Saturday, May 23, 2009
Is time out the Pre-K version of solitary confinement?
(I remember my trainer Ginni at the AMI Conference in Houston this year repeating- "You don't normalize children by sending them to time out!")
Maybe it's a huge stretch, but last week I read a great article in the New Yorker about solitary confinement (titled "Hellhole") and it reminded me of Alan Kazdin's article about how time out can be an ineffective behavior altering technique. The maximum penalty given to adult humans when they are extremely anti-social is solitary confinement, and in many cases, the maximum penalty given in my classroom when a child is extremely unsocialble (aka. violent) is to be separated from the group and basically put in "time out." Both articles agree that isolating a human is ineffective if the goal is to rehabilite a person's behavior.
When I thought about it in simple terms it makes sense. How can I help children be more sociable by isolating them from the group? What do they learn in time out? I honestly don't think that they "think about what they did wrong." Maybe they calm down a little if they were upset, but then they get distracted with other things. Time out doesn't cure their problem or fix their behavior. That is clear. I guess I use it as a last resource when I don't know what else to do.
Then I read the article about criminals in the hole, and about how in England they don't use solitary confinement, but instead give the most antisocial guys the opportunity to be more social. More phone calls, more visits, exercise, education. They claim it's working over there. Apparently they have fewer people in solitary confinement in their whole country than the total of dudes in the hole in just the state of Maine.
So yesterday, I sat down with Sayenne and we came up with a plan of what to do instead of just time out to actually help the children who wind up in time out. How are we going to adapt our England based plan? We made a list of little social extra activities that we could offer to the little ones that need lots of practice socializing positively... Here's some of what we came up with:
- To invite the children to go outside one by one.
- To make the "Thank You" cards for visitors and guests.
- To take care of our school pets.
- To serve the water outside at the end of the day.
- To open the gate for the others as children arrive in the morning.
- To dismiss the children at the end of the day.
- To guide the classroom clean up.
The emphasis we decided, has to be on these activities being positive social experience. Not an opportunity for bullying or teasing. So at the beginning, not only do we have to show the child exactly what we want him/her to do, but stay close to monitor it in case we have to step in. Hopefully, the logic seems to dictate that if we give the children who have most trouble socializing well more chances to do so, they will get better at it eventually!
We also agreed that it will be necessary to have the parents in on this. If there is a social group (parents and teachers) around the child trying to help them overcome a behavior, it seems there is a better chance for success.
This week we try this out!