Monday, August 25, 2014

Is Your Child in a Great Classroom?

In the video that arrived on my Facebook page the other day Big Foot sways to the music, leaps in the air and chuckles in delight.  The head line reads, “How parents feel when their kids go back to school.” But sometimes along with the relief of returning to a routine comes the angst of whether or not your child is in a good classroom.

The answer to this question is available to you through your senses.   

Listen carefully.  

It’s the hum of voices that strikes you first in a quality classroom.  Children are busy, focused on their projects.  No child is an “outsider,” wondering aimlessly about the room.    Heads nearly touch as groups of three and four figure out a task.  One child offers a suggestion, while another voices disagreement; voices rise for a moment yet no argument breaks out thanks to a teacher keenly tuned in to what is happening in her classroom.  With the first note of intensity she nonchalantly steps toward the group.  They look toward her confident in the knowledge she’s coming to help them.  She asks a few questions, offers hints, exclaims over their discoveries, and listens to their explanations.  Her support and guidance allow the children to solve the problem, and celebrate their success with a round of “high fives.”

During group time the children draw close to the teacher, except for two.  One is on the outskirts of the group lying on the floor not disrupting in any way.   

You’ll see her need for space is recognized and allowed.

Another is playing with a gadget looking up every few seconds as the teacher turns the pages of her book.  It’s apparent he’s listening, and since he is in no way disturbing the group, there is no reprimand.  

But then he crosses the line.  He adds a “motor” to the gadget, his voice rising to a roar.  All heads turn toward him.  The teacher motions him to join her.  Wraps an arm around him, draws him to her, and whispers in his ear offering him a choice to join the group, or take a break.  He chooses to set down his gadget and sit next to her chair.  She goes on.  No shouts, threats, shaming or berating occurred.  The lines were clear; respectfully and confidently enforced.  

If we turned this vision into a check list here are 8 elements you will want to see, hear, and feel in a GREAT classroom.

Joy:  Teachers, children, staff members, and parents visiting the school are happy.  Giggles season the conversations.  

Calm:  Your “gut” relaxes the minute you step in the door.  No sudden clinches or flips of your stomach, tightening of the neck muscles, shoulders suddenly shooting up to hang from your earlobes, or eyes widening.  Instead you find yourself relaxing, and drawn to enter.  You WANT to be part of this.  There is no inner warning system shouting, “Flee, while you can!”  

Cherished:  Images of the children’s home lives, cultures and interests splash across the walls adding color and a clear message; all are welcome here.  Children are called by name.  Questions about the new puppy, baby, or grandma’s illness quickly clue you in; the adults know these children.  

Understood:  Warm hugs, gentle touch, and listening ears are the “band aides” for tears, and even angry shouts.  No shaming, or demands to “STOP IT!”   

Respected:  Real conversations occur.  Children’s opinions and ideas are valued.  When a child answers a teacher’s question with a “left field” response, it’s not met with a scornful declaration, “We are not talking about that right now!”  Instead there is recognition and respectful re-direction. “Oh, you had a different idea, and I want to talk with you about that later.”  

Knowledgeable:  Children are excited to tell you what they are learning, know why they are learning it, and in what ways it is important to them.  

Safe: Expectations are clear, simple, consistent, and visible.  An approaching adult is viewed as someone coming to help, not as a threat. Children know what is appropriate behavior, and have been intentionally taught effective strategies to resolve conflicts.  You are not surprised when you hear one child demand to another, “You have to share!”  But rather than war breaking out the other child responds.   “Well that’s one idea, why don’t we trade instead?”

Excited:  Materials are stimulating, activities diverse, and instruction is presented visually, verbally, and physically.  Models and demonstrations are abundant.  No matter what a child’s learning style is there is something for him.  

When you find a classroom that looks, feels and sounds like this there is no doubt you have found a GREAT one!

Of course not every classroom is a “ten.”  Some are mediocre not wonderful, but not too bad.  And then of course there are a few that are downright awful.   Next time we’ll address the important life lessons your child can learn when he lands in a mediocre classroom.  We will follow up that with how to know when it’s time to step-in, and make a change.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Is Your Child “Showing You” He’s Stressed about Going Back to School?

How does your child tell you, he’s freaking out about going back to school?  
Some kids make it pretty obvious, but others are a bit more subtle.

Instead of communicating their anxiety verbally, they show it, with behaviors that are annoying and sometimes downright challenging.  It’s easy to miss the connection.  But think about it.

  • Is your son suddenly refusing to do things he was perfectly capable of doing yesterday?  Like going upstairs by himself?  But now is insisting you go with him?  

  • Or, has your daughter suddenly lost the ability to dress herself?  

  • Could you previously walk out the door with the kids barely looking up from their play to say goodbye, but now they’re dashing after you, begging, “Don’t leave me!”  

It’s easy to get caught in the flames of misbehavior.  But discovering the real fuel source is essential for stopping those behaviors.  This time of the year, that “fuel” source is often stress about starting school.  So what behaviors might you see?

Signs of Stress:  

  • Any abrupt change in behavior – and  not for the better
  • Difficulty falling asleep 
  • Suddenly waking in the night and struggling to go back to sleep 
  • Inability to settle or sit still 
  • Not eating 
  • Increased irritability – nothing is “right” 
  • Inability to make decisions 
  • Uptick in frequency and intensity of arguments with siblings and you 
  • Pestering pets
  • Clingy 
  • Unexpected appearance of separation anxiety 
  • Refusal to do things capable of doing – demanding help dressing, eating, walking, falling asleep 
  • Meltdowns over seemingly insignificant things
  • Aggressive 
  • Crabby 
  • Always “hot” 
Every child is different, but your child probably has a few “predictable stress behaviors.”  When you see them, do not get “caught” in the “flames.”  Recognize that the true fuel source is fear and anxiety.  Provide extra support and a gentle nudge and they will get through it.  Here are some tested strategies to ease the way.

Strategies that make it better:  

  • Avoid ignoring emotions or behaviors.  Talk about what you see, hear or feel.  
    • “I see you are not hungry today.  What’s up?  Are you worried about starting school?” 
  • Ask what frightens them about beginning school.  The answers may surprise you.  
    • When Lynn asked the children at Paidea this question their responses included; being sent to the principal’s office, not knowing where the bathroom was or who they would sit with at lunch. Once you understand what’s making them anxious, you can be “problem solvers.” 
  • Visit the school BEFORE classes begin.  
    • Meet the teacher.  Find the locker, lunchroom, bathroom and your child’s desk.  
    • Ask who is in the class so your child knows if he already has a friend in the same room.  
  • Practice walking from the drop-off area into the school.  
    • This can be a frightening experience for slow to warm children.  An opportunity to practice privately makes it much easier on the big day. 
  • Get them on a sleep schedule now, that fits the fall routine.  
    • Dragging a child out of bed, an hour earlier than he’s been rising all summer is not the way to start a new school year.  Sleep deprivation fuels anxiety.  
  • Organize a homework, backpack and dressing space at home.  
  • Find out what the schedule will be at school and make a picture plan so your child knows what to expect. 
  • Be proactive.  
    • Recognize this is a stressful time.  When you are at home, before leaving a room, stop and ask your child if she wants to stay and play or come with you.  If she chooses to come with you, stop and wait for her, and say, “Okay, but soon you’ll be ready to just play, because mom/dad always come back.  
    • The same is true for dressing.  BEFORE your child insists that you help him, ask, “Is today a day you would like help dressing?”  Again, if he says, “yes,”  Respond, “Okay, but, probably tomorrow you’ll be ready to do it yourself again.”  This meets your child’s needs yet gently nudge shim forward, with the expectation that soon, this will be old hat!  

Let us know how it goes!

Next time we’ll explore what you will see, hear and feel in a “good classroom.”