Therapy at Home: Routines and Transitioning



The school day provides kids with a strong routine and a clear schedule. The day is divided up according to curriculum activity, the bell signals transitions such as meal times and play times. When we’re out of our usual routine things can get a little stressful for children and parents.

To get a routine working well it’s super important to have successful communication of your routine and to transition between activities well.  For parents with visual aids in place already, you will know what works for your child and what doesn’t. Below are some tips and tricks (beyond the basics) that work for us in therapy sometimes. As always, you know your child best so select a few options to try (not all of these at once). Get in touch with your Speech Pathologist and Occupational Therapist if you need help.

Approaches to try

  • Visual schedules. It is important these are not just placed on the fridge/desk and never referred to. Some children may need to remove each item as it is completed and place it in a ‘finished’ pile. Some may need to take an item off and hold it with them until it is complete. Others might tick off each task. It should be dynamic so try not to stick it up and then ignore it.

  • Technology. Use technology to engage children in the process of following a schedule. Displaying schedules interactively and visually may be more interesting to for your child. Technology can also allow you to use photos moreeasily. A few apps to research include “First,Then”, “Choiceworks “ “ToDo Visual Schedule” “Life skills” “CanPlan” and “Routinely“

  • Finished box. Use a designated area where your child places items when they are finished and it is time to transition.

  • First/Then sequence. Simplify your schedule to “first” and “then” so that you are only showing two steps at any one time. Many visual schedules have too many steps and children can easily become overwhelmed.

  • Organise transitions. Strategically sequence activities so children are moving from non-preferred activities to preferred activities and from preferred activities to neutral activities. This may mean adding an extra step between activities.

Your environment

Consider and prepare the environment in which transitions will occur such as:

  • Define physical areas. It’s easier to know what to do next if you know where to do it. Mark the spot on the floor using carpet mats, coloured squares, or even use electrical tape to delineate work zones.

  • Safe place. Provide a space children can go between activities if it is a large and difficult transition. For example, if moving between yard play and table top tasks utilise a de-stress zone in the lounge room.

Communication & Tools

Communication is so important, here are some tips:

  • Minimise verbal prompts. Additional verbal input during transition time can increase anxiety. Instead use visual or simply physical prompts such as a tap on the leg or a masking tape line between activity areas.

  • Does your child understand the language you use? First, then, after, next, now and later. Use the words often and play simple games to reinforce these ideas... eg First you roll the ball to me, then I roll it back to you, Let's line up the toys... Teddy is first, Nemo is next, Spiderman is last.

Tools to use at times of transition:

  • Use a transition object. This is an object that can be taken from one activity or place to the next can help to indicate change, such as a book when going to the reading corner. This can fulfil various roles, and may smooth the movement between activities, increase predictability, provide comfort (familiarity), cue the next activity (a photo of the classroom), signal the end of the transition (placing the object in a finished box) or act as a reminder.
  • Make the end of an activity Use gestures, use a ‘finished’ basket or remove photos of finished tasks from the schedules.

  • Transition cues. Make it very clear that a change is coming up. This may involve using music that is used regularly in the lead up to end of play time or counting down numbers before break time.

  • Visual timers. Helps to make the abstract concept of time more concrete. This can be a physical visual timer clock or Timed Timer app.

  • Visual countdown. This is useful if the timing of the transition needs to be flexible. Use numbered and/or coloured squares. As the transition progresses the indicators are gradually moved.

  • Break down the transition to help understand where issues may be occurring. Below is an example of moving from the computer to another activity.


Possible Issues

Child Playing computer game

Does the game cause frustration? Over excitement?

Computer time is over

How does child know? Do they get a warning before?

Leaving the computer

Is the game still running? Is there a routine for leaving?

Moving to the next activity

Does child know where to go next? Can child still hear the game?

Starting the new activity

Does child know what to do next? Do they have what the need for the next task?