Not Just For Kindergarten

About 1 1/2 years ago, I got involved in a fabulous Book Club through our Board. We discussed Stuart Shanker‘s Calm, Alert, and Learning. Reading, thinking, and talking about this book, changed my understanding of self-regulation and many of my classroom practices.

  • I reconsidered bulletin board colours and visual displays in the classroom.
  • I tried to speak in a softer tone.
  • I became more aware of when students were “up regulated” and how to help them “down regulate.” Students also started taking more ownership over this “down regulating.”
  • As a class, we worked on creating more zones in the classroom. We ensured that there were “quiet areas” for when students needed them.
  • I thought of music in a different way, and realized the value that it could have for many students. 
  • After many years of report card comments to the contrary, I finally came to understand that self-regulation was about more than sitting quietly and raising your hand to share ideas

I share all of this now because when I read Shanker’s book, I was teaching Grade 5. The Book Club was advertised as a Full-Day Kindergarten and Early Learning Book Club. Everyone was welcome, but self-regulation was a focus in the Early Years, so this was the target audience. I hate to admit it now, but the only reason that I even signed up for the Book Club was because I really wanted to move from teaching a junior class to teaching a primary one the following year, and I thought that this Book Club would show that I was dedicated to learning more about a topic that mattered in primary. What I quickly came to learn though was that self-regulation isn’t just for kindergarten.

Let’s think about what happens as children grow up.

  • Friendships become more challenging.
  • Students often start to feel more stressed (for various reasons).
  • Puberty often complicates emotional reactions to problems.
  • Relationships start … and they often impact on the classroom environment if we want them to or not.
  • Learning needs become more prevalent. As gaps widen, student frustration often increases. 

And each of these issues, and many more, make it that much more complicated for students to regulate (or control) their behaviour. As teachers, we also expect that as students get older, they know the classroom and school expectations even better, and should be able to follow them with few, if any, reminders. So what do we do when there is drama, tears, outbursts, and/or interruptions in class (regardless of the age of our students)? Would our reactions vary if our knowledge of self-regulation was different? 

I think of this more now because there is currently a Self-Regulation Symposium happening in Peterborough. I was reading some of the tweets later this afternoon, and I saw this one by Cathern Lethbridge: a principal in Midland, Ontario.


I am thrilled to hear this, but I also wonder, how many people and school boards are at this Symposium to hear this message? How can we get this message out to those not there? My tweet below sums up my thoughts.


If I hadn’t chosen to join the Book Club back when I did, I would still see self-regulation as an “FDK topic.” I wonder about the impact of this, for if students don’t learn to self-regulate well, how do they really learn? What do you think?


12 thoughts on “Not Just For Kindergarten

  1. Totally agree! It is important at all ages. I think it’s very important skill and I also feel parents need help teaching it to their kids.

    • Great point, Donna! Maybe we need to look at ways to discuss self-regulation with parents. I wonder what this support might look like at home and at school.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Aviva, once again great post that I wish all teachers would look at and try to understand. We help young children with self regulation with the hope that they will have the tools as they go on in school and life. It’s a challenge for some kids and learning coping/self-regulation skills matter. How we as teachers can provide an environment and learning space to foster this is crucial.

    • Thanks for the comment, Faige! I guess if all K students acquired these necessary skills, they may not need as much support with self-regulation as time goes on. But as children grow up and their lives change, I wonder if we need to refocus on self-regulation. And what about the students that haven’t acquired these skills yet? I think of many students with special needs, but I know that these aren’t the only students that need this support. I wonder how talks about self-regulation could make its way up into all grades, and I wonder what the impact of doing so would be. Thank you for helping me clarify my ideas more!


  3. Self regulation is a life long skill so it surprised me that the focus for it in your district is at the early years level. As an adult I still struggle with some self regulations skills (such as stopping to eat when I’ve had enough vs continuing to eat and over eating). I too am bothered by light, and sound and I do what I can to make uncomfortable situations more comfortable. In that realm I am better at self regulating. Like you, I am mindful of my classroom set up to help create an environment for all my students to feel comfortable – or calm, alert, and ready to learn. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Karen! I totally agree with you, and have blogged many times about my personal experiences with self-regulation. In our province, self-regulation is part of the Early Learning Kindergarten Program Document as well as one of the report card Learning Skills, so technically it’s focused on from JK-Grade 12. As Full-Day Kindergarten rolled out in our province, self-regulation almost became the new buzz word. As teachers, DECEs, administrators, and consultants explored this topic more, it seemed to really be in regards to these youngest learners. Maybe it’s because they’re the ones beginning to learn this skill, and if they can master it, it’ll benefit them throughout their schooling and throughout their life. The problem is that not all students in Grades 1-12 have mastered this skill, so they need a growing understanding of self-regulation too. I also think that as educators, our understanding of what self-regulation is, has changed over time (or at least it has for me). I wonder the impact this would have on our classroom and school environments if self-regulation was explored more
      closely in all grades. I think it is in pockets, but not everywhere. I’m curious to hear what others are doing to help their students self-regulate and how they see this impacting on classroom learning.


  4. Hi Aviva,
    It’s great to read your blog, your topics often lead to reflection on matters that are essential for education.
    YES, most definitely, self-regulation is necessary for all ages; self-regulation impacts learning. I share a broad view of self-regulation, beyond as you mentioned, ” sitting quietly and raising your hand to share ideas.”
    My perspective was influenced by the work of authors/researchers like Barry Zimmerman, Dale H. Schunk, and others who have addressed self-regulation teaching practices.
    They speak of self-regulation as a meta-cognitive process that requires students to explore their own thought processes so as to evaluate the results of their actions and plan alternative pathways to success. I learned that self-regulation is related to flexible and consequential thinking. It helps children to understand there is more than one way to solve a problem. This is lifetime stuff!

    What was most revealing to me was that Barry Zimmerman distinguishes unsophisticated learners from skillful self-regulated learners. He explains that unsophisticated learners, “are easily distracted by diversions or competing thoughts; ” view learning episodes as a personally threatening experiences during which their performance will be evaluated and their intelligence may be compared unfavorably with others, which leads to devaluing and avoiding learning opportunities”. However, skillful self-regulated learners, “are able to concentrate their attention on their learning performance”; “view learning episodes as opportunities to enhance their abilities further, and, as a result, these experiences are valued in their own right.” “Skillful self-regulators are more likely to use systematic guides or techniques, or imaginal guidance, to implement their strategies of learning.”
    I believe we need to increase a child’s likelihood of success by teaching them clearly defined self-regulating skills, in an engaging and easily understood manner, and enable them to become “skillful self-regulated” learners. Educators need to do so at whatever age a student requires these skills.
    I enjoy being part of the discussion on and the learning on how educators mindfully nurture “skillful” self-regulated learning and excited about supporting educators in their efforts to do so.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, Angelo, and adding to this important discussion! You’ve mentioned many people that I’ve heard of before, but I haven’t necessarily read books and/or articles by them. I’m going to be checking them out more. Thanks!

      What have you noticed in your teaching situation? Is self-regulation being addressed at all grade levels, and how? How do we help students develop this very essential skill? I think that a part also comes down to learning more, as educators, about self-regulation and WHY it matters so much. I look at the number of administrators at this Self-Regulation Symposium, and I wonder about the impact at the Board level based on the ideas that they bring back to the schools. What do you think?


      • It’s been my experience, both when I was teaching, and now as an Instructional Strategies Coach that attention to self-regulation mostly occurs in Pre-K and K as well as Special Education programs. Recently however I came across efforts by some schools to include Mindfulness lessons in the upper grades. Just 2 weeks ago I was invited to visit a school district’s summer camp program for middle school students and I was pleased to see that they were learning about meditation and self-regulation through breathing.
        Overall I believe students benefit if, as you said, there was more learning about self-regulation, why it matters, and if I may add, what type of teaching framework and classroom culture helps nurture self-regulation. As for decision makers/education leaders, I always feel the best way to impact their thinking is for them to hear about or witness results.
        I am interested in reading more from Andrew Kelly’s blog, which I came across on Twitter thanks to your tweets – TY! I am eager to read more from him and anyone who addresses the necessary shifts needed in education for all students to be able to achieve.
        Thanks for inspiring a conversation on this topic.

        • Thanks Angelo for adding to the conversation! I love your addition to my comment. I have recently seen some more teachers in our Board use some mindfulness activities in the classroom. In fact, some of the classes involved made it to our local paper in the last month or so of school. There were both younger and older elementary students involved, but not necessarily entire schools adopting this approach. Often, pockets of people seem to be giving this a try. I wonder how we get past the “pockets” to whole schools. Is this even possible? I’m curious to know what the impact on students would be if all teachers and students embraced a similar philosophy. More to think about … I bet that Andrew Kelly’s blog post(s) will add even more to this discussion. I’m very interested in reading Parts 2 and 3 of his self-regulation posts.


  5. Aviva,
    I am currently taking a course at Queens for my Master’s titled Self Regulated Learning & Inquiry. I’ve been following the symposium all week. Metacognition is hard stuff- for adults. This course is so fabulous, but it is making my head swim with the applications for own learning, my kids, students, supporting teachers as self-regulated learners. It is definitely not an ‘FDK only’ topic, but the more of a head start we can give them (and this applies to EVERYTHING) they easier time they’ll have….no pressure, lol!

    • Thanks for the comment, Erin! I definitely agree with you that this early exposure is key (with everything). But then what kind of follow has to happen after that?

      I’d love to hear more about your course. What’s your biggest learning so far? How do you see this course impacting on your classroom practice?

      Thanks for adding to the discussion here!

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