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Sometimes we have those experiences that stick with us, even weeks later. That’s what happened here. I still remember the day, the child, and the moment my thinking changed.

It was late one afternoon and we were getting ready to tidy up. We probably should have started earlier, but there was so much great learning happening that we waited until the last minute. Moments before we were about to begin, one student got upset. She had an argument with some friends, and while we tried to give her space, offer hugs, and talk her through it, she was not calming down. She continued to cry. Even giving her the option of a drink, which tends to help soothe her, did nothing for her today. This child just stood in the middle of the floor and cried. 

We decided to start cleaning up, with the hope that we could encourage her to join in. She’s wonderful at tidying up, loves to pick songs for our Dance Tidy, and often seems happy during the process. Today though, when the cleaning started, we noticed her walk quietly into the back cubby area. We took a look, and she was just sitting on the bench back there, so we didn’t say anything. We just let her be. 

This was a hard one for me. We’ve spoken to our students a lot about when to go into this cubby room, and about the importance of letting us know when they head there: we want to ensure that they’re always safe. This child didn’t say anything, and she didn’t go there in order to pack up her backpack or get ready for home. But with the urgent need to tidy up and the knowledge that she was safe, I resisted the urge to say anything to her.

About 10 minutes later, I took the first group of students back into the cubby room to pack up for home. As soon as I walked back there, I saw her packing up her bag and putting on her coat. She smiled at me and came up to give me a hug. I asked her why she came back here, and she said, “I needed space. I feel much better now, Miss Dunsiger.” I will admit that I was about to lecture this five-year-old on the importance of not leaving the classroom and telling an adult when she wanted to go back into the cubby room, but I stopped myself. Why? Because I think that this child used this space to self-regulate. She knew that she needed a quiet area, and with a busy classroom during tidy-up time, she knew that it couldn’t be there. She found the space, she took the time, and she soothed herself. There’s something so wonderful about this that I want to celebrate despite some of my reservations.

I continue to think about our classroom design. We are connected to another classroom with no door between us. Both classrooms share the cubby space. With 65 JK/SK children between these two rooms, there is always noise, and even with some blocked off areas in the classroom, some spaces on the floor, and a few nooks in which to escape, it’s hard to find quiet. It’s hard to find space.

A post shared by Aviva (@avivaloca) on Aug 30, 2016 at 1:48pm PDT

This child knew that and created both “quiet” and “space” when she needed it most. How can we support this, while also ensuring student safety? Do we all sometimes need the “space” that this child found, and just like with her, is it important that we take it? As an educator, I worry about “students hiding,” but as a Self-Reg advocate, I have to applaud what this JK student did. What I viewed as “hiding,” she viewed as “calm”: maybe it’s time for a reframe.

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