What If It’s About Opting Out So That We Can Join Back In Again?

I started off my Friday as I always do, by reading Doug Peterson‘s This Week In Ontario Edublogs post. Today’s post happened to include a response to a recent blog post of mine. Now strangely enough, this post was in response to one that I wrote for The MEHRIT Centre, and even more specifically, to a comment that I received on that post. Both posts continue to inspire discussion because of people’s decisions to “opt out.” Can opting out be a self-regulated choice? Is it a choice that as parents and/or as educators, we should support? 

Doug’s comment in his post this morning made me realize that there’s even more my stories that I think we need to consider. It was this specific paragraph that helped me see what I forgot to include in both posts.

Self-reg helps us either up-regulate or down-regulate so that we can feel calm. In our classroom, there are many things that my teaching partner, Paula, and I consider when it comes to self-regulation. These include,

  • the types of activities, resources, and materials that we offer.
  • considerations for multiple entry points, so as not to create cognitive stressors.
  • different sensory play options: from wet to dry sensory play, from hard to soft materials, and from independent to group possibilities.
  • the presence and absence of light in the room.
  • our colour choices and the amount and location of materials that we display.
  • small, confined spaces for children that need the feeling of protection or the illusion of a hug. Just check out the amount of learning that happens in a shelf.

  • smaller table or floor spaces that point towards a wall, for the illusion of quiet. This also includes the possibility of some safe climbing, even within a classroom setting.

  • options for movement and gross motor play, both inside the classroom and outside. Heavy lifting also fits in here.
  • adaptable spaces and activities, where children can make changes to also meet their needs.
  • predictable routines, which span from the first day of school to the last, with very few changes and preparation for when changes will occur.
  • long blocks of play with few transitional times. Even when we do have transitions, we try for some “ish” times, so that we can always be responsive to students and their needs.
  • days that always begin outside, in the forest, in almost any kind of weather! This outdoor time, with lots of opportunities for gross motor play, independent and collaborative play, quiet, and space, seem to make a big difference when it comes to self-regulation.

Our intention is never for a child to spend their whole day drawing, colouring, climbing, running, playing with plasticine, or reading a book. The idea is that these Self-Reg considerations and/or options will reduce stress, and make children feel more successful at school and at home. The same holds true for adults!

On the day when I opted out of part of the staff dancing activity, I did have every intention of joining for the next song. Did I really want to? Maybe not. Was I upset when the dancing was over after the first song? Not really. But would I have stayed out? No. Sometimes in life we have to do hard things, challenging activities, or things that we don’t enjoy. That’s life! I know that, and I have done many of these things in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. But there’s a difference to what’s uncomfortable to what’s dysregulating. When that stress becomes overwhelming, I think we need to consider Self-Reg as a way to respond to it, or maybe even to reduce the possibility of it in the first place.

The other thing to think about is that both in my personal experience and the one with our students, opting out didn’t mean leaving the room. At times it might, but during many others, we can still opt out and learn something at the same time. 

  • I still watched the dances and listened to the instructor.
  • I still thought about what might be possible in our classroom and what might not.
  • Our students still listened to the songs and watched the movements that others did.
  • A few of the children sitting out still participated, but just while sitting down. They tapped their legs and quietly moved their feet on the floor instead of dancing all the way around the room.
  • The other child, sat out of a couple of songs, but she looked up from her book to watch her peers, chimed in with other music activities on that day, and even turned around from the sofa to answer some questions posed by the teacher. 

As adults and as children, we may not have been complying — or at least not in the intended way — but we still found ways to learn and participate in these spaces. Sometimes learning just looks different for different people, and I think that at times, Self-Reg contributes to some of these differences. I would never want self-regulation to be an excuse not to try. 

  • I did try the dances during the Staff Meeting.
  • Our students have tried the same songs and dances from that day, week after week in music class, and they know how they respond to them.

Maybe Self-Reg then becomes what happens after the trying, when a different option or a bit of calm might be needed. Or maybe Self-Reg happens so that trying to participate actually leads to success. For do we need to feel calm in order to learn? New experiences are great. Risk-taking is important. And academic expectations in all subject areas, matter. But as adults and as kids, I question how much learning really happens when those feelings of stress overwhelm us. It’s during these times, that maybe we all need something different. Is this when Self-Reg makes the difference? I think so. What about you?


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