While school didn’t start for students until today, educators across Ontario have been back in classrooms since on August 27th to get ready. I was lucky enough to meet up with my teaching partner, Paula, at a professional development opportunity a couple weeks ago, and in between listening to the speaker and participating in various activities, we started to talk about set-up. This is our third year working together, and even more than in previous years, I noticed how Self-Reg permeated our recent conversations.
For the past three years, we’ve talked a little bit about Self-Reg. We looked at keeping walls and bulletin boards bare to reduce visual noise, and considered more calming tones when selecting furniture colours and accents. While these discussions are important ones when it comes to the Biological Domain, taking the Foundations 1 course a couple of years ago made me realize that Self-Reg is about a lot more than that. Paula and I often talk about what I learned from The MEHRIT Centre, and what she’s learned from reading Calm, Alert, and Learning and from her diverse teaching experiences over the past number of years. Now our classroom preparation conversations include things like the following:
Those couple of children that struggled the most last year
What worked best for them? What options might we provide at the beginning of the year to help with a smooth transition? What are some of their preferred activities and how can we incorporate these into the classroom?
The reality of noise
Our classroom is such that there is not a full wall between our room and the one next door. This means that there are close to 60 kindergarten children in a fairly small space, which often produces a lot of noise. We know the value of quiet for kids, so how can we create this illusion of quiet? Last year, we found that creating some smaller spaces with tables lower to the ground, facing a wall, or even in a shelf, made a huge difference. How might we do the same this year? How can we also use our incredible outdoor space — connected to a forest — to help find some quiet for kids and adults?
This year, more than 60% of our students are in Senior Kindergarten (or Year 2), which means that we know them already. We have a good understanding of their diverse academic skills, and we want to continue to address these skills. We know the value in a good challenge, but we also know that if we challenge too much, some children will shut down. Neither one of us want to create these cognitive stressors, so what can we do to ensure that we don’t? How can we create open-ended options that allow for multiple entry points? What materials can we provide that may appeal to these different learners? What might our small group instruction look like, and how can we target different areas as part of this instruction?
The adjustment of coming to school
Some kids love school! They would happily come every day, including on the weekends, and actually get upset when they need to stay home. It’s true. I promise. 🙂 Others though, love their time at home with their parents, and after having a few months not in school, may find it hard to adjust to being back. Then we have Junior Kindergarten (Year 1) children — some of whom may only be three until December — who are coming to school for the first time. This could provide its own challenges. How do we create this safe space in the classroom? How will we start our day to allow for this smooth transition from home to school? Do our students have siblings at school, and how might these siblings help with the adjustment (if needed)? What spaces might we create in the classroom to help mimic this feeling of home?
Both kids and adults love routine! They like knowing what to expect each day, and as we’ve seen for the past couple of years in the classroom, when routines stay consistent, children experience less stress and greater success. My prep schedule does not always allow for the same schedule each day, which we’ve noticed can often make things more challenging and confusing for our young learners. We work then on trying to create a consistent schedule that allows for a smoother flow from one activity to another. How might prep teachers enter into the classroom and extend the play within the room? Does every child need to leave for the prep subject, and if not, how might we create different options for kids? How can we work with the prep coverage teachers to help with this planning? Are there options that might work for everyone?
Building relationships with kids
Paula has always been really vocal about the importance of this, but lately, I even noticed this topic coming into our conversation around supplies to purchase. I wondered if we wanted play-doh for back to school. For the past couple of years, we’ve quickly transitioned from play-doh to plasticine, and I wasn’t sure if we wanted to start with play-doh again. Paula suggested that we do, “until we build relationships with kids.” Play-doh gets kids talking. It’s often something that they initially search out to make them feel better. It’s like the need to set-up our easel at the beginning of the year, and just let kids paint, paint, and paint some more. It’s not about the painting. It’s about how kids feel as they paint, and the conversations that happen around this painting space. Self-Reg starts with relationships. What choices can we make in the classroom to help build these solid connections with kids? What do children want, and what do they need?
The beginning of the year is a busy and exciting time, and many educators love the opportunity to get back into the classroom — with the shiny floors and clean furniture — and set things up for September. There is so much to consider. Where will kids sit? Where will they eat? What will they do? As you move items around your classroom, make table groupings, and decide on a schedule, how might Self-Reg become a part of your discussion? What impact might this have on the success of the school year for you and for the kids? And then, when school starts and the “perfect set-up” seems a little less perfect, options appear.
- Do you wait it out?
- Do you help kids conform to the room?
- Do you see the problem through a Self-Reg lens, consider the “why and why now?,” and make some changes?
- Do you use your new connections with kids to make the changes with them?
From Kindergarten to Grade 12, I can’t help but wonder if some of these same questions and conversations might matter. The year seems to look a little different when it starts from a Self-Reg lens.