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Today was a Day 4, which means that I have a prep period at the end of the day: it’s music. Since we don’t have a separate music room at our school, our music teacher comes to our classroom with a large cart of instruments and a traveling stereo to support many singing and dancing activities. During this period, I’m usually trying to upload documentation from our day, so I often sit over at our eating table to do so. I can’t help but watch the children as I work, and my teaching partner, Paula, often does the same. It was one of our observations today that inspired this post. 

This music class is often a very loud and active one, and while the children love the regular songs and dances that they do each week, sometimes the noise and activity can feel overwhelming at the end of the day. Paula noted that there were three children today — one SK child and two JK children— that chose not to participate in all of the songs and dances. 

  • They sat back and watched. A couple of the children swayed along to the music, but did not stand up to dance.
  • One child clapped along quietly, but chose to observe from the periphery.
  • Another child decided to sit on the sofa, read a book, and write her own alphabet chart.  

As Paula noted in our discussion, all three of these children self-regulated. They knew that the music program was too much for them at this time, and instead of getting actively involved, becoming dysregulated, and ending the day on a bad note, they all chose calmer options. They still enjoyed the songs. They still liked watching the dances. But they knew that they couldn’t partake successfully at this time of the day. 

And as Paula and I celebrated the fact that all three of these young children knew what they needed, I had to wonder, would their choices from today always be seen in a positive light? None of these children complied with what was being expected. Our music teacher knew what they needed, and so supported their decisions, but is there a chance that they could have been questioned for not following the norm? I think back to many of my teaching experiences. 

  • Would I have seen these children as disrespectful or disobedient? 
  • Would I have said that they can’t self-regulate because they don’t follow instructions? 

I wonder if this very scenario highlights the difference between self-regulation and self-control. How do we create classroom environments where we support self-regulation first? For I know that I could have insisted that any one of these three children join in on the music activity as the rest of the class did, but I guarantee you that they would not have ended the day as calmly as they did. They knew what they needed. Are we always ready to listen to them?