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On Friday, my teaching partner and I had this great plan. After some movement activities in the Music Room with one of my prep coverage teachers, we were going to come back to the classroom, have a quick Brain Break, and then I would do a short mini-lesson extending some learning from the morning. The children would then transition to playing, and hopefully, use some of the information from our mini-lesson as they made their play decisions for the afternoon. Sometimes the best laid plans do not work out as expected.

In the middle of my prep, my partner brought a student back to the classroom to go to the washroom, and said, “I think we need to reconsider what happens next. The children have been sitting for 30 minutes now listening to a story. They’re really struggling, and they need to move. What if we go outside to our outdoor classroom instead?” Listening to her feedback, we decided to change our plans. When the students returned from music, we would walk them right to the coatroom to get their coats, and then head outside. This is exactly what we did!

It was very interesting to watch the students outside.

  • Some children started digging in the mud and creating their own make believe Wombat Stew: in follow-up to a favourite book that we’ve read together in class.
  • Some children set-up an obstacle course using pieces of wood and tree stumps, and took turns going through the course.
  • Some children engaged in dramatic play using a dollhouse and some dollhouse figures.
  • Some children went digging for worms, found some, and then tried to create different worm habitats.
  • Some children drew and wrote on the chalkboard, and even connected this drawing and writing to some of their dramatic play.
  • Some children created their own basketball game with three balls and a bucket for a hoop.
  • And some children played a very intense game of tag, where they ran around the back play area at least 40 times.

While the play was very diverse, and at times quite loud, it also met each child’s needs. This outdoor time was a necessity, and watching the students run, talk, and scream at times, made me realize that there was no way our initial plan would have worked.

When my teaching partner returned from her lunch and I went out for duty, she transitioned the children inside, did a short, but she said, “highly productive” Brain Break, and then read the students a children’s story about Vincent Van Gogh. The students were ready to listen at this time, and eager participated in a follow-up discussion connected to an artist that we had already started to explore together. I walked back into the classroom after my 40 minute duty, and I couldn’t believe how calm it felt in there.

It was a Friday afternoon, and all of the children were engaged in play and building on the learning from the morning. Students took the ideas from Van Gogh’s book, and even started to discuss their own works of art and title them, just as Van Gogh used to do. This was some of our best playing so far this year, and both the process and products were amazing. Why? Because we listened to the students, responded to their needs, changed our plans, and provided our mini-lesson when children were truly ready to learn.

Thinking back now, I realize the number of times that I would have stuck with my initial plan and probably struggled throughout the process. The students would have been disengaged. They likely would have been loud and disruptive. The afternoon play would have been problematic. And I would have felt frustrated: likely only exacerbating the problems with my own dysregulation.

We’re educators, and we’re used to planning. We like to feel organized, and both routines and organization are good for kids. But when children are telling us what they need — and their needs vary from our initial plans — do we listen to them? If we don’t, what impact might this have on all of us? How do we become more comfortable in shifting our plans? As hard as it may be, maybe if we truly want a calm environment, sometimes we have to “let things go,” and follow the lead of the child … wherever that lead may take us.