How do you find “peace” in recess?

This year, I enrolled in the Foundations In Self-Regulation Course through The Mehrit Centre. The incredible discussions that are part of this course have me seeing almost everything through a self-regulation lens. It was actually with this course in mind that I’ve been thinking a lot about recess lately. As a Kindergarten teacher this year, all of my duties are outside in the Kindergarten “pen.” Depending on the time, there are two or three Kindergarten classes outside in this shared space, and usually this area is also full of bicycles, scooters, balls, Hula Hoops, a play structure, and multiple types of tag games. I realized today just how stressed I feel during this duty time. It’s almost like I’m on sensory overload.

  • There’s lots of bright-coloured equipment.
  • There’s tons of noise.
  • Space is restricted.
  • There’s lots of movement, but all in a confined area.

I know that outdoor areas and physical activities can help many students and adults self-regulate. I see the value in this movement for so many of my students, and many of them love recess for this very reason. But for me, recess time is a very dysregulating activity.

  • I don’t know where to look. 
  • I become overwhelmed in deciding what to listen to.
  • I find myself searching for a small space away from the action, so that I can really see and process everything.
  • I take a lot of deep breaths because breathing helps calm me.

I’m an adult. I’m an educator. At this moment in time though, I feel like the struggling student, and I wonder, am I alone? I look for the child that might be acting out. I look for the child that might be seeking out the same quiet area that I am. I search for the child that is struggling. I think, how can we help this child? I’d love to hear what you do. I can’t help but wonder if the answers to this question might help make for a more peaceful recess for everyone. What do you think


What will they remember?

The other day as I was leaving the school, two of my former students came running up to me. They were eagerly chatting to me about Grade 2, and then they started talking about some of their favourite memories of Grade 1. One child said, “Remember Miss Dunsiger when we made the dinosaur world.” Another child replied, “Oh, you mean Jurassic World?” Then they went on and on about what they learned.

  • They spoke about how the environment helped the dinosaurs get food and stay safe. “I remember how we made caves for the dinosaurs to hide in, and high and low areas, for those that could fly and those that couldn’t.”
  • They spoke about their math and science learning. “Remember when we figured out that the sun had to be bigger than everything else, and we worked together to make the sun stay in the sky? Mr. Smith even helped us out!”
  • They spoke about the different types of dinosaurs. “Remember when we learned about that dinosaur that was even bigger than the T-Rex? We read and wrote so much about dinosaurs. We even taught the Kindergarteners about them!”
  • They spoke about the Grade 7 student that came in to teach us about dinosaurs. “I remember when he made those slideshows, and even asked us trivia questions. He also taught us how to make plasticine dinosaurs. He was so good! The next day, we made so many of our own.”


It was incredible just listening to their excited chatter! I couldn’t believe how much they remembered, even so many months later. This discussion reminded me of these important points.

  • Learning has to be meaningful for students. Jurassic World evolved from student interest, and still connected, meaningfully, with curriculum expectations.
  • Relationships matter. The students remembered the connections that they made with people as well as the content learned. Maybe these connections even helped them remember the content more.
  • There’s value in “enjoyable learning.” I have yet to have a child remember a worksheet or a textbook question. These inquiry-based, student-initiated projects, are often what they remember. Is this something that we should think about more?
  • Thinking matters. This dinosaur project had the students thinking a lot. They were constantly solving problems, modifying plans, researching more, reflecting on the information they learned, and making connections to other classroom learning. The more they thought, the more they seemed to remember … and it’s clear now, that this was not just remembered at the time, but also into the future.

These students made me wonder, what will my students from this year remember? What would I hope that they do? Maybe doing some thinking about the answers to these questions has value for us as we plan ahead. What do you think?


Eek! Going Public With My Plan!

This is a blog post that I’ve been thinking about writing for a very long time. I think it’s a scary post for me to publish because once I share my plan, I’m truly committed to it, and what if I’m wrong? I know that I’ve been wrong before, but this is a very public way of possibly making a big mistake, but then again, it’s also a way of having the support to hopefully meet with success. 

Contrary to how things might usually be done, I’m going to share a bit about myself before I share my plan. 

  • This is my fifteenth year teaching for the Hamilton-Wentworth District School BoardI’ve wanted to teach since I was a little girl, and I worked hard to meet this goal.
  • I’m definitely a “curriculum geek.” I read curriculum documents every summer, and I know the expectations well. I look for overlaps between expectations, and when I plan, I do so with the expectations in mind.
  • I love data! I pay attention to numbers. I track student growth, and when students are not progressing well, I ask a lot of questions, try different strategies, and attempt to find ones that help them meet with success.
  • More than anything else, I care about kids! I may not have my own biological children, but I have 23 children that I care about just as much. When they struggle, I struggle, and when they succeed, I couldn’t be happier. 

It’s for this last reason, that I’ve considered this new plan of mine. This year, social skills, problem solving skills, and self-regulation are going to be the three big areas that I focus on first. This doesn’t mean that I’m ignoring the academic areas. As students play, we find lots of opportunities to develop oral language skills (and phonemic awareness skills), provide meaningful reasons to read and write (for those students that are ready to do so), introduce and reinforce math concepts, explore science areas, develop fine motor and gross motor skills, and learn and share through The Arts. But, many of the conversations that my partner and I have with the children first, involve …

  • learning how to take turns.
  • learning words we can use to express our feelings.
  • persevering through difficult tasks.
  • taking responsibility (in numerous ways).
  • learning how to safely take risks, and if/when to ask for help.
  • finding ways to up- or down-regulate, so that we can be “calm” enough to learn.
  • learning how to soothe ourselves when we feel upset.
  • learning how to recognize important signals in our body (from hunger to the need to go to the bathroom), and how we can respond to each of them.
  • learning that what works for one person, may not work for everyone, and that’s okay.
  • learning what works best for us, and using these strategies independently to meet with success.

All of this, leads to my big wonder. I wonder, if by putting social skills, problem solving skills, and self-regulation, before academics, if I will ultimately see greater gains in these academic areas, as students will develop the skills necessary to be independent learners. Our play-based learning environment, also provides many opportunities for developing oral language skills, including phonemic awareness and vocabulary skills, and both of these impact on reading success. Will this plan work? I really hope that by meeting students where they’re at, targeting the instruction to all of the different students based on their strengths and needs, modelling and instructing primarily in small groups, and continuing to track progress, re-evaluate needs, and make changes, the data will show significant growth. So often reading, writing, and/or math benchmarks drive instruction, but maybe to see progress in these areas, we first have to look even more closely at the learning skills that actually have the biggest section for comments on all of our report cards. What do you think? 


What’s the value in a smile?

I had an experience yesterday morning, which I found myself thinking about a lot last night.


The truth is, sometimes I feel sad. Sometimes I feel angry or frustrated. Sometimes I wish I handled situations differently than I did. I have asked for, and taken, many do-overs. 

There are times at school that I might cry. There are other times that I feel like a good scream might help. But when I’m in the hallways, when I’m outside on the playground, and when I’m in the classroom, I try to smile, laugh, and enjoy myself … and on Friday, I realized just how much this matters. I’m going to regularly think back on this conversation, and try to find even more reasons to smile, as you never know what your happy face may be saying to somebody else. I believe in the words that I shared yesterday morning: school is a wonderful place to be! How do we help everyone truly enjoy the school experience? Monday is coming up soon enough. Will you be smiling? I will be. Join me!


How Do You Respond To Tears?

Just over a week ago, Stuart Shanker tweeted this post about tears and letting children cry. Since initially reading the post and then discussing it in our Foundations In Self-Regulation Course, I’ve been back to re-read this post many times. I totally understand what the author is saying, and I can relate. When I’m feeling really stressed, I often cry. I can’t help myself. The tears just come. As an adult, I’ve struggled with tears. On the one hand, releasing my feelings in this way, helps. I often feel better after crying, and I can then put the problem into perspective and work towards solving it. On the other hand, I feel badly about crying. I’m a grown-up. I’m a teacher. I should be able to solve my problems without tears. Why do I think this way? Are tears a sign of weakness? 

As somebody that’s certainly shed many tears in my life, you’d think that I would be very accepting of crying in the classroom, but the truth is, I struggle with it. The classroom environment can seem so calm, and then, all of a sudden, there’s a piercing scream, and you can hear the crying start. The crying’s loud. It’s constant. And I can feel my own stress level increase. I want to say, “Stop.” I want to say, “Use your words.” I want to say, “Tears won’t solve the problem.” But then I read this article and what the crying may mean, and I can’t respond in this way. 

It was with this article in mind, that I did something differently the other day. I was working with a group of students over on the big carpet, when I heard the crying start. I looked over, and near the paint table was a student, standing there, with big alligator tears streaming down her face. I walked over to her, and she was trying to talk, but it was difficult to make out the words in the midst of the tears. That’s when I thought of a solution that a fellow teacher in Shanker’s course shared with me. I took this child’s hand, and together, we walked over to our quiet corner. I handed her a big stuffed penguin — her favourite animal — and she took it and cuddled it tight. Then she lay down on one of the big pillows and closed her eyes. I watched her. She held that penguin and fell asleep. She didn’t sleep for long — about 20 minutes at most — but when she woke up, she walked over to me, and said, “I fell asleep. I was crying. I feel better now.” With that, she went off to play, and those were the end of her tears for the day.

Maybe the crying soothed her. Maybe she needed a nap. Maybe she just needed an opportunity to reset and start again. All I know is that this was not the first time that this child has cried before, and usually, I’ve responded differently. I’ve encouraged her to “stop crying.” I’ve tried to get her to “use her words.” And no matter, what I’ve said or done, the tears have continued, and often for a while. The tears stopped the other day though, and within a couple of minutes. The student soothed herself. I can’t help but wonder if this student maybe needed some quiet time most of all. 

Crying may still sometimes put me on edge. Maybe it’s because I hate seeing a student so upset. Maybe it’s because this response triggers in me my own experiences with tears. Maybe it’s because, in a Kindergarten classroom, crying tends to breed more crying, and as one educator, I sometimes wonder how I can manage multiple sad students. I’m hoping though that I can think back to what happened the other day, and how a soft animal and some space, helped a child when she needed it most. How do you respond to tears? Why do you make the decisions that you do? Sometimes, I wonder if we could all do with a good cry.


Thanking My Class Of “Teachers!”

In our classroom, we have two tires. I initially got them back before reorganization because students were interested in items that moved, and I thought that the tires might further inspire this inquiry. Students explored them for a couple of days, and then ignored them. That was when my partner at the time suggested putting cushions on top of them and having them as seating areas. Fantastic! They looked so pretty with a plump, round cushion filling up the centre hole. Then our classes were reorganized, and I thought that the new students were going to love these places to sit.

On the second day in the new classroom, one student took off one of the cushions, picked up the tire, and started rolling it around the room. “Hey, wait a minute! He can’t do that!” Or that’s at least those were the thoughts that went through my mind at the time. I asked him to put the tire back. It was for sitting. He did put it back, but then, a couple of days later, the child picked up the tire again. Okay, I was going to have to ask him to stop for the second time … and I did. This was just a couple of days before my new partner started her job.

When she came into the room, she saw the tires and said, “Fantastic! The kids are going to love those. They can roll them, and even bounce on them like a trampoline.” What? Bounce on them? Won’t they get hurt? Aren’t these supposed to be for sitting? I shared these questions with her, and she assured me that the children would be fine. Tires could actually be great to help them self-regulate. There were opportunities for pushing, pulling, and heavy lifting. Okay, I was going to have to “belly breathe” and let the children move the tires. 

I didn’t say anything, but a couple of days later, this student started rolling the tire again. I just watched to see what he would do. Pretty soon, he had another student rolling the second tire. Then a third student wanted to join in. There was no tire left to roll though. Now what? The students then set-up a game, where they rolled the tire back and forth to each other. They needed to push hard enough to make the tire roll, and the second student needed to be prepared to stop the tire and roll it back. This was just the start of the tire exploration. Pretty soon, we had …

    • students filling up the tires with toys and rolling them back and forth to make music. They were almost like giant rain sticks.

    • students sitting in the tires and tapping on them to make a “tire drum.”
    • students rolling tires, dropping them down, picking them up, and starting again.
    • students balancing on the tires.


    • students gently bouncing on the tires like a trampoline.

    • students jumping in and out of tires for their own DPA (Daily Physical Activity).

    • students sitting in stacked tires for a calming place to self-regulate. 


This tire experience has been a good reminder for me that sometimes we need to “feel uncomfortable” in order to meet children’s needs. Back at the beginning of the year, I may have worried that letting students do something like this would eventually just lead to problems. Even if a moving a tire helps you self-regulate, you can’t have an adult moving tires around his/her workplace. But then I saw this TEDx video shared by The Mehrit Centre, and I learned that the options that students use now will shift to more socially appropriate ones as they grow up.

We all self-regulate, and maybe something as simple as a tire can help the children do just that. And so today, I think about a blog post that I read the other night by Kristi Keery-Bishop. Her challenge to us is to bring a little happiness to November by “thanking a teacher” (#thankateacher). These tire experiences made me realize that I have a couple of very special teachers to thank: my fantastic partner, Nayer, who made me see “tires” differently, and my wonderful class of 23 little “teachers” (students) that showed me all of the creative ways that this one object can be used to help them learn. Yes, sometimes I still see a child pick up the tire and internally cringe, but then I see what that child does with it and I smile. Please join me in thanking the many “teachers” that have made an impact on you … remembering that there are so many people who can “teach” us something new!


How do you give up control?

Something interesting happened at school this week. Back at the beginning of September, Andrew Campbell introduced me (through Twitter) to another Kindergarten teacher, Kara Fowlie. Kara shared this wonderful activity that she did with her class: they hung different kitchen materials on the fence to make an outdoor music area.


Our students love music, so we were very excited to give this a try. My partner brought in all of her old pots and pans from home. I went to Dollarama and purchased a ton of different kitchen materials that would create different sounds (from plastic items to metal ones), a couple of closet racks for the fence, and almost a thousand zip ties. (We weren’t sure if we could leave these closet organizers up permanently on the fence, so we wanted to be able to take them down and replace them each day.) This was going to be fabulous!

Yesterday, we went outside early to hang the items with the students and create this musical space together. We pulled out our large container of items, and the students gathered around my partner as she showed them how to hang the items on the fence. There was just one problem: they weren’t interested in hanging them on the fence.

  • The students wanted to move around with the items.
  • They wanted to use the materials together … not individually with sticks as we had planned. 
  • They wanted to wear the items … using them creatively as they did so. 
  • Some of the students didn’t even want to use these items for music. They saw other uses for them, and quickly used them to create a slide game and to “make a pizza” outside.

2015-11-03_20-23-11 2015-11-03_20-23-23

At the time when this happened yesterday, I almost felt a bit disappointed: we had a plan. Maybe we could have forced students to go with our plan. Maybe they would have liked it. That’s when we started to wonder though, why do the items need to hung on the fence? Yesterday, the students were still meaningfully exploring The Arts and their interests. They were collaborating and problem solving. We may have a thousand unused zip ties, but maybe they can be used in another way this year: in Visual Arts or measurement to name just a couple of thoughts. 

As I think back on yesterday, I realize that as teachers, we like “control.” Over the past couple of years, I’ve become better at giving up control, but when I have an idea — a great plan — it is a struggle for me when things change. I try to talk myself through what really matters and why, and often that means letting go and making changes to my original plan. This isn’t always easy, but it is valuable. How do you give up “control?” What are the benefits and/or drawbacks in doing so? I’ve been questioned before about “children needing to learn how to follow instructions,” and that we’re “creating future problems for students because we expect less.” I wonder though, am I “expecting less?” Who’s to say that my idea is better than theirs? I’m not so sure that it isWhat do you think, and what would you do?


How Do We Celebrate The Holidays?

For those that know me, it’s not a big surprise that I’m not a big fan of Halloween. In fact, the last time I taught Kindergarten, I used to plan a field trip to the pumpkin patch on Halloween Day to avoid the craziness of having a party. Some might argue that I’m a Halloween Humbug (or maybe just a Grinch, with no chance of having her Halloween heart grow). :) I get it! Last night though, I engaged in a marvellous Twitter chat with fellow educators Christie, Laurel, Laurie, and Beth. Our conversation stemmed from a tweet that Kristi Keery-Bishop sent out after school that made all of us reflect.

This morning, Kristi sent me this tweet that I think summed everything up.


Last night’s discussion and Kristi’s tweet makes me wonder, what are we doing about those people that are intent on “just surviving the day?” (These people can be both children and adults.)

On a special celebration day, it’s interesting to have a look at who’s in the office. Usually our neediest students are having a difficult day. The routine is different. Some students enjoy the more relaxed environment, but others find it stressful. How do we help them self-regulate? It’s not that I think that we should cancel all of these special days, as there’s also value in learning how to deal with challenges and unstructured times. But not all students know how to do this on their own … then what?

  • Maybe they need a choice of activities to do.
  • Maybe they need a quiet area where they can re-group.
  • Maybe they need some additional outside time. (I noticed that going outside and engaging in gross motor activities helped many of my students self-regulate yesterday.)
  • Maybe they need some independent activity options.
  • Maybe they need some partner or small group learning options to help if full-class activities become too overwhelming.
  • Maybe they just need us to understand that it is a difficult day, and if they respond as such, a quiet talk and some time to begin again may be what they need most.

Just like with children, while some adults love Halloween, others dread the holiday. Yes, we’re older and we should be able to self-regulate better than children, but when we’re stressed, that can be hard. Even when attempting to remain calm, we might find that we are less patient … and this can be a problem on a day when students need our patience even more. I found this to be true for me yesterday. Maybe the best solution for dealing with this came to me thanks to one of my students. In the afternoon, I was in the middle of dealing with some problems in the classroom, and one of the children came up to me with a playdough cupcake. She asked me if I wanted one. I replied with, “I hope that it’s a self-regulation cupcake. I think that my monsters are coming out.” That’s when she put down her tray of cupcakes, went behind me, put her hands on my stomach and said, “Breathe.” I did. Then she said, “Breathe again.” I did … again. This student finished by saying, “Now doesn’t that feel better, Miss Dunsiger?” She was right … it did. This five-year-old also taught me that on these more challenging days, taking the time to breathe, can help us calm down enough to be there for the students that need us most. 

While Halloween is almost over now, more holidays are approaching soon. Last night’s discussion and today’s reflections made me question, how are we supporting students for success? If students aren’t as interested in the holiday, what impact should this have on our classroom practices (including “parties”)? I’ve heard many times recently that, “we’ve done it this way before” is not a good enough reason for why we continue to do things at school. Does this same reasoning hold true for holidays? Why? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Is there a need for a “special helper?”

Up until this point in the year, we haven’t had a “special helper.” Everybody is a special helper. We tidy up together because we all make a mess. We sweep the floors, wash the tables, and stack the chairs as a group to build that community environment where everybody helps. That doesn’t mean that we run around like crazy all trying to do each job at exactly the same time, but with some adult assistance and student volunteers, we manage to get these tidying up jobs done well.

This also means that we don’t have an assigned line leader. In the past, I’ve worked with some students that always needed to be the line leader. Proximity to the teacher and some quiet reminders (easing anxiety in the hallways) really helped these students out. This didn’t mean that there weren’t other students that wanted to be the line leader, but students learned about the importance of “equity,” and how we all have what we need to be successful. Sometimes that means having the same line leader every day, as for this child, it’s not just about “leading the line,” but having success at school.

It’s with this in mind, that I’ve never been a big fan of a “special helper.” I think of it this way: we sing ourselves into line. It’s like a case of the Pied Piper. The singing starts, and the students just quietly start to walk towards the door. Someone ends up first. It’s rarely the same person. If there’s a need for a certain person to be in front that day, then I may ask that student to move up, but if not, I don’t worry about it. Yes, occasionally there are tears because someone really wanted to be up front. We talk through these tears though, and soon enough, they stop. Students learn that their place in the line isn’t that important, and we really make it to where we’re going in just about the same time.

I share all of this because today we talked about starting a “special helper” for the purpose of being a line leader. And while I have the concerns that I’ve shared here, I wonder if I really need to worry. My real concern is that a “special helper” just draws more attention to the “line leader” than what this position has to be. Maybe I’m over thinking this though. If a “special helper” is primarily going to be a line leader, is there value in this or is there another option that might work better? As we continue to converse about this job, I’m looking for some advice. What would you do?


How Do You Self-Regulate?

The other day, I was reminded about the importance of self-regulation. On this particular day, one small problem seemed to lead to another one, and pretty soon, I could feel my stress level rising. Voices were getting louder. There was a mess everywhere. An attempt to tidy up was just making things noisier and messier. The students were too up-regulated. I was too up-regulated. We all needed an opportunity to calm down. I’d love to say that I did the right thing — whatever that right thing at the moment may have been — but I didn’t. I kept on pushing on to get the room cleaned up. I kept on dealing with one little problem after another one. By the time that we all gathered on the carpet, I think that we all wanted to cry. We were frustrated, excited, stressed, and not at the optimum level for learning. It was as I was sitting in the chair, looking at and listening to the students, that I realized the problem. We then took a moment to listen to some quiet music, move slowly around the room (to slow down our bodies), and head outside to move around, so that we could bring ourselves down.

It was this experience that I thought about a couple of days later, when my partner and I decided to make a few changes to better meet the needs of our students. I knew that these changes would be very uncomfortable ones for me, and I thought that I might need some opportunities to self-regulate. I jokingly said that I might use the hallway as my self-regulation space (which is funny, as this area usually increases my stress level with the bright lights, congestion, and items everywhere), but I knew that I needed something. So on Friday, when I could feel my stress level rising, I took a moment. I stepped back. I took a deep breath. I played through the conversation in my head, and reminded myself to keep that quiet, even voice, that I knew would matter. I also made sure to take breaks during the day (even if they were very short ones): I found a quiet spot to sit and relax when I didn’t have duty, and I made sure to take a few minutes out of the classroom at lunchtime. I found ways to self-regulate so that I could better help my students do the same.

Please don’t get me wrong here: I love my job! There is nothing I would rather do in my life. I care about all of our students, and I really do want to see them succeed. This is why I’m willing to get “uncomfortable,” as I know that the changes are what they need. But I also know that my ability to self-regulate impacts on my students. I need to be calm, so they can be too. And if I’m feeling stressed, I need to be able to address that, so that this stress does not impact on the students’ learning environment. Am I always good at doing this? No. I make a lot of mistakes. But as educators, I think that we can’t forget about the tremendous value in making sure that we self-regulate.

  • Maybe it’s about finding a place to take a break: be it the staff room, an empty classroom, a quiet hallway, or even outside.
  • Maybe it’s about going on a walk or doing yoga at lunchtime.
  • Maybe it’s about using more natural lighting and lamps instead of the harsh overhead lights. (I think our students benefit from this one too, but I know that I love the feeling of this calm lighting, and use it even when I’m the only one in the room.)
  • Maybe it’s about doing some deep breathing — even taking a couple of extra, calming breaths — before going and dealing with a problem.
  • Maybe it’s about blogging. Reflecting and sharing helps me calm down.
  • Maybe it’s about having that coffee in the morning before school. Sipping a delicious coffee in a quiet area does a lot to help me self-regulate.

How do you self-regulate? I also think about parents at home. This need to self-regulate is surely just as important for them. Parents, what do you do? When we see behaviour — both our own and our children’s — through the lens of self-regulation, I wonder if we address it differently. I wonder what impact this has on everyone involved. I’d love to hear your thoughts!