The Self-Regulated Teacher’s Top 5 Most Read Posts for Term Two, January-March 2016

IMG_0728We’ve just finished the first week of our spring break, and have taken some time to get caught up on household duties, skiing, concerts, shopping, and future blog post ideas and scheduling.

But it also reminded us it’s the end of Term Two for our classes, and as usual we like to wrap it up with a summary and links to our top 5 most read posts in case you missed them.

IMG_1854Our Kindergarten Classroom Routines

Although teachers typically establish classroom routines in September, we’ve learned over the years that teaching routines is not something that can be done once and never referred to again.  Routines of any kind, for our students and ourselves as adults, need to be practiced and reinforced over and over to become a good habit and part of the natural way we do things.  So it is every autumn that we begin teaching routines to our new Kindergarten students on the first day of the Gradual Entry Program.  Routines provide calm and comfort for the children, particularly for transitions between activities.  The children have a sense of safety and security when they know what is expected not only of them, but their classmates as well.

IMG_2478Math, the Kindergarten Way

We wrote this blog last April and we’re excited that it continues to remain informative for parents and teachers.  We’re still faithful to the basic principles of Math Their Way even after many years of teaching, a variety of new programs and new directions.  Math Their Way is just right for young children:  it is a manipulative based math program that focuses on developing a deep understanding of math concepts at the concrete (manipulative) level before the children start to make the connections between the concrete and abstract.  Every math unit we plan, from Patterning, to Sorting and Classifying, Number and Geometry and Measurement, begins with the manipulatives and planned time for the children to explore over a number of days before we begin direct instruction.

BreathingBallSelf-Regulation Tool:  The Breathing Ball

This little blog on the Breathing Ball (aka the Hoberman Sphere) has been visited often since we originally posted it in February 2015 .  We continue to use the Breathing Ball daily, either after the morning or lunch recess, to provide an important visual for our students for the deep breathing practise that we take so seriously in the Kindergarten.  Our dear SEA who retired last year always said to the children, “your breath is your friend.”  When we are out and about, in a hallway line-up to enter the gym for an assembly, waiting for our turn to perform at the Christmas Concert or anticipating a special snack, we turn to our “friend” and breathe deeply and calmly to help us focus so that we are always relaxed and ready to receive whatever the day is about to bring to us.

IMG_2474Understanding Phonological Awareness as Part of a Balanced Approach to Reading Instruction

A significant part of our Kindergarten program is to build upon the children’s phonological awareness, which has been developing since they were young.  In our school district we assess our students’ early literacy skills at the end of January, such as alphabet names and sounds, initial and final sounds of words and segmenting and blending skills, with a follow-up assessment in late spring.  For us, planning a balanced approach to reading instruction includes developing phonemic awareness and phonics instruction, along with the songs, rhymes and poems, read-aloud stories, environmental print, shared reading and independent reading opportunities that are a part of a rich, oral language experience.

IMG_2584Setting Up the Self-Regulated Classroom

This year we made some significant changes to the physical arrangement of our classrooms based upon suggestions from Stuart Shankar (@StuartShankar) in his book Calm, Alert and learning:  Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation.  From increasing our use of natural light, soft wall colours, uniform organisation of materials and noise reduction strategies, we are better able to support our students’ self regulation through the creation of a calm and peaceful learning space.

 

The Self-Regulated Teacher’s Top 5 Most Read Posts for Term One, September-December 2015

Beautiful shadows on a beautiful late autumn day!

Beautiful shadows on a beautiful late autumn day!

Well, time has flown by again.  Who can believe we are already finished the first term of the school year and now we’re in the countdown to Christmas?

Today marks the 80th post for theselfregulateacher.com and as we do at the end of every term, we highlight the top five most read posts (according to our WordPress.com stats) for you to read in case you missed them!

Setting Up the Self-Regulated Classroom

We decided to make further changes in setting up our classrooms this past September, to better support the children’s self-regulation.  We started with reviewing Stuart Shankar’s Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation to consider what distractors and stimuli could be changed or removed to enhance a calm and peaceful classroom environment.  We made purposeful wall colour choices (ocean blues and forest greens), increased the natural light, considered other attractive lighting options (pretty lamps) and new storage containers (all matching) for a more pleasing visual appearance.  Click here for the full version.

Our Kindergarten Classroom Routines

Classroom routines are extremely important in the day-to-day running of the classroom.  Let’s face it:  we all want to have fun at school whether we are the teacher or the students, and classroom routines help us to make it so.  The children feel safe and secure in their classroom, and with their teacher and classmates, when they know the expectations.  They know they can explore, play and learn within the established boundaries.  As teachers we create the routines every year for the students;  we know based on our own teacher training, and professional and personal (we’re parents, too) experience, what children in this particular age group can do independently, and what they can learn successfully with teaching and practise.  Click here for the full version.

Self-Regulation Resources

It’s exciting that our link to self-regulation resources has been visited many times, as that means more of us are thinking about self-regulation and how we can support our students.  We have a list of self-regulation sites for you, in addition to links to self-regulation tools we use ourselves in the classroom, and curriculums to consider.  We update this page on our site about once a term so check in regularly. Click here for the full version.

About Us

Christy and I are long-time teachers in the West Vancouver School District and have dedicated our professional lives to teaching primary-aged children.  We’ve been friends and colleagues for many years.  I was teaching Grade 3 at Chartwell Elementary in 1994 when Christy was hired there to teach Kindergarten, having just completed her student teaching right here at Ridgeview.  We became Buddy teachers and I also acted as a teacher mentor for Christy as she was a beginning teacher.  Today, congratulations are in order for Christy as she was honoured in September for having completed 20 years of teaching in West Van!  You can read more about us Our Story:  Becoming the Self-Regulated Teacher.  Click here for the full version.

Self-Regulation Tool:  The Breathing Ball

We’ve been using the “breathing ball” for over a year now, and continue to find it a useful tool to practise deep breathing with our classes.  We introduce it quite early in the school year and like most things we do, we incorporate it into a routine.  This year, we try to use the breathing ball daily after the lunch recess.  We expect the children to walk quietly to the meeting area in the classroom; they sit down on the carpet and we practise deep breathing with the breathing ball as a visual aid before we read our afternoon story.  Although it takes time and thought to set up, and persistence to shape each routine, teaching and practising strategies is a necessary building block to helping children develop self-regulation.  Click here for the full version.

Self-Regulation Tool: Frog’s Breathtaking Speech

IMG_2088The days are flying by right now.  From our Hallowe’en Centres Party and the Hallowe’en Assembly, we went straight to Remembrance Day activities and the Remembrance Day Assembly.  Although we’re going to be starting our theme on “Bears” for the next few weeks, we’ve already started planning ahead to Christmas which is going to be here in no time at all.

In between times we’re continuing with our Alphabet letter of the week (sound/symbol relationship and correct letter formation), writing pages for our class big books, and working on phonological awareness skills (phonemic awareness, syllable awareness, rhyme awareness, word awareness and sentence awareness).

We’ve seen our Buddies for seasonal craft-making and to start putting our Kindergarten scrapbooks together for our children’s special momentos of some of the best work they will have completed this year.

And in math, we are having a lot of fun with sorting and classifying, counting sets to 10 and we’re always working on the new pattern for each month (November is ABC) and being attentive to where we might see that pattern in everyday life.

Wow, we’ve been busy.  We think it’s time for a self-regulatory moment and a Crocodile breath.

Here is a gorgeous book we want to share with you about breathing. Thank you to our Kindergarten teaching partner, Charity Cantlie, for bringing it to our attention!

FullSizeRender-6Frog’s Breathing Speech:  How Children (and Frogs) Can Use Yoga Breathing to Deal with Anxiety, Anger and Tension by Michael Chissick and Sarah Peacock, is a beautifully written book that tells the story of Frog, who must give a speech about breathing to his class.  He knows nothing about breathing, and so asks his friends for help. Crocodile, Lion, Humming Bee and Mr.Gumble the Woodchopper all explain how they use their breath for specific situations (calming, tension, headache, anger), what they do and why their breathing strategy works for them.  Frog becomes less scared as his friends teach him about breathing and of course, after reflecting and choosing the appropriate technique for his situation, he gives an excellent speech at school the next day.

We don’t want to give away the whole book, but as a brief example, Crocodile shows Frog how he breathes:  “I breathe IN through my nose, Then I breathe OUT through my nose.”  We love how he explains that this technique of breathing is for calming, and that if we are feeling “worried, anxious or even frightened about something, this way of breathing will help you deal with it better.”  The colourful illustrations show how the animals’ posture for breathing.

The author has also included a lot more valuable information about how to use the book in your teaching, including the postures and breathing techniques for the children.

Breathing is a very important self-regulation strategy we use daily in our classrooms.  We have a designated time, immediately after recess, where we intentionally practise our breathing.  Our routine has the children enter the classroom quietly and we meditate to quiet music.  Many children instinctively know to sit cross legged, spine straight, eyes closed and their palms on their knees.  Following the music we begin the core practise and we lead the children through a deep breathing sequence, being mindful of our breath, gently pushing sounds away, to listen to ourselves breathe.

In the afternoon, before we have a read aloud story, we deliberately practise our breathing again, using the breathing ball  (which we think is best suited for the Crocodile and Humming Bee breathing techniques).

We are going to start teaching the breathing techniques of Frog’s friends in the upcoming weeks.  We’re ready to deepen our learning and understanding of breathing so the children can continue adding to their toolkit of self-regulation strategies that work for them.

We would like to thank our Principal, Valerie Brady, for kindly purchasing this book (and others to be shared in a future post) for each of our classrooms.

For more on this book and others, visit http://www.yogaatschool.org.uk.

 

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!