Friday, March 23, 2012

Smoothing the Flow

The idea of flow has been a lot on my mind lately. I'm reading a book called "Design in Nature" about how everything that moves is constantly self organzing into the most efficient pattern (which is why rivers, lightning bolts, and leaf veins among many things have the same design). At the refresher course, there was a section on improving the flow of the day in the classroom, in which the book "Flow" by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi was referenced as well. I've been noticing what obstructions (structural/organizational) are preventing smooth transitions in the flow of our day at school.

Here's what I notice:

Arrival: Children at our school are free to arrive between 7:45 and 8:15. They are dropped off at the gate of the school and they walk independently up to the classroom, wash their hands, greet the teachers and then begin their school day. The preparation for the day (moistening sponges, taking down chairs, opening windows, setting up the snack table, folding the dry laundry, sweeping the walkway) is left for them to do voluntarily as they arrive. These types of preparations for the day have helped children who are not yet ready to choose work from the shelves as soon as they arrive. However, this arrival time stretches occasionally and we sometimes have children saunter in at 8:45 or even later. Creating a narrower window of arrival times will help us transition into more focused work more quickly.

Outside time: After the three hours of work, we invite children one at a time to put their work away and go outside until our lunch is ready. I think it is very important to make it clear to the children (and to myself) that this outside time is choice based (there might be children that prefer to stay in the classroom and continue working). This is possible in our setup because the outdoor environment is right outside of the classroom door.

I'd love to make this transition non-verbal as well by establishing a signal for it. My friend Annie has a picture frame that flips both ways, one side is a bird in a nest, the other, the bird in flight. Establishing a signal like that for children who would like to go outside before lunch would involve less adult intervention and be less intrusive to the children who would prefer to stay and work.

For those who are outdoors, we can invite one child to remind others when lunch is ready.

Lunch: Our lunch routine is fairly smooth. We have a small lunch area with four large tables arranged to seat six people. Children have a designated place to sit at lunch. Teachers sit at the head of three tables, and the last table is where the third year children sit together. The heads of each table serve the others. Our lunch is prepared in the school by a teacher and three children every day.

Yesterday in a conversation with my assistant, we came up with the idea of having a "concert lunch" one day a week. This came about when she noticed that it would be good to find a way to help children be more mindful during lunch of tasting and really enjoying their food, and and perhaps play down the overt socialization which sometimes dominates the meal. We will pick one day a week to play a CD while we have lunch, and invite the children to only listen and taste. One day a week of no conversation at lunch might help with mindfulness. I look forward to trying this out!

Back to work: As children finish eating, they wash their dishes and go back to the classroom. In the classroom, one person sets up the toothbrushes for everyone next to our sink. Children return to their work calmly most of the time.

End of day: When it's time to begin our clean up for the end of the day, I sometimes ring a bell to signal to everyone to put their work away. I'm trying to move away from this because I think the bell sometimes creates a frenzy effect and children get excited about the transition and then there it a LOT of energy to deal with. This week I will try a new routine. I will play music to signal it's time to begin to clean up. We don't have a clean up chart to designate the end of the day tasks, so I'll be making that this weekend. When the music starts to play children can put their work away and go to the chart and see what their task is for that week. The music will be classical to help with the energy, a "classical clean up".

Pick up time: What we've been doing at school for pick up time is to let parents come through the gate when children start to come out of the classroom. They hang out sometimes and talk, others are more in a hurry to leave right away. My original vision was that this would help parents get to know one another better and help build our community.

However, this has not worked well for us for several reasons. The children get very excited to have all those parents there, and they also want to stay and play before going home. Transition anxieties are really clear at this time, and sometimes translate into unsafe behavior. Parents sometimes struggle to get their children to go with them, and sometimes the pattern is unclear or inconsistent for the children.

Another reason why this has not worked so well is that often parents (I'm guilty of this as well) want to have conversations with me about their children with the children present.

We decided to change it this week to be more like the "carpool model" that I've seen at other schools. As parents arrive and wait by the gate, we bring their child to them. This establishes a clear pattern for the child.

I'd be really interested if anyone has suggestions of transition changes or signals that they use in their environment that are really effective to share in the comments!


Annicles said...

I often go around the class and whisper to each child that it is time to put their work away and set their table for lunch. This allows me to give more time to those who need a bit of time to get used to the idea and to allow those children who have almost finished a piece of work to do so before being interupted. I often ask a particular child to finish their work and do a job before lunch if I have observed that their cycle of work seems to have come to a natural end a little before the end of the morning session.

In the UK all children under the age of 5 must be allowed access to the outside environment all the time. It is called free-flow. We would be severly reprimanded if we kept under fives in the classroom for three hours without the possibility of going out. The work that happens outside is often quite amazing. Maybe that would help with your more manic children - they have simply been kept inside for too long?

Saturday Soups said...

In my classroom I use a little music box to signal transitions. It is a "job" kids get to do. We also use the code words "slow and careful" for those few children who get over excited. I also use it for children carrying trays with breakables...