Sometimes I don't know which is worse....Monday morning or the fifteen minutes after recess.
"Mrs. Pettersen, Amy said I'm not invited to her birthday party."
"No I didn't!"
"Mrs. Pettersen, Ryan pushed Jonathan off the swings at recess and Sam told Miss Stone he had to miss 5 minutes off of recess and she said you should email his mom."
When I look across the room Ellie looks like she is about to cry again but she hasn't wanted to talk about it and I've tried emailing and calling the school counselor three times.
Does any of this sound familiar? It's a day in the life of an elementary classroom and it's not getting any easier. In the past few years these types of social/emotional issues have not been confined to Monday morning or after recess.
They are taking up more and more of the school day and are happening with both more urgency and more frequency. It's both alarming and heartbreaking.
With the demands of standardized testing, the pressures of the Common Core, the harried life of working families, increased divorce rates, and the list goes on
it's no wonder that children feel lost in the shuffle and....
In the busy, in the chaos, in the pressures of the world as they are now experiencing it ,kids are finding it harder and harder to cope and to keep their feelings and emotions in balance, even though they want to. I truly believe they want to. I don't remember taking Tylenol at 5 years old for a tension headache do you? I don't remember my friends having panic attacks in second, third, or even fourth grade. Now I see it happening in my school and...to my own child. It's happening to my own child and it's breaking my heart.
I am a dog lover. I truly don't think there is a problem out there that a dog can't help make better with a lick, a cuddle, a wag of the tail, a nudge with their head. My beagle, Bentley truly senses when I feel stressed and anxious and he will snuggle right up next to me in my most anxious moments. Which had me thinking.....I really wish we could use therapy dogs in schools. All schools.
Hold the phone....
or rather.... click on over to.....
I know...it's a problem. It's way too convenient. Anyway....$25 and 5 days later, I received my classroom therapy dog. He is our classroom pet. His name is Charlie.
I named him Charlie after Ree Drummond's basset hound named Charlie. I know, I know, he's not technially a basset hound. He's a beagle. Close enough. I own a beagle, so I can say that. Anyway, Ree Drummond wrote a whole series of books about her lazy basset named Charlie and they are just the cutest books ever!
So Charlie became a part of my classroom in 2015 and he has been the single best thing I have ever done for the classroom, my students, and my teaching practices.
The students read to him, talk to him, cuddle him, they talk him for walks, they write him letters, they talk to him at all school meetings. And truth be told....sometimes on a tough day....I give him a cuddle too. True story.
Over the years he has heard the kids talk about their weekends, their disagreements with peers or siblings, how their parents are getting a divorce and how awful that feels. He has given a struggling reader the confidence to read aloud for the first time. He has helped many a nervous and scared first grader on the first day of first grade. He has sat with a first grader and given them confidence when the work seems too hard.
I could go on and on.
Sometimes pictures speak louder than words...
He's pretty popular..... and he's very much well-loved. Just like a real pet.
The parents of the students have loved the concept so much they started donating supplies for Charlie....
Charlie's favorite spot is in our classroom library. We call this Peaceful Pet Place. Students are able to go to Peaceful Pet Place when they need a hug from Charlie, a quiet place, to take a break or to utilize a calming strategy.
In the past, I had a tool kit of sorts, for a student or students when they become dysregulated and I would break out the squeeze ball or the sensory bottle when it was needed. Over the years, I have seen the need to make these materials accessible to all of my students.
After modeling the care, use, clean-up, and storage for each of the tools in the Peaceful Pet Place the students are able to access the calming strategies as needed.
And you know what I have found? My students have become better students. When they know they have the ability to take a break when the need to, when they feel a part of a classroom where are feel safe, valued, listened to, and cared for….they actually work harder and more efficiently. They are invested and they want to do well.
Here are some of the calming tools I have in Peaceful Pet Place:
The sensory bottle is very easy to make. All you need is a Voss water bottle (available at most grocery stores). I used inexpensive V05 shampoo and marbles (since I had them in the house). The Thinking Putty I found at a local gift store and probably paid WAY too much for it. It is available here on Amazon in all kinds of varieties and colors.
Some other things you can include are:
Coloring books with crayons or colored pencils, an iPod with classical music, squeeze ball, bubbles, a variety of sensory bottles...the possibilities are endless and really depend on your class.
The calming cards and breathing box are great visual tools and strategies to help students pick a strategy that suits them well. I keep these in the Peaceful Pet Place.
Here is a close up of what Peaceful Pet Place looks like:
The activities are meant to be short and calming and non-disruptive. Here's some examples of a few of the calming strategy cards:
Another strategy that I have found effective for students to self-regulate is to write letters or maintain a journal. I have students that have brought in a special decorated notebook/journal from home for this purpose, or they have made one with our school counselor. I have students keep a journal in their cubbies if they need one.
When a conflict arises, especially with another peer and it has been discussed and worked out but the student is having a having a hard time letting it go, sometimes I will suggest “Write it down and then leave it be." This way, students who are particularly expressive or emotional can get their feelings out, write it down, and then.....let it go.(sing it now....)
Students often need help using words to describe their feelings. I love this activity to help them develop and review the language to express themselves.
Teaching students the vocabulary to express their emotions is important. It can very enlightening for a 7, 8 or 9 year old child to learn more words beyond "I'm mad" to express frustration.
Equally important, is teaching young child to recognize what defines a good choice or a bad choice and why. Perhaps most important, is for them to understand how it makes them FEEL when they make these choices. It is like their conscience and it will govern how they act or react in your classroom, towards their peers, and with you, as their teacher.
It is also important for students to develop empathy for others. Role playing social/emotional scenarios is enormously helpful, especially for younger students who are so concrete. Morning meeting is the perfect time to role play one or two playground, cafeteria, or hallway scenarios. Choose student volunteers and role play one of the thousands of conflicts you have heard, seen, and witnessed in your teaching experience (you know you have them....).
Here are a few to get you started...
What do you do to help your students who are struggling with stress, sorry, anxiety and emotional discord in your classroom?
Self-Regulation: Using a Class Pet is available here
Next week I will share what I do to get students back on task.
Amy asked me "How do you get students to get back to the task at hand or to not use the Peaceful Pet Place as a method of work avoidance?"
This is a great question and I will be answering this next week...