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Recently, I met with an educator from a different school to talk about all things kindergarten. We ended up speaking a lot about Self-Reg and outdoor play. I began to tell this teacher about some recent changes to our outdoor routine. I didn’t really think about the connections to Self-Reg at first. But as I reflect more on this conversation, I’ve started to see another important element to our choices.

Last year, my teaching partner, Paula, and I chose to do something that we haven’t done before. Instead of moving seamlessly from the school entry to outside, we began to gather as a class first. During this meeting time …

  • we connected through some stretches and movement;
  • we spoke about the weather and the impact that this might have on our choices outside;
  • we showed some documentation from the previous day and discussed it together to help students plan for their time outdoors;
  • and we showed and spoke about a few new provocations (usually in the forms of videos or photographs) to help inspire new learning for the day. These provocations often connected with play from the previous day, so they could also help with extending this play.

This time outside has often been a positive experience for our students and for us. This past school year in particular was probably the first time that it rarely, if ever, resulted in dysregulation. Regardless of the temperature, the environment, the choices. Considering Stuart Shanker‘s focus on why, we wonder. What made this year different? Maybe the key to calm interactions and play outside were the choices we made inside first.

  • By inviting students to move and stretch along with us, did this help connect us as a class? We know that Self-Reg begins with relationships. Even hearing the interactions during these movements, shows these relationships. And while everyone was invited and encouraged to participate, some did not, and that was okay. Maybe these children needed something different, which could be indicative of the “self” component of Self-Reg.
  • By addressing the weather, did this give students more control over their choices outside and what they needed to stay comfortable? While we always spoke about the weather in the classroom, families also spoke about it at home. Children began to bring items that would keep them dry and comfortable outside, be it an extra sweater or boots, or even a hat. By planning with the weather in mind, wet or cold days were no longer dysregulating for kids.
  • By looking back at learning from the previous day, did this help students connect with peers in advance of going outside while aiding in planning for their time outside? While Paula and I like to think about options for outdoor play, we also want children to control this time. We know that different kids need different things at different times, so by keeping this time open, all students can get what they need and move freely between various options. That said, sometimes the openness can be dysregulating for kids, when they’re unsure about what to choose or how to use available materials. By re-looking at documentation, they can recall what they did the day before and get excited to revisit this learning. For students who might have struggled with the free-ness outside, we made sure to show some of their past learning to help with generating ideas. Some students also want social connections, but are unsure how to enter play. Seeing this recent play can sometimes provide this social entry point: reducing social stressors.
  • By showing a few provocations before going outside, did this further help students with connecting and planning? Instead of heading outside unsure about what to do, children at least had a couple of ideas in mind. Many of their classmates had similar ideas based on the provocations shared, so kids had entry points for conversations and connections with others. We could also provide provocations that connected with options that we know are calming for our students: largely sensory choices and some building ones for our last group of kids. Making these choices outside, not only helped settle the play in this space, but further settled it inside.

Looking back at these routine choices was a good reminder for me that behaviour does not happen by accident. The choices we make can help change trajectories. If a classroom or outdoor space feels calm, why is that? And if it doesn’t, why is that? Maybe exploring these why’s more can help us better address Self-Reg. It might help reduce stress for adults and kids alike. We‘re beginning to think ahead to September. Is it important to examine indoor and outdoor play spaces through a Self-Reg lens? What might we learn about programming and students by doing so? Sharing our stories and insights might help all of us as we plan ahead for another successful school year.