Having a whiteboard or chalkboard outside the classroom door, for example, is an excellent way to let families know what is on the agenda for the day.  If anything unique or exciting happens during the day, this information can be written on the whiteboard for parents to see when they pick up their child. Having a regular way to be in touch with the families in your class is essential. Send a class email regularly, and make sure parents know how to contact you (text, email, phone messages), and always have a timely response. If parents trust you will be communicative and responsive, they will have less need overall to speak with teachers during morning arrival.

Being flexible about families’ needs is part of being a welcoming, nurturing environment. All families won’t need the same things, and their needs can change from day to day. Once a routine is established, and families make the general morning plan a habit, it is far less disruptive when a day comes where a family has to deviate a bit from it, to accommodate an extraordinary circumstance. This could be anything from one parent being ill, to a child not getting sleep the night before, or any number of things that happen in our complex lives. Remember to give compassion to your students and their families, while keeping the well-being of the group in mind. Think through what is needed regarding routine, communication, and flexibility, and come up with an organized written plan of action to make mornings run more smoothly for everyone.

Laura LeClair

Laura is an instructor, educational consultant, and postpartum doula. She spent over two decades in Montessori classrooms, guiding children from Birth through Kindergarten. She has a passion for tending to classrooms and the adults who bring them to life, with a special interest in creating successful, inclusive environments for children of all abilities.

Laura has a B.A. in English from Middlebury College in Middlebury, VT. She holds American Montessori Society credentials in Infant and Toddler (CME|NY) and Early Childhood (MTTP). She received her M.Ed. in Interdisciplinary Studies of Preschool Education & Development from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She also studies the science of compassion and contemplative practice. Laura sees this work as key in the spiritual preparation of the adult, as educators and families develop their capacity for personal transformation and well-being.

Laura is a presenter and field consultant for the CME|NY Infant and Toddler Course and an Instructional Guide at The Center for Guided Montessori Studies.  Learn more about Laura LeClair.