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!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

International Day

This past Friday, we organized an "International Day" at school. Of all the special events we've had this year, this one was by far the easiest to plan and the most fun to be a part of. A few weeks ago, I announced it to the parents and had them send me an email letting me know which country their child would represent. Since we have a very diverse and multi-cultural group, we had lots of different countries represented: Greece, Armenia, Aruba, Holland, Costa Rica, Colombia, India, and England.

The parents were to help the children learn a short song/poem/or dance from that country. They did a really wonderful job preparing the children for their short presentation.

Every parent was also responsible to bring a small dish to share at school on International Day. We had a multi-cultural spread like I've never seen on the island. Delicious home made ethnic dishes! Teachers brought foods as well.

During the past weeks we've been coloring flags, labeling objects and working lots with the puzzle maps preparing for the event. Our special interest table became the flag coloring table. We gradually strung up all the flags around the room as decorations for International Day.

Children who can write prepared the labels to go alongside the foods from the different countries. The children also made small flags and taped saftey pins on the back to give to their parents to wear during the celebration.

During the morning of Friday, we prepared our room by moving shelves, setting tables with flowers and eating utensils. Parents arrived at 12:00.

Some of the children wore their international clothes all day, and others were helped into their dresses by their parents when they arrived.

When all the children were ready, we introduced each of them in a mini parade of nations with their National Anthems. All the children lined up at the far end of the room and they looked so sweet in their traditional clothing! Then we sang "It's a Small World After All" together (there are better songs but time creeped up on us quickly- "This Pretty Planet" by Tom Chapin, or "Hello, Bonjour" would have been better choices-- oh well, next year). And after that each child presented their song/poem/dance. Parents loved it. I loved it.

When the presentation was over, I invited the children to wash their hands and serve themselves lunch. The foods were wonderful!

It is the first event at school that we've had where I was able to step back fully and enjoy the moment as it was happening instead of frantically making sure everything is going smoothly. Favorite day of the year, hands down.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Yet another reason why observation notes are so important.

Yesterday was such a hectic day at school that at the end of the day Sayenne and I decided to have the "meeting" at the coffee shop downtown. We usually have a 20-30 minute debriefing of observations at the end of our day and we skipped it yesterday opting to let the day rest in oblivion. Today was just another variety of crazy day (I will one day write a thesis on the many flavors of crazy that are possible in a Montessori classroom on an "off" day) and considering we had our fun yesterday we not only looked over today's, but also yesterday's observations.

Going over our observations it was clear that both days were not complete fiascoes. Not bastions of work and concentration either, but there were some brilliant moments in the day, some great works, some concentration, and lots of funny quotes. I am so pleased with both of us that in our notebooks at least, we are able to note the positive aspects of the day even while we were feeling a blanket of anarchy descending on the room.

I was reminded of the importance of neutral observation, of writing just what you see, of how interesting what we choose to focus on is, and how healing it is to go over the notes at the end of a not so good day and realize it was not all that bad.