Monday, December 11, 2006

singing through transitions

I didn't need Enki Education to tell me how critical good transitions are in holding together the fabric of our day. I doubt anyone with a child with ASD will question that! Transitions had always been a difficult thing for Jacob, and it's not too surprising to find out that even kids without Autism have some trouble with transitions. A transition is that moment when you "switch gears" and move from one activity/part of the day to the next. If it's done too suddenly and without a chance for integration, it can be a disaster (this is when most tantrums and meltdowns occur). Enki Education suggests a musical approach to make a more rhythmic move through transitions.

I'd actually figured out that singing helps before I came across Enki, and used it for particularly tough transitions -- tooth brushing, dressing to go out, bedtime. But as outlined in the Enki curriculum, I began using songs for many key points throughout the day. The developmental theory behind the idea is outlined really well in the Enki Education Homeschool Teaching Guides, and I'm sure I couldn't give it justice. But it has to do with young children's open intake of their world and their need to have a way to flow from one activity to the next. All I know is that it works!

Here's how we handle transitions around here now (and a little more detail about the flow of our daily rhythms):

--I sing a morning song upon awakening. Usually it's something from the extensive collection of songs on the Enki curriculum CDs, but any song that is beautifully written and that you really like (because you're going to use it for weeks, months, or even years!) can be used -- "Oh what a beautiful morning" might be a good one, for example. (One interesting note -- one of my strongest memories of childhood was my mother singing to my little sister to wake her in the morning. On the mornings that she needed me to wake her, I'd sing to her too. It's one of the few moments of our childhood that I remember being nice to my sister! We love each other dearly now, but we sure didn't get along very well when we were kids.)

--I start humming a song when I intend to change diapers and dress them during their morning play. I sit in the same spot, humming the song, and when the kids seem to be winding down whatever they are currently working on, I start singing the song. One of them (usually Jacob), come over when he hears me start to sing, and I take care of him. After he's done, he takes his clothes down to the hamper while Zoo Boy comes and gets taken care of, then he too takes his clothes to the hamper. (I got that clothes-in-hamper behavior by modeling it to them while singing, they just picked it up on their own eventually -- same with bringing dishes to the sink when they're done eating -- I never have to ask them to do either of these things, they are just a part of our daily rhythm. In RDI terms, it's a good example of a strong Master/Apprentice relationship.) I sing the entire while. For me, I've chosen an Enki curriculum song that I really like (as I have to sing it several times through in the course of this activity, so it's gotta be a song I'm in love with long-term!), but it could be any song. What I would NOT choose is a song about getting dressed. It should be something lovely to listen to that helps them flow through the activity, not something the directs them as to which steps to take. (That was one change I made with the incorporation of the Enki materials -- prior to this when it was time to clean up, I'd sing one of the hokey clean up songs -- you know "clean up clean up, it's time to clean up" Blah!)

--When I serve their breakfast, I sing a blessing song (also from the Enki materials, but you could use anything). I also hum that song (or one of the other blessing songs) while I make their food, but since they often aren't ready to eat when I'm preparing it, I keep it very low and more to myself, to sort of get the idea in their head that at some point they're going to stop playing and transition to breakfast. Their play usually ends fairly suddenly at some point with a need for sustenance, and they'll suddenly be sitting at the table waiting to eat, at which point I'll sing the blessing song and serve their food.

--When I see they are finsihing up their breakfast, and often while I'm working around the kitchen, I start humming a seasonal song of some sort. As they bring their dishes over to the sink, I start singing whatever I've been humming and we load the dishes into the dishwasher while I (or we -- sometimes they join me) sing. As I continue to sing, I move to the living room to pick up whatever has been pulled out during the morning play (to make room for us to do the movement portion of our morning circle when the time comes). The kids either join me and help pick up, or go back to finish their play from before breakfast if they feel they need more time. In either case, I don't say anything, I just continue to sing while I pick up, usually changing songs if they haven't joined me, which sometimes sucks them into picking up with me. But it's not about getting them to pick up -- if I asked them to, they certainly would help, but it also might interupt the flow of the morning and make us feel a bit disjointed -- it's about me getting the environment the way I need to so we can progress with our morning. This is not to say that I never ask them to clean up. Sometimes our late afternoon fine-motor activity IS picking up, and occassionally part of our "adventure" for the afternoon is a thorough housecleaning. Mid-morning is just NOT the time in our household to do that sort of thing -- it's the time to support our morning rhythms.

--We use a song to transition to our Morning Circle. We use songs during our morning circle for movement activities. We sing a song while we dress to go outdoors. We sing a song when it's time to get into the car. Some of them are from the Enki curriculum, some of them are from the Music Together program we attend, some are just songs I grew up with. But I consistantly use the same song for the same transition, it's all part of the flow of our morning.

--There's not much singing during the afternoons, we just don't need it. With our good strong morning rhythm down, the late morning/afternoon sessions just sort of flow along on their own. I do give the kids a "5 minute countdown" when we're transitioning during the afternoon from something they're quite involved with -- I think a song would be better, but I'm a bit uncomfortable just breaking into song in public! I've found the countdown serves a similar purposed (to prepare the kids for the transition), and I think that our strong morning transitions carry us through that portion of the day. When we're at classes, there's no need for that, as the end-of-class transitions are already built into the routine of the class itself.

--Come evening, we're back to our signing transitions again. Singing for dinner, singing for baths, singing for bed prep, singing to start Family Story Time, and finally a lullabye to transition to sleep.


At 1:13 PM, Blogger Christine said...

OK: You just impress the heck out of me! I have been going back and re-reading a bunch of your earlier posts because now you are so much further down the road with your story now than where we find ourselves -- but a lot of the things in this post I can totally relate to and see where it would be helpful for us as well.

So how long did it take for you to feel like you didn't have to remind yourself to sing all the time? It certainly sounds as though it is second nature to you now.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Harvest Mom said...

Christine, since we're sort of a musical family (not that any of us are particularly talented at it -- we all just enjoy music and have involved the kids in music programs from birth on), there's always been a lot of singing around here, and as I mentioned in my post, I was already using some songs for transitions anyway. The Enki Education curriculum just explained why it works so well and convinced me to do more of that, and also organized me into thinking about which songs would work best at which times. So it wasn't much of a stretch for me to start singing so much, and the biggest challenge was remembering which song I wanted to use for which transition. I know that it feels difficult for some families just starting out with Enki to sing so much, and I still have to remind The Map Man to sing at transition instead of saying "time for dinner", etc. But like anything, the more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it, and the less active thought is required to maintain it.

At 9:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you mind listing any of the Enki songs (or any common songs) that you've chosen for your transitions? I've made a list of transitions that I'd like to start singing and I have the Enki songs, but it's just so overwhelming to pick songs with suitable moods. Would love some specific ideas!


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