Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Let's take some time out."

One thing I'm thinking of introducing: Positive self time outs. I was talking with a parent from our school some months ago about my thoughts on "time out", and how ineffective it seems to me to isolate a child when they lack social skills, how little it teaches a child, and how much it just seems like old fashioned punishment. She mentioned the idea of approaching "time out" as a positive thing, as in "let's take some time out from this situation to calm down together" instead of "if you do that again I'M GOING TO PUT YOU in timeout." I kept on thinking about her words, and the idea of walking out of a situation willingly to calm down. Even as an adult to be able to say "I'm going to take a little time out for myself" and be able to remove ourselves from something that is making us upset or tired or whatever feeling is not working for us. How elemental and what an important skill to develop. I imagine an area in our classroom where children can take themselves to just for the purpose of self soothing. It would be an easy lesson to teach, and it would be very interesting to see if children decide to use this area on their own.

What I have been doing this year when a child has been aggressive or antisocial has been to bring them next to me and helped them calm down. If another child was hurt, going to that child together to see if they are ok and modelling care for each other happens first. (One thing that really makes a difference to me is keeping my own energy neutral in the whole process. If I am angry during any part of the process they might reject it because it feels like punishment.)

For some children, touch and talking helps, others get very antsy when touched, and for some just to sit next to me as I breath deeply or talk to them works best. The priority is for the angry or upset child to calm down. Once they are relaxed, we often observe the environment together. Sometimes I bring attention to something particular that might have to do with the situation that just occurred. When it seems like the child is ready to reincorporate, they go. (The idea is that they learn to function in the group, and this can only happen with practice, a.k.a. BEING in the group as much as possible.)

I take note of the situation and later on give the grace and courtesy lessons for the skills that were needed.

This approach has worked really well for us this year. I am very pleased with the results so far.

One thing that surprised me as I've been moving away from punitive and conditional tactics and language, is to recognize that when a child has repeatedly done something very hurtful or damaging (and I am angry) I naturally divert to old habits of thinking. That the child should somehow "pay" for it, or repent, or experience something negative because of what they did. Like behaviorism and the way I was raised and educated- that if you do something wrong then you should experience a punishment for it so that you won't do it again. It takes so much time to cure the habit. I see more clearly now that when you do something hurtful and damaging you are already having a negative enough experience. It does not need to be compounded with some external punishment. It needs to be alleviated. Alleviated with understanding and with skills building.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Nothing without joy."

The joy of mistakes, the joy of being able to apologize, the joy of still being here and the people around me being here too, the joy of clean water, the joy of dirt and mud and swings, the joy of maximum effort, the joy of loudness, the joy of stillness, the joy of the beginning of the day, the joy of the end of the day, the joy of rest, the joy of singing together, the joy of dancing super silly, the joy of nourishment, the joy of sharing ideas, of listening and being able to hear, the joy of the sky and being able to see, the joy of being ok after a big anger, joy joy joy joy joy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being kind to yourself.

I don't know if it has to do with nature or nurture, but I know that my typical way of solving problems or dealing with difficulty is to just work harder. As an amateur runner, it's a terrible trait: "My ankle is really hurting right now, I think I just need to press on a little farther and it will go away." "I can't figure out this situation, I think I'll just stay at work till six pm reading these articles about the topic until I figure it out." It is my natural tendency.

Thankfully, I have been becoming more aware of it and realizing that often I compound the difficulty by trying harder. I know, it sounds wrong to say that there is something not ok with "try try again." But in my case, trying LESS is much more difficult. I am learning to be kinder to myself, to listen to my body better, to say "it's enough" and let it go.

What I see happens when I loosen the grip and say "it's ok" is that a space opens up that allows a more human and real connection to happen. Whether the connection is between me and children, or me and the environment, or me and well, just me, it feels better. I feel better. Things around me feel better.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Things in the classroom that I'm loving.

Sometimes, the smallest tweaks in the classroom yield the greatest results. These are some small changes in our class that I'm all over at the moment:

Our new and improved snack area. This year, I moved the snack area so that it is not in the middle of the room where it used to be. Socializing at the snack was bringing the volume in our classroom up quite a bit, and it was an area frequented by loiterers. I put it in a corner of the room that's closest to the kitchen door (which makes set up easier for the children). We put a class picture next to the table, which creates a nice topic of conversation for the children and helps with the orientation of the new children. We have glassware (finally) in our snack area, and the children handle it so carefully compared to our setup last year. And best of all, the snack waiting chair. there are no more hang-outers at snack now that there is a specific place to wait for snack and a one child waiting limit.

The getting-a-drink-of-water station. According to the internet (so it must be true) in Aruba we have some of the purest water in the world (thanks to a process of reverse osmosis desalinization, look it up.) So we can drink straight out of the faucet. In the past, all water drinking was done at the snack table, which just meant more snack table traffic. This year we have labeled children's cups for drinking at the faucet. It was too expensive to install a water fountain, so this has been a great alternative and a pretty energy green one.

Two necklaces for going to the library, two for the garden. We removed the book corner from the classroom (which much like the snack area was ALWAYS in demand, and children LOVE to talk about books together so another source of excited volume inside the classroom.) Instead, now the children can take their love of books and conversation to our small library and get as excited as they want about the sharks on the page. This has reduced the volume in our room considerably. Having two garden necklaces so that two children can play together outside when they want to has been really interesting. Because of staffing issues, I'm not ready yet to progress to a fully indoor-outdoor program, but in my observations so far, the usage of the outdoor work has been responsible. Some of the children spend more time outside than others and I am taking note on what I see them do, and how much time they choose to spend out there in preparation for our transition.

Name tag ROCKS. It being so windy where we live, stuff is constantly flying all over the room. Laminated nametags last year would have to be weighted down artfully with works or jamed between parts of works, and it was high time to make these. For those who don't have nametags in their room, they are used to claim ownership over a work that for one reason or another has to be left out (bathroom use, group lesson joining, extended work, coming to walk on the line).

Removal of most whole group lessons, simplification of routine. We've removed most group gathering times, and opted for mostly small group and 100% voluntary joining. We no longer sit on the line (a big no-no in AMI)(*except for birthdays) and instead gather wedge style (which has worked out great). The routine is simple, there is space and choice for joining or not, and this has increased the sense of ease within the group and staff.

Cleanup chart. At the end of the day (the last 5-10 minutes) we play music softly, and the children know it to be the signal to put work away and do their clean up work before going outside to meet their parents. :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Out of all three, mental action is the most important.

I go back to the idea from Vipassana that of all three types of action (physical, verbal, mental), mental action is most important. I try during the day to stay close to my thoughts, noticing what I am thinking about a particular moment, or about a child during a particular moment. I notice my judgements, how easily I can start to label a child and how much that severs my efforts to guide. I notice my breath, and how feelings can suddenly well up when my attention was all over the place and nowhere really. I am guilty of sometimes being the last to find out that I said what I said, or did what I did because I was hungry or tired or irritated. I go back during the day, over and over again, to focus on how I am being instead of what I am doing. Staying at the root from where my words and actions will stem and hoping I can be supportive.