Self-Regulation and the Mind-Up Curriculum

Part of our teaching about self-regulation has been to help the children to understand the connection between what is happening in their brain, and the choices they make as a result of their emotions and how they are feeling.  This has an impact on their learning as if the children are feeling stressed about a situation, they will not be able to focus their attention on classroom instruction for learning, refuel and rehydrate their bodies satisfactorily or even enjoy their social play.

A few years ago our staff started using the Mind-Up Curriculum.  We had a school-based Professional Development Day, and were provided with a day of excellent instruction, our own copy of the appropriate curriculum (Primary or Intermediate) and a Zenergy chime by our Principal at the time.

Mind-Up has the children’s overall well-being at its core:  when children are happy and thriving in their learning environment, they are better able to learn.  We teach them how to focus their attention and to be more mindful of their words and actions.  The children become aware of, and learn how to cope with stressors, their emotions and reactions and ultimately, enhance their ability to self-regulate so they are able to access learning.

A better understanding of how the brain functions is necessary to put all of this into practise.  Learning about and loving our brain has been some of the most fun and rewarding lessons we’ve ever taught.  Our classes have always been fully aware of the importance of protecting their brains  They reassure us with confidence that they wear helmets while cycling, skiing and snowboarding and scootering.

Mind-Up has many teaching ideas, strategies and suggested books to read, but we choose those which we think are suitable for the class we have each year.

We started with the first lesson on the three main parts of the brain:  the pre-frontal cortex, the amygdala and the hippocampus.  Mind-Up has an amazing poster that shows and describes each of these parts and their function.

The Pre-Frontal Cortex is the wise leader;

The Amygdala is the security guard who moves into “flight or fight” if it senses a threat;

The Hippocampus is “the memory keeper”.

However, we’ve also had some really fun brain resources to use.

IMG_1819One of the program’s DIY suggestions is to fill a bottle with sand, sparkles and water.  When you give it a good shake, and everything mixes together, the children can see how the amygdala “works.”  Sensory information is blocked (guarded) and cannot flow freely to the pre-frontal coretex, to make a good decision based on external stimuli.  The children were fascinated with how long the bottle took to settle and for the water to be clear (the better part of the day).

We also had a brain that our Principal Mrs. Brady gave me (we’re pretty IMG_1823sure there was no hidden meaning there) and another brain that Christy won at a district Pro-D workshop on self-regulation (sure, go ahead and laugh, Christy won a brain) to pass around so the children were able to see it’s beautiful silhouette.  We asked them to squeeze it super hard three times to release some energy and it was wonderful to watch them practise a moment of self-regulation.  Naturally, this has led to some very, very ridiculous brain jokes between us and the children.

“Do we have a couple of volunteers to go and ask Mrs. Campbell if we can borrow her brain?  We need another one.”

“Boys and girls, Mrs. Daudlin’s brain just was sitting here on my desk just here a minute ago.  Oh no, wait, I think I see it on the floor.  Be careful you don’t step on it.”

“Would somebody please pass me my brain?”

IMG_1824We’re very fortunate to have a brain cell, part of the swag my doctor brother-in-law received at a medical conference.  Unfortunately, the size comparison to the brain cell (large) and the brain (small) made it fairly challenging when we tried to explain to the children that the brain was composed of many, many brain cells.  The furry texture and big eyes of the brain cell raised more than a few questions.

As we progress through the next few lessons, we will be teaching the children one of the most important components of Mind-Up, which is the Core Practise.

The Core Practise is the use of the Zenergy chime and focusing all of our attention on a single note.  Our children will be sitting calmly and cross-legged, palms facing up or down, eyes closed or open while looking at their lap.  They will concentrate on the ringing of the chime, and then we will lead them through a deep breathing sequence.

The Core Practise gives the children a self-regulation strategy to take a moment to focus and quiet the brain.  When stressed, the amygdala will be in its security guard mode — not allowing sensory information to make its way to the pre-frontal cortex to make a rational decision.  By teaching the children to be mindful of how they are feeling within their learning context, they can use a strategy to help themselves, or self-regulate, to calm down, and begin to feel relaxed, focused and ready to learn.

The Core Practise is by no means the only strategy we will teach our Kindergarten students.  We have already begun Calming Countdowns, and will continue to add more to our repertoire, so the children can make choices about what best suits their needs.

Earlier this year we wrote about The Gift of Mindfulness.  We hope it may bring some peace and calm to your day.

Setting Up the Self-Regulated Classroom

Although it’s the first day of school across British Columbia, here in West Vancouver our Kindergarten children do not start school until tomorrow.  Their Gradual Entry Program begins on Wednesday when we will welcome small groups into the classroom over the next few days, and provide the children with time to familiarize themselves with us, the classroom routines and their new classmates in a gentle and unhurried manner.

For the past week we’ve been busy setting up our classrooms, and we’ve been doing so with an eye to the children’s self-regulation.

Of course we will be specifically teaching the children about the Zones of Regulation, identifying feelings and emotions and exploring mindfulness.  But there are also some things we can do to prepare the physical environment of our classrooms to support self-regulation.

Stuart Shanker, in Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation, reminds us that a classroom environment with reduced visual and auditory distractors can help students to concentrate better.  Here are some of his main points, and what we’ve been doing in our classrooms.

Lots of natural light.  We both have lots of windows to appreciate the natural light which flows into our classrooms.  Sometimes we will lower the blinds but in the “open” position so we can still have light.  Our windows also have a special reflective coating on them so the children can see outside; however, others are unable to see in.

Minimum of artificial light.  We keep the overhead lights IMG_4498“off” in the classroom generally, although the grey, cloudy days make the room quite dark.  Sometimes one bank of lights turned is on because it’s necessary for reading and printing!  We’ve purchased several lamps (or cast-offs from home) to provide some atmosphere and they make the classroom feel warm and cosy.

Soft paint colours in a non-gloss finish.  As teachers we don’t often have a lot of choice in the paint finish of our classrooms; we both have the standard “white.”  Christy’s cupboards are a soft blue and mine are naturally finished so we are fortunate in that regard.  We’re just happy to freshly painted classrooms and that our classrooms schools are beautifully maintained by our District Facilities group.

IMG_1654No vibrant colours.  Not living with colour in the classroom is something we have both struggled with.  We love colour:  colour energizes us, inspires us, provokes creativity, brings us happiness, and is necessary for our mental well-being.  We know there are many self-regulated classrooms which have gone with a neutral colour scheme, but that wasn’t for us.  We spend many hours in our classrooms so our compromise has been to decorate our classrooms in a blue (to suggest the sky or ocean) and green (to suggest fields and forest) colour scheme, both of which bring a sense of calm and tranquility to our teaching, and therefore, the children’s self-regulation.

This year we also tried something different.  Instead of using paper to cover our bulletin boards, we used broadcloth to help absorb the sound better, plus being more environmentally responsible as fading should be less and the fabric won’t need to be replaced every year or two.

IMG_4500Organise everyday materials and put away other supplies.  In continuing with our blue and green colour scheme, we have primarily blue and green baskets to organise the children’s table school supplies, plus some pink for fun.  We place all daily school supplies (crayons, gluesticks, scissors, felt pens) in their baskets in a designated, labelled bookcase, and teach the children in the first weeks of school how to give out and put away the baskets.

The rest of the children’s school supplies for the year are stowed away in the cupboards.

We use clear tubs of for organizing Math manipulatives and Activity Time toys and shelving/tub systems for areas such as the Imagination Station.

Reduce wall clutter.  We don’t like any kind of clutter; we find it overstimulating and not helpful in our own self-regulation.  We use our bulletin boards for displaying student art work.  The children, and us, need to be surrounded by the beauty of their own creations, and to develop an appreciation of their own, and others, efforts.

We display only what we deem essential:  Alphabets, number line, our Math Their Way calendar, math rotation groups and the Visual Schedule.  Although we are often printing Alphabet letters, recording our brainstorming and demonstrating art projects, these charts usually come down or are put away soon after we’ve finished using them.

IMG_4502Tennis balls (“Hush-Ups”) on the chairs.  The sound of the chairs banging against the table legs and floor was one we endured for many years until we were able to order these “Hush-Ups”  through a Parent Advisory Council (PAC) grant for self-regulation materials last year.

 

 

Carpets on the floor.  My classroom is carpeted so the noise level is generally quite low.  Christy’s classroom is not carpeted but she was able to purchase, through the PAC grant, additional small carpets for some of her play areas to reduce the noise.  All the teachers in our school were fortunate to be able to select a beautiful, decorative carpet for our classrooms, paid for by our PAC.

Room organisation.  Although it seems logical that every classroom needs a quiet area for Meeting Time, sitting and discussion, the physical classroom itself does not always lend itself easily to determining where that might be.  Our Alphabet carpet area is the quiet space, and we’ve tried to surround it with low storage units or bookcases and the Special Helper’s chair to make it feel safe and enclosed.  We both have our quiet space deep into the classroom and well away from the door to help eliminate unnecessary distractions.

Well, our classrooms are ready, supplies are in their baskets and the activities are on the tables for the children.  We’re all ready for the Kindergarten and looking forward to facilitating their new journey as self-regulated learners.

 

The Gift of Mindfulness

IMG_1449School finished yesterday, the children have gone home for the summer and the classroom is empty.

But we’re starting the final clean-up and it’s time to put away the dollhouse.

It’s tidy…and looks so clean.  And a much neater place than the rest of the classroom (who owns all this stuff, anyways?). It’s a tiny piece of calm right now.

We’ve always known that the state of the dollhouse is reflective of how we’re doing.  What a wonderful place for those children to be in their thoughts and minds, where they could demonstrate their feelings about how they felt exactly at that moment as they finished playing with the dollhouse.  They must have felt very calm and relaxed.

Have you ever noticed how some people are just so incredibly calm?  Even when it’s the height of busyness all around, and you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, these special individuals exude calmness. You feel better when you’re around them, listening to them speak and realizing “everything’s going to be alright.”  What is it that makes these folks so calm….and peaceful?

We believe mindfulness is the key.  The mindful person is always in the moment, living in the present and just enjoying every feeling, thought and spoken word that is happening right now.

At a workshop presented last year by one of our district counsellors, Dr. Aron White explained mindfulness as a means of paying attention in a particular way, purposefully being in the present and non-judgemental.  Derived from Buddhist traditions, Dr. White described the three core components of mindfulness as attentive awareness, receptive attitude and intentionality, which can be cultivated in any situation or environment.

When we are mindful, we want to stay in the present.  Being caught up in the past, worrying about the future, or just being on “auto-pilot,” leads to a preoccupation in our thoughts with things, instead of experiencing them.  We lessen our experience of contentment, peace or even fleeting happiness if we are wishing for our circumstances to be other than what they are.

So what can we do to cultivate mindfulness in our classrooms through everyday teaching?

Take some time everyday to be mindful of the present.

In our classrooms, that means creating a routine to practise controlled, deep breathing sequences as a self-regulation strategy for the children to quiet themselves, and focus their minds on the here and now.  We build our stamina, starting in September for about 45 seconds, to the three minutes where we are now at the end of June.

We’ve managed to keep this routine fairly consistent so that everyday after the morning recess, the children gathered in the meeting area to listen to quiet music and were led by us in mindful breathing.  The children get ready by sitting cross legged, a straight back and eyes closed or looking down.  It’s a routine we teach and continue to refine and reinforce all year.

IMG_1441A change-up to this routine is to use a Zenergy chime at the beginning and end of each deep breathing sequence instead of music.  When we use the chime, we call it the “Core Practice,” which is part of The MindUp Curriculum.  We play the chime once, and ask the children to focus on the sound until they can’t hear it.  Then we start the deep breathing sequence, and meditate on moments of pure quiet and calm. We end with playing the chime again, being mindful of the sound, and the children are to keep their eyes closed until they can no longer hear the chime.

We don’t watch the children as they’re breathing; that would be a distraction.  Instead, we’re modelling the behaviours we expect from the children.  We’re using this time for ourselves to focus on the present, and to be mindful of where we are and what we’re doing.  We feel as refreshed as the students, calm and peaceful, and it makes a positive difference to our teaching.

We talk about being mindful quite often, and within the context of the classroom and playground.  We want the children to be aware of their words, actions and surroundings as they move through their day and how those same words and actions affect not only themselves, but others as well.

A wise Kindergarten child once shared that when we’re focused or concentrating on what we’re doing, we’re not thinking about anything else.

Calm.  Peaceful.  Mindfulness.

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Today’s post was inspired by our Ridgeview Principal, and dedicated to our dear Education Assistant who retired this June.  From our hearts to yours, we will miss you.

Self-Regulation Tool: Time Timer

photo-9Well, we’re not sure what happened here, but it looks like everybody left for the weekend, lock, stock and barrel.  We can see we’re going to need some time to put this back together.

But we’ve got lots of other things to do on a Friday afternoon so we’re just going to allow ourselves a certain amount of time to locate the rest of the family and the furniture.  At home we might use our oven timer, but here at school, we’re fortunate enough to have a Time Timer.  Ours measures approximately 12 x 12 inches.

 

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The Kindergarten love the Time Timer.  They love it so much they’ll even remind us when we’ve forgotten to use it.

The Time Timer is a useful tool to help the children with their self-regulation, in much the same way as the visual schedule does, during our daily activities.  It’s a visual reminder for the Kindergarten to pace themselves during whatever activity they’re involved in, as they see the time ticking down.  Then the children know that we’re approaching a transition and it helps them to mentally prepare themselves for a change.

We like to make our day as predictable as possible to reduce any uncertainty or anxiety, so that the children can just enjoy learning and have fun with their friends.

We use the Time Timer in a variety of ways.

The first time we introduced the Timer was during the morning Activity Time.  When there’s a new Centre, such as new play dough, everybody wants a turn.  But there’s no way in 30 minutes of Activity Time that the whole class can each have a long enough turn to feel that they accomplished something.  So we started turns, or “shifts,” of 12-15 minutes.

When the quiet bell of the Time Timer rings, its a signal for all of us that the group’s turn is over and another one is about to begin.  A typical Activity Time has two shifts; we can accommodate eight children and we start a list of children who are interested in playing at the Centre for the next day.

Using the Timer was so successful in the morning playtime, we decided to also use it during the afternoon playtime as well.  Each afternoon we have a different focus, such as Literacy Centres, Puzzles or Construction Centres. Again, we might run two or three shifts, depending upon the rest of the day’s schedule.

An added benefit of the Timer is for the children who want to finish their work despite the fact Centre Time or the work period is over, and we’re transitioning to the next activity.  We like that it has removed the emotion that can come with our having to keep asking children to stop what they’re doing; instead, we can attribute it to the Timer’s bell signal that we all have to end the task.

We also use the Timer while the children eat during Snacktime  and Lunch hour.  It’s important that the children eat their food when they have the opportunity, to fuel their bodies so they have energy for the next part of the day.  Again, it’s a visual reminder about how much time they have left to eat before they go outside to play.

You can learn more about the Time Timer here.

We’re going to begin transitioning our classroom newsletter from paper to online for our Friday blog posts during the month of June.  We’re going to start exploring some different formats.  If you see something you like, and as importantly, what you don’t like, please let us know.  You can make a suggestion in the comment box below or just speak to us at school.  Thank you for your feedback!

Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid: Part 2

We hosted our Welcome to Kindergarten Event (WTK) last week, and as part of the handout package for parents, we included the Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid.  Last week we began to reflect, with reference to the Readiness Pyramid, on how our Kindergarten students have matured since their WTK experience one year ago as they head towards Grade One Readiness.

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Kindergarten Readiness are the skills incoming Kindergarten students should have in place when they arrive at school.  The foundation of the pyramid is Self-Care and Motor skills, or the ability to look after one’s personal care.  These skills are taught during the early years while the children are at home with their parents.  In Kindergarten, children are expected to independently use the washroom and wash their hands, feed themselves and change their own clothes and shoes.

The second layer of foundation blocks are Self-Regulation and Social Expression.  Self-Regulation is the children’s ability to regulate their emotional state and behaviour so it is appropriate to their current social situation.  It includes the ability to listen to others, exhibit impulse control, and demonstrate an understanding of commands and boundaries, all necessary skills for the safety and emotional well-being of the entire class.

Let’s look at the last two sections of the Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid:  Social Expression and Kindergarten Academics.

The Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid we refer to in both of these blog posts was originally used in a research study on children’s readiness for Kindergarten in the Silicon Valley.  It has been modified slightly to fit our needs at Ridgeview.

Social Expression

In this context, Social Expression refers to the oral language skills children will use in the classroom.  At school, we can see and hear the impact that adults have on oral language development with their children.  The time parents spend with their children in the early years talking, discussing, explaining and questioning around dinner tables, during car rides, at bedtime and the myriad of activities in between, is significant.

This year we listen to our Kindergarten children express their opinions, stories and questions, which have been shaped and influenced by their parents, family members, and other adults, in every class discussion.  The children’s sense of wonder and curiosity becomes apparent in what they notice and often bring to our attention.  As part of our Inquiry Based Learning, we have begun teaching them how to ask questions to obtain the answers they are looking for.

It is through the children’s Imaginary Play that they are using and practising the oral language, and re-enacting situations, that are familiar to them.  Centres such as the House Corner allow the children to assume roles in their play.  The children bring together their diverse experiences to create a plan or goal for their creative play and use their words to cooperatively bring it to fruition.

Our Kindergarten group interacts with many adults in the school building.  In addition to the classroom teachers, our students have frequent contact with our Education Assistant, Music Teacher, Teacher-Librarian, Administrators, Office Staff and Playground Supervisors.  With their ever expanding vocabularies and natural charm, the children are learning that language is their means of communicating their needs and wants.  The relationships between themselves and the important adults in their family life builds a base of experience, confidence and security as to how well they can relate to adults outside of the home.

Kindergarten Academics

Over the years we have seen a growing love of books from the Kindergarten children.  We know this deep love of literature has been carefully nurtured from the time their children were infants by all of our classroom parents, who understand the importance of reading aloud to them.  Indeed, the bedtime story ritual is one of the most precious times spent with our children.

In class, not only do we have Story time every day, but we often introduce a lesson with a book to teach or review concepts.  The children enjoy the read aloud time, and we’re always amazed at how well they can sit and focus.  We engage with books multiple times in our day.  As this school year has progressed we’ve noticed an increasing number of children in our class who choose to independently read books, listen to stories at the Listening Centre or “read” the room with a reading wand, in a sustained way during Activity Time.

Many children come to Kindergarten able to print their first name, usually in uppercase letters.  As part of our Kindergarten program, we teach each letter name, sound and correct upper-and lowercase letter formation.  As each child begins to print his or her name correctly with a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, it becomes a day of pride, independence and celebration.

We also practise and build upon the children’s knowledge of phonological awareness skills, including rhyming, syllables and initial sounds.  Although for some children the Alphabet lessons may be a review, they are all receiving teacher directed instruction as a whole class which helps to prepare them for the later grades.  We extend our Alphabet teaching with drawing, colouring and labelling pictures of words beginning with the Letter of the Week.

Our students are a long ways away now from the Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid.  For this final term at school we’ve been fondly calling them our “Grade Ones in Training.”  But in our hearts, they’ll always be our Kindergarten children.

 

Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid: Part One

We held our annual Welcome to Kindergarten Event (WTK) last week to welcome the incoming Kindergarten students for 2015-2016.  It’s amazing to think that a year has already flown by from the first time we met our current Kindergarten students.

One of the handouts from the Welcome to Kindergarten package was the Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid.  It was interesting to revisit this again and reflect on how very far our “Grade Ones in Training” have come along through their Kindergarten year.

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We value this pyramid because it clearly illustrates one of our core beliefs about Kindergarten Readiness:  that a strong foundation of basic self-help, self-care and motor skills; the ability to self-regulate and demonstration of social expression are necessary before the children can access the academic learning at the top of the pyramid.  Although the tendency is to focus on the academic skills as an indicator of Readiness, in Kindergarten we begin with a solid footing in how to independently help ourselves.

Today we’ll look at two sections of the Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid:  Self-Care and Motor Skills, and Self-Regulation.

Self-Care and Motor Skills.  We share school supplies, toys and books in class so germs can spread quickly in the Kindergarten.  Most children come to Kindergarten knowing about hand-washing because they have learned this skill well at home and had it reinforced in preschool or daycare.  It’s wonderful to see how quickly our children organize themselves now at the various sinks and washrooms to wash their hands, once they understood the routines we created at school.

Although it might be faster to help the children on with their jackets, our classes love their independence to do up their coats themselves.  We’re pleased to note how easily our classes can change their own shoes and boots, and change their pants and socks if they get wet on a rainy day.  When children have Velcro or slip-on shoes, they can maintain their independence; laces are not a practical option for Kindergarten.

With the Full Day Kindergarten, the children eat their lunch at school every day.  Many children eat finger foods for lunch, which is great because it’s like they’re on a picnic!  But a thermos full of warm food is also a nice change; however, the children must be able to use a fork or spoon as we do not teach this skill at school.

Self-Regulation.  We’re always amazed at how our classes embrace practicing self-regulation strategies.  Although they might not have called it “self-regulation” before Kindergarten, many of the children we are teaching this year are used to “lying down to rest,” or “looking quietly at a book,” or “playing Lego in my room by myself” at home.  They have been taught, or developed, strategies to help them to feel calm and relaxed.

When the children started school, they understood that we were also teaching them additional ways to stay self-regulated as a class.  They recognize that the self-regulation strategies they use at home are sometimes different than the strategies we use at school because of our social situation.

When the children are calm and focused, they can pay attention and follow the teacher’s instructions.  This is especially important in the area of “obeying commands” and respecting rules and boundaries.  There are times during the day when the teacher might say “no,” “stop” or “wait” and we expect the children to respond quickly; we cannot always wait for a student to finish colouring a page or building with the blocks because we often move on to the next activity as a whole class.  Sometimes we just have to be patient, work through our frustration and delay our gratification, all important skills for self-regulation.

We have clearly established rules and routines for classroom play. Rules and routines provide security for our students because they establish boundaries around expected student behaviour, their own and others’.  Routines make the school day predictable, and may reduce some anxiety about “what will happen next.”

Our Kindergarten students love routines.  They love the routines so much that if we have a change in our day, they can appear to be troubled.  But change is important because part of their learning is that they can still be self-regulated while being flexible.

On our playground, we have specific boundaries for where the children must play during morning and lunch recess.  These rules are to ensure their safety, and they can play  where we know they can be easily seen by the playground supervisors.

The children need to respect the playground rules, as it is only through their ability to follow them that we would consider increasing those boundaries.  This year the Kindergarten is doing an outstanding job.  We just extended our students’ playground boundaries to include the forested area on our school property, a natural playground of trees, shrubs, and a shallow creek.  We take a recess time separate from the rest of the school population, and only allow the children to play there when it’s just our two classes and under our direct supervision.

Every year our classes come to understand that although we might not like the rules, we need the rules to keep us safe.   Rules are to be followed by everyone for the greater good.  When we feel safe, we are happy.  When we are happy, we are calm, relaxed and self-regulating.  Now we’re in the Green Zone:  focused, alert and ready to learn.

Thank you to our Ridgeview Principal, Mrs. Valerie Brady, and our Kindergarten teacher colleague, Lorraine Hartley, for bringing the Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid to our attention.  The Pyramid was originally used in a research study on children’s readiness for Kindergarten in the Silicon Valley.  We have modified it slightly to fit our needs at Ridgeview.

To learn more about Kindergarten Readiness, read this blog by our Ridgeview Principal.

Next week we’ll continue our reflection of the last two parts of the Kindergarten Readiness Pyramid:  Social Expression and Kindergarten Academics.

 

Self-Regulation Tool: Todd Parr Feelings Flashcards

photo 3We find the state of the dollhouse can be indicative of how we’re doing.  From the looks of things, it appears we’re having a complete overhaul.

We’re having a renovation at school right now, across the hall from one of our classrooms.  Both divisions are affected as the playground area between our two classes is filled with work trucks and a cordoned off worksite.

 

But…we’re heading into Week 2 now of the renovation, and the Kindergarten teachers’ nerves are just about frayed.

There’s nothing quite like story time with the whirring of a table saw as your background.  Or teaching the sound for “y” (the letter of the week) to the echo of rapid fire from a nail gun.  We were heading outside for PE and as we opened our back classroom door, one of the students said, “Hey, there’s four trucks out here!”  So much for bringing out the playground balls.

We think it’s time for some self-regulation….

You all might have guessed we’re huge Todd Parr fans by now.  We refer to his books often.  At a district Professional Day last year, we were introduced to the Todd Parr Feelings Flashcards by the Learning Support Team from Westcot Elementary in West Vancouver.

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We’ve been using these cards weekly with our classes as one of our HACE (Health and Career) resources.   Both sides of each card are labelled and gorgeously illustrated with a different feeling.  At the start of the year, we taught each feelings card, beginning with “happy,” “sad,” “angry” and “disappointed,” as those emotional descriptors we felt many of the children would know and already understand.

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Sometimes things happen in class; it’s a teaching and learning opportunity, so we gather together at meeting time and pull out the appropriate feelings card to generate a discussion.  We’ve talked about what it means to feel “left out” and “shy.”  The children are very serious and open about their feelings, and want to share their personal experiences about a specific emotion, particularly if we’re trying to solve a problem.  It’s important to talk about our feelings, and we connect those descriptors back to the Zones of Regulation and try to tie together how we feel with the actions we sometimes take, as a result.

With the on-going renovation this week, the teachers have made excessive use of the “calm” flashcard.  We’ve explained that exciting as it is to have a renovation at our school, it’s also frustrating for us as our environment is noisy and it’s difficult to teach. We want to feel calm; that is the optimal zone for both learning and teaching.  The children are making good suggestions for us to “down-regulate,” and bring our emotional state down from the frustrated feeling of the Yellow Zone to the calmness of the Green Zone.  We’re doing a lot of deep breathing, counting backwards from 10 and listening to quiet music, and the children are happily leading us.

The children are aware of, and beginning to articulate, their emotions while demonstrating empathy for how others feel.  They are very sophisticated in their ability to self-regulate.

We were able to order The Todd Parr Feelings Flashcards from Vancouver Kidsbooks or you can purchase them directly through Amazon.

Becoming The Self-Regulated Teacher

photo-3Much to our surprise, last Friday we passed a mini-milestone of 30 posts on this blog.

We’ve had a few friends and colleagues make comments or ask questions about The Self-Regulated Teacher such as, “It must be so much work having to think of something to write every week,” and “Where do you find the time?”  Although it’s not hard to think of ideas for writing (every day is a new adventure in the Kindergarten-there is no shortage of something to share) and time is always at a premium (we’re opportunists so we talk and write whenever we can, although we typically edit our work and post on Fridays and Sundays) we thought today we would reflect on how we started this website.

It was this time last year, at the end of April 2014, that we started thinking about how we could better communicate the wealth of information we have about the Kindergarten program to our classroom parents. The week prior we had just hosted our school’s  Welcome to Kindergarten event for all of the incoming Kindergarten students (our current group of children right now) and we were considering plans for the next school year.

We’ve talked about writing a handbook for parents since we started teaching Kindergarten nine years ago.  Although we try to cover as much ground as possible through the Curriculum Overviews and Curriculum Nights each fall, we often found ourselves rushing through our presentations and then feeling we hadn’t quite answered everybody’s questions to their satisfaction.

There is just so much information for first-time parents in the school system, and families new to Ridgeview, and Canada, to learn, digest and assimilate, particularly with the full-day Kindergarten program.  We remember ourselves how completely overwhelming it is when your children start school, and we’re teachers with the inside track!  Sometimes you just want to be able to take a little bit of information at a time, reflect, revisit, reflect again and then you can move on to the next thing.

We’re very fortunate that one of our best friends, Cari Wilson, is not only a Ridgeview Grade 7 teacher, but the West Vancouver District Innovation Support Leader (@kayakcari).  Cari had been encouraging us to switch from our hand-printed weekly classroom newsletter to an online version.  Christy and I were certain that a digital version of the Kindergarten handbook would be our chosen format.  From there the three of us decided we would actually create a Kindergarten website to house the handbook and the newsletters, and Cari would help us to build it and give us technical support until we were ready to manage it independently (sounds a lot like Kindergarten).

But what to call it?

Self-regulation is the cornerstore of our Kindergarten program at Ridgeview.  We have been using The Zones of Regulation  (2011) by Leah Kuypers for the past three years, and influenced by Stuart Shankar and his writing in Calm, Alert, and Learning (2013).  From these resources, we learned that being self-regulated ourselves, and being able to articulate our emotions to model what we were doing to self-regulate our own behaviour in class, would serve as a positive example for our students.  We would be self-regulated teachers; thus, The Self-Regulated Teacher.  It took another eight months of talking, thinking and planning before our first post.

The Self-Regulated Teacher’s primary purpose is as a resource for parents about everything to do with Kindergarten; we are very aware that we write for our intended audience, the Ridgeview Kindergarten parent group, new and seasoned.

Our Kindergarten Handbook holds all the important information about how we do things in Kindergarten at Ridgeview.  It will always be changing as we make new additions to keep it current, depending upon how each school year unfolds.

We started a blog as well to share about what’s happening in our classrooms and at school, as well as writing about the issues and topics important in Kindergarten including self-regulation, early literacy, play and social responsibility.

We inform our Ridgeview parent group that we have new posts on our blog through “Remind,” the app for teachers to remind their students and parents about classroom events and homework.  Our original intention was to have “Remind” replace the classroom newsletter but we found there were not enough characters for each “remind” to write descriptively about our classes, so that is why we write the blog.

As far as the Friday classroom newsletter is concerned, we’re still writing it on paper and will do so until the end of this school year.  We started the newsletter in September, switched to “Remind” in October, and brought it back again when our parent group told us they missed it, and we want to honour their feedback and appreciation.

We are thrilled to be able to share our teaching and classroom experience on The Self-Regulated Teacher as a result of today’s technology.  Through social media and the support of others, we’ve been able to reach farther afield beyond that of our parent group to include teaching colleagues, teacher candidates, administrators and other interested parents.  We are delighted and so appreciative to those of you who have happened to stop by.

Self-Regulation Tool: The Breathing Ball

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We have a lot going on right now so we’re taking our own advice and having a self-regulatory moment…..

This little beauty came to us from one of our amazing school counselors.  Although it’s called the “Hoberman Sphere,” we call it the “breathing ball” in class.  We ordered it from amazon.ca.

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We try to use the breathing ball everyday, as deep breathing is a strategy we practice as part of our self-regulation to help us stay calm and focused.  The breathing ball is just a means by which to show the children an interesting visual to get them focused on their breath.

We talk a lot about deep breathing and how it can calm us.  It’s important to us that we are providing the children with strategies they can use outside of the classroom, and deep breathing is definitely the best:  you always have it with you.

We often find ourselves deep breathing for self-regulation:  while driving, shopping at busy times of the day, or simply to bring ourselves back to the “patience zone” when dealing with a tricky situation at school.

In class, we begin with sitting cross-legged, palms facing up or down, and focusing on the ball.  We always breathe in through our nose, then gently release our breath through our mouth.  As we’ve improved, we now ask the children to hold their breath for one or two seconds, then to breathe out softly.  “Holding our breath” is to help train ourselves, and our brains, to focus on just that one thing.

photo%203[1]As we breathe in, we expand the breathing ball, and as we breathe out, we collapse it.

We usually deep breathe three times, and it really does make a difference to the reduction of energy in the class.  We feel centred, calm and ready to go on with learning.

Please excuse us, while we get back to focusing on our breath….

Popcorn Day and the Marshmallow Test

photo-4Many of you will be now be aware through the media of the “Marshmallow Test”
where a young child is offered a marshmallow to eat. However, if he or she can wait for a certain amount of time (up to 20 minutes), a second marshmallow will be given. It seems our ability to wait and delay instant gratification may be an indicator of faring better in life.

Well, we’ve not administered the “Marshmallow Test” at school, but how about Popcorn Day?

We’ve had two Popcorn Days now since September to support our Grade Seven Year End Activities.

For the first popcorn sale, we collected the children’s money and purchased the popcorn bags ahead of the school sale. Those bags smelled delicious as they sat in a large tray in the classroom while we ate our lunch. The children’s lunch conversation definitely focused on how good the popcorn smelled!

A few children asked if they could have their popcorn with their lunch, but we said to wait until snack time (about 2 pm) in the afternoon. We explained that we wanted them to eat their lunch now, and we didn’t want popcorn dropped all over the classroom floor. We told the children we would enjoy our popcorn so much more if we waited for just a little while longer, and that for a treat we would eat it outside. On their way out to lunch recess, we had a couple more requests for popcorn but we gave the same answer–we would wait until snack time.

At 2 pm we all went outside, sat in the sunshine and thoroughly enjoyed eating our popcorn. Many of the children patiently ate their entire bag; others ate about half and saved the rest to take home. The Kindergarten children had delayed their gratification, for actually quite a long time, and were very accepting of our reasonable explanation.

For the second popcorn sale we did the same thing. We made an advanced purchase and again, the popcorn sat in the classroom during the lunch hour. We reminded the children that we would eat it in the afternoon. We tried to build a little anticipation around the idea of sitting outside on the playground, enjoying the company of our friends and eating our popcorn, and of how much fun that would be. The children left for lunch recess and not one child made a mention of popcorn until we announced it was time to eat!

We would certainly say that waiting, waiting for their turn to talk, waiting to go to a favourite centre, waiting for an activity later in the day, is a skill well practiced by the children.

In Kindergarten, we describe being patient as, “waiting without complaining.” Teaching and practising self-regulation strategies as we do, so the children are a) aware of their emotional state and b) know how to calm themselves or down-regulate, is why they are so calm and patient in class and in this case, able to delay eating their popcorn.

So if Popcorn Day is an indicator of future success, we’d say the Kindergarten group is well on their way.

Now, isn’t it about time for some popcorn? The next Popcorn Sale is Friday, January 30. $1 a bag.