Ask a primary teacher about one of the most stressful times of the day, and likely packing up and getting ready for home will make the top of the list. This is especially true during the winter season, where snow pants add another layer of stress to the dressing and undressing routine. Since we spend about 1/3 of our day outside — with a long 1 to 1 1/2 hour play block outdoors to start our day — snow pant season begins earlier and ends later. Even my teaching partner, Paula, and I are still in snow pants due to the damp weather right now. Over the years, Paula’s taught me the importance of letting children become independent at this dressing routine, but even by giving kids the time and space to be independent and successful, this routine was usually still stressful for me. Until COVID.
One of the benefits of students having individual spaces is that they have a big enough area to get dressed and undressed on their own — without too many kids and too much commotion near them. The need to stagger students in our kindergarten hallway, so that cohorts didn’t mix, forced Paula and I to get our children cleaned up earlier so that they could get dressed on time. We then also have the hallway space for a little time if any children need an area alone to get ready. A few choose this option, and it’s like a little Self-Reg in action. With the recent lifting of restrictions, distancing is no longer required, but with our easing in of any possible changes, these desk spaces still make the dressing routine work well.
There’s one recent change though that takes this routine from less stressful to all-out wonderful: students helping with zippering coats. In the past, I used to help children get their items from the hallway, while Paula sat down to assist with zippering coats and backpacks (if required). She has a special song, which kids love, and she connects with them through this singing and dressing routine. This past week though, a few children told her that they can do the zippers now. They pull up chairs beside her and offer up zipper support, while Paula can sit down, chat with them, and even get a shoulder massage from a few children that are eager for this special job. Watching this experience yesterday, led me to an aha moment: this is like our eating table moments of the past.
These are the low-key social opportunities where kids can connect with each other and with us. There’s so much belonging and contributing in these kindergarten dressing moments, where a classroom community is formed around a couple of chairs and a whole bunch of zippers. Kids also learn here about the importance of consent in an age-appropriate way, as they ask for permission to massage and honour the touch preferences shared by adults and by other kids. Look at the smiles, the laughter, and the joy in these little moments of dressing time. You have to wonder, if kids leave the classroom feeling this happy about school, does this make them even more eager to return to it the next day? I never would have thought that I would have been able to reframe this dressing time, but there’s a wonderful sense of calm in the room now that comes from this home time routine and some unexpected connecting around a classroom of zippers. What are a few of your unstructured social opportunities, and how might these times support student and staff mental health and wellness? As important as academics are, the joy and calm that come from this slightly longer dressing experience has quickly become equally valuable for us … even if in a different way.