What’s The Other Side Of Family Day?

This morning, I started off my day as I always do, reading Doug Peterson‘s daily blog post. His post today really resonated with me, and while I commented, I also need to follow through with the request in Doug’s tweets.

I think it’s time to look at the other side of Family Day. 

I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t enjoyed the long weekend. With Communications of Learning all written, edited, and distributed now, I actually spent some time this weekend for me. I met friends for brunch. I read a great new book. I took a few naps, and I even enjoyed a nice dinner with my family. But I’m one of the lucky ones! 

  • I have the day off.
  • I have a car, and I can drive myself to where I want to go … even if I sometimes get lost. 🙂
  • I have a safe, warm, nice place to live and sleep … even when my dogs decide that sleep is not in the plans for the night. 🙂
  • I have a wonderful group of family and friends, and they’re all off for the long weekend.
  • I have a good disposable income: I can afford what I want to do for this extra day at home.

I’ve taught though in schools with students and staff members that are not as lucky. 

  • An extra day at home might mean being alone with the kids while the spouse goes off to work.
  • An extra day at home might be a sad one because their child is at the other parent’s house for the weekend: there’s only one Family Day, but possibly, a few different “families.”
  • An extra day at home means another day without a Snack Program or a Breakfast Program. Will there be enough food for everyone to eat?
  • An extra day at home becomes a problem because the parents have to work, but there’s no childcare for the kids. Can they afford this?
  • An extra day at home means a need to entertain the children in the area because movies, indoor playgrounds, and trips to recreational activities cost money … and the money isn’t there. But it’s supposed to rain on Monday, so how do you spend another day with a large family in the rain?

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it is a list of actual things that happen. I’ve seen them all, and as a teacher, I’ve watched students that have experienced them all. As much as I love a long weekend — especially one where I can truly relax — I keep thinking about this encounter with a student almost three years ago now. This moment shaped me, and made me realize that not everybody finds joy in the holidays. 

I’m not necessarily suggesting that we get rid of Family Day. 

  • Maybe a different name would make the day seem less stressful for some.
  • Maybe ensuring that more people are off would make the day easier to manage.
  • Maybe creating some additional, free community events would provide options for parents that can’t afford a bus ride, a car trip, or admittance to various events or places (e.g., Lego Land).
  • Maybe some extra food for the long weekend (from services such as Food4Kids) would help reduce the stress of not having enough to eat for another full day at home. 

And maybe it’s just about knowing that when we go back to school on Tuesday, not everybody is going to have a special, happy story to share about the long weekend. So celebrate being back at school.

  • Share an extra smile.
  • Give an extra hug.
  • Be understanding that another day at home might not be a gift for everyone.
  • Listen … lots!
  • Know that there might be a bigger story behind the behaviour that we see … and that story might involve Family Day. Be caring, compassionate, and kind!

Love might be needed even more tomorrow, as it’s not always easy returning from a long weekend. And one of the greatest things I learned from my diverse teaching experiences is THIS. The world is not always full of sunshine and roses, and having this perspective, makes me love and appreciate the wonders of school even more than I did before. What about you? How do you gain a multi-faceted perspective on holidays, and how does this impact on your interactions with kids and adults at school? Remember that going back to school tomorrow — to a consistent routine with food and friendly, familiar faces — may be the best part about this long weekend for many kids and adults.


Could A Hug Change Everything?

There are many things that I could blog about today, but it’s an experience from yesterday that really has me thinking. At the end of the school day, I knew that this would be the blog post that I would be writing tomorrow. 

Yesterday, my teaching partner, Paula, was away, and we had a supply in for her. The supply has been in the classroom before, and already knew most of the children. This relationship helped! She just returned from her lunch break, and decided to join some students working at the Lego table. I was working with children over at the creative table … not that far away. At the time, my back was to the Lego table, but something made me turn around. I’m not sure what. Maybe I heard something. Maybe I just felt a change in the classroom. But for whatever the reason, I looked.

The supply was sitting across from two students that were initially playing together. Then one child started to bang down on the work that another child was doing. I heard the words, “Please stop!” Then a few minutes later, I heard the words, “Stop!!” (Much louder this time.) And then less than a minute after that, the child screamed, “Stop!!,” again, and started to hit the table, growl, and cry at the same time. The supply was trying to support both children at this point, but the screaming, hitting, growling, and crying continued, and nothing the supply was doing seemed to help. I stood up at this point, called the upset child’s name, and told the child to move. I pointed to an empty stool near the sensory table (which happened to be unoccupied at the time). I had to say the child’s name and point to the stool a few times, but as I walked closer to the Lego table, the child moved.

I was now standing across from the child. There was no doubt about it: this child was angry and upset. I got down low, and reminded this child to breathe. I know that taking deep breaths works for this child. I will admit that I started to lecture this child about what I observed. Screaming, hitting, and growling were not necessary, and not okay … or were they? No matter what I’ve read and learned about self-regulation, my initial reaction was to view this child’s response as misbehaviour, but could it instead be stress behaviour? Just as I began my lecture, I stopped. Maybe I heard Stuart Shanker‘s voice in my head. Maybe I heard Susan Hopkins. Or maybe I just heard myself. 

At that moment, I got a lot quieter, and I asked this child, “Are you ready to talk?” I saw a small nod. “Okay, what happened?” The child then explained how the other child continued to wreck this child’s creation, and every attempt to rebuild was met with another problem. “I’m just so angry!,” this child said. Wow! This child could identify feelings and what triggered them. I asked the child, “Could we move your building somewhere else?” The child then explained to me the need for a table, and the fact that the Lego table was already in use. I mentioned that the sensory bin was empty, and seemed to be for most of the day. “What if we put the lid back on it? Could you use that?” The child thought that might work, and even thought about adding a chair beside for the additional room required. 

In just a few minutes, we figured out the problem together. As we stood up, I looked at the child that seemed better now, but still looked a little upset, and asked, “Do you need a hug?” That’s when the child said, “Yes!,” and grabbed me for a hug. The child stayed hugging me for a few minutes, and I could actually feel the child’s body calm down before letting go. It took less than seven minutes for this child to go from angry and upset, to calm, engaged, and refocused on some new learning. 

I’ve purposely avoided mentioning if this child is a JK or SK student and a boy or a girl. It doesn’t matter! A similar situation could happen with any child. And when the issue was resolved, and everything was good again, I realized how quickly I could have — and almost did — escalate this problem. This could have become an office issue. It could have led to a need to contact parents. It could have dominated the rest of our day. For it doesn’t take long to engage in a power struggle, which tends to make things so much worse. I will admit that I’ve engaged in these struggles in the past: with the best of intentions, but far less successful results. Watching this child’s anger increase at the start of this problem, I would never have considered this child’s need for a hug, and yet, that interbrain connection was I think what ultimately made things better: both at the time and for the rest of the day!

This whole situation brings me back to the question on if our goal is to punish or to understand. I choose understanding. What about you? I wonder how many problems might easily diffuse with a gentle tone, a little time, and a big hug. 


Feeling Tired This Valentine’s Day? Could This Be Why?

As I yawn away at my computer tonight, I’m also inspired to blog. Today was Valentine’s Day, and in Kindergarten, it’s quite the experience. Our kids were fantastic, and took control over this special day, but as my teaching partner, Paula, and I met to reflect together at the end of the day, we both struggled with staying awake. Why?  I can’t help but wonder if exploring the day through a Self-Reg lens might help us figure out why we’re so tired!

Tonight, I’m thinking about this blog post that I wrote for The MEHRIT Centre just over a year ago now. It explores stressors in The Five Domains, and as I reflect on Valentine’s Day, I can’t help but think more about these stressors. 

First there is the biological stressor of the additional mess today. Paula and I really wanted students to own the distribution of valentines. We decided not to have a party, but instead respect the interests of the students, and invite children to participate in any way that they wanted. We shared this note with parents, and happily embraced this differentiated approach to Valentine’s Day. Since we didn’t want the valentines (along with any additional noise, excitement, and mess) to be a centre of the learning today, we decided to use our dramatic play space for a valentines distribution area. We invited some children to organize the bags (that others made yesterday), and to help with handing out the Valentine’s Day cards. Then Paula and I stayed out of this space! This wasn’t easy to do. The floor was sprinkled with valentines. Bags kept getting moved around. It took a REALLY long time for children to distribute all of their cards, and the pile of cards on the floor kept on growing. More children gathered in this small space. We asked one child to help another one hand out his cards. She went in for a little while, and then came back out. She said to me, “I just find this too stressful, Miss Dunsiger. Everyone’s moving the bags.” She demonstrated some great self-regulation when she realized she needed to get out of this space, take a deep breath, and engage in some writing, as a way to calm down. I guess that we weren’t the only ones impacted by the mess … but just like us, she chose to step back. 

Next there is the social stressor that comes from a day high in social interactions. While our class didn’t have a party, I was on duty during the Second Nutrition Break in the primary wing of the school. All of the classes had parties. There were games, food, and cards to distribute. The usual classroom routine was different today, and the children that need this routine the most, struggled. I dealt with more friendship problems outside than I usually do. When all of the children lined up to go in, I told them, “On a day all about love and friendship, I didn’t see as much kindness as on other days.” As I was tempted to lecture on the value of being kind, a little voice in my head wondered, are some kids feeling the additional pressure of these social interactions today? Could the focus on love, friendship, and kindness, actually be inspiring the opposite? Sometimes it takes a toll to live up to what others expect from us.

Then there is the emotional stressor caused by some additional tears today. From lost stickers to misplaced valentines to late arrivals to an inability to “find the bag I need,” today was a day where some children just needed that extra hug. They looked for it. They asked for it. It wasn’t about a day full of tears, but just those tiny, unexpected sobs, that I certainly noticed. 

After that there is the pro-social stressor: empathizing with how these children were feeling today, and feeling the additional strain as a result. For the child that was overwhelmed with the movement of the bags, I get it! When I saw the bags getting all bunched up together again, I had to resist the urge to go and separate them, and instead, ask children how they might be able to see them better. For the child that struggled with getting his big valentine into a little bag, I understand. As someone who still requires three to five attempts to get into a parking spot even when I see the lines, 🙂 spatial awareness skills continue to be an area for growth. I also looked at those little bags and wondered how they would hold everything, and while they did, it took students with much better packing skills than me to make that happen.

Finally, there is the cognitive stressor. For beginning readers and writers, Valentine’s Day can be a challenge. While we did encourage students to consider just signing their names to their cards, many added classmates’ names, and this made it an additional challenge. We watched some students ask multiple times, “What does this one say?” While we tried to encourage children to get help from each other, questions definitely came our way. Then, even when children can read the names, they need to find the right bag. This often means reading the name in a different font! The child that wrote our bags yesterday, added an exclamation mark at the end of each name — “because Valentine’s Day is just so exciting!” — but that caused some additional confusion today. Persevering to find each bag and distribute each valentine was a challenge for some, and as we tried to support them, I think that even inadvertently, it became a challenge for us.

It’s amazing how even standing back can be tiring. As I count down the minutes until I can head to bed tonight — and it may be even before 9:00 — I think about the stressors at play on a day that actually seemed quite calm. Think about your Valentine’s Day. Are you going home tired tonight? Why might that be? Could looking at the day through a Self-Reg lens provide some additional insight? Now for a deep breath, a good book, and some much-needed quiet time to end off another Valentine’s Day.


When LESS Really Is A Whole Lot MORE!

On February 4th, I slept in. I never sleep in. But when I got up that Sunday morning, I had two requests for the same thing …

When I saw Natalie Schneider‘s book choice, I had to retweet it because the book really was that good, but then I felt the need to honour both people’s request for a book, and so I added another book as well.

Yes, I really do love my mystery and suspense novels, so I decided to stick with this genre for both of my tweets. And after a few minutes and a couple of tweets, I got out of bed and went on with my morning … that is, until I checked Twitter later on and saw all of the mentions.

It was quite remarkable how many people got involved in this game, and as Doug Peterson mentioned in his blog post, the only thing missing here was a hashtag. What might have intrigued me the most though was the variety of book titles. At first, most people that replied seemed to choose pleasure reads. Then I saw Kristi‘s tweet, and all of a sudden, I began to think about my favourite children’s book.

Not long after, I noticed Gail‘s tweet, and I contemplated my favourite professional read. What cover might I share for this?

In that moment, I was reminded of why we don’t include signs and directions in our playfor often the richness comes from the ideas that we might not have anticipated. (What learning is lost through our limitations?The same is true here. If the directions were more than just “upload a cover of a great book,” what book choices might not have been included? 

A simple invitation to share. A huge collection of books. So much diversity. We just “played” with some book choices online, and now I’m curious to know what people might do next. Imagine if students were given this same open invitation. What might they choose to share? What could we learn about them as a result? Sometimes, when it comes to directions, less really is more!


One More Uncomfortable Look At The 100th Day of School

For most schools in Ontario, this upcoming week marks two big celebrations: Valentine’s Day and the 100th Day of School. This post is about one of these: the 100th Day. My thinking on this day has evolved a lot over the years. This really started three years ago when I taught Grade 1, and began to question the authenticity of the 100th Day of School. Aligning with my one word goal, I decided to make some changes to the day, and these changes evolved even more thanks to some comments on this blog post of mine. This day was far from perfect, but it was the last time that I celebrated the 100th Day of School … and likely the last time that I will.

This week though, the 100th day of school comes up again, and I see many blog posts of Kindergarten and Grade 1 students preparing for this day. I know that Grade 1 really focuses on the numbers up to 100, but I wondered about Kindergarten. I thought our document emphasized the number amounts to 10, which is why my teaching partner, Paula, and I have really focused on understanding and working with these quantities. It was this thinking that led to this tweet of mine.

My tweet resulted in some responses on Twitter, including the following ones.

As I read through these tweets, I began to wonder, what does the Kindergarten Document explicitly say? I read this document a couple of years ago now, and while I remember the focus on quantities to 10, I wondered if there was more. Was I missing something here? So today, I went back through the document and had a look. Here’s what I found.

I think it’s the term “meaningful” that’s key here. Our Kindergarten Document does not negate the value in looking at bigger numbers, but in an authentic way that also aligns with where students are at developmentally. In the example provided, both children could be right, but an interest in big numbers also provides an opportunity to explore beyond 0-10. 

This Kindergarten Document example makes me think about the Boat City that students have started to create in our classroom. Yesterday, they pointed out to Paula some of the floating shops that are part of the city. 

This blue sheet changed up the boat space today. First they worked with @paulacrockett to cut it and to place it under the boats. This led to a discussion about the different colours of blue water and what they mean. A great opportunity for @paulacrockett to introduce and use vocabulary such as “reflect.” Then students started to do the same. This is what Speech Pathologists have taught me to do before, for this very reason, and I see and hear it here! ❤️ In the midst of this, children began to talk about “sharks.” T. realized he was wearing a shark t-shirt. @paulacrockett worked with C., and used initial sounds, to read the words. Both E. and C. drew their own sharks. E. thought that they needed a separate space to swim “in black water.” He got some black construction paper for this, and relocated C. and the sharks. Then both C. and E. labelled their sharks. I helped E. with the “sh” sound, and he did the rest (will tweet out a video). B. was also concerned about some sharks, and made a big sign to alert others to them! So much literacy — writing, reading, oral language, and comprehension — exhibited in this space! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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E. could not stop labelling his creations in Boat City today. Was sounding out three-sound words independently, and listening for beginning, middle, and end sounds in longer words. For the first time, was doing this confidently all on his own today, and blending sounds to read the words. ❤️❤️❤️ Definitely want to extend this writing interest tomorrow, and see if he can go back and blend the sounds to re-read what he wrote. Then M. and T. decided they wanted to make some paper sailboats to add to Boat City. They tried to do so on their own, but they didn’t work. I suggested an informational text. M. Google searched “how to make a paper sailboat” (I watched her enter the terms, but she did so on her own). I thought that the pictures might help, but she said, “We should click videos.” She looked for a good one, and then followed the instructions. She initially asked me for help, and I did sit with her to do this, but I couldn’t figure it out. She kept at it, and she did it. T. did so as well, and even created a pattern on her boat, which later led to some math talk and counting with @paulacrockett. I love all of the learning opportunities that can come out of child-directed play! ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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I wish that I documented more of what happened in Boat City today. What I love about this is that E. went back and read his work from yesterday, and made a decision about the placement of today’s fish based on what he did yesterday. He also built a “generator” this afternoon, and sounded out the word all on his own. He even got a second label for the R at the end. Wow!! E. was far more confident in segmenting and blending sounds today. ❤️❤️❤️ More students got into labelling today based on what E. did. Milla’s rescue boat “mveeol”: I wonder if she went mobile instead. Love how she sorted it with the safety boat. She thought they should be together. It’s great when reading authentically happens through play. ❤️❤️❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #teachersofinstagram #iteachk #ctinquiry

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We’d love to have them cover some of these shops next week, and even add some names to them as a way of incorporating even more reading and writing into this space. What if they also added shop numbers? We could even look online at some of the addresses of favourite places in Ancaster. What are the numbers? How do we read them? How might we organize them? This could definitely provide an opportunity to explore numerals beyond 10, but in a meaningful context. 

This makes me wonder about who determines “meaningfulness.” In the case of Boat City, the children determined the interest. We extended it, and are exploring more ways to connect the literacy and mathematics behaviours to the students’ play. Who’s driving the 100th Day explorations? How are they creating these authentic links to learning? Maybe there are ways to celebrate the 100th Day and still hold true to the Program Document, while also extending children’s understanding of number amounts. I would love to hear what others have tried and what they consider during the planning process. 

I think that we’re lucky to teach in Ontario, with a play-based Kindergarten Program Document, which really allows us to dig deeper instead of graze the surface of more. But knowing the Grade 1 math expectationsdo we sometimes feel the pressure to do more? We also all teach students that can count orally well beyond 10, and even work with number amounts beyond 10. And while I love listening to the number debates around the eating table, and the math thinking as kids ask each other addition questions, I also worry if math is just seen as the asking and answering of addition and subtraction questions.

How do we get children to see and critically think about math in their world? Can a 100th Day Celebration play a role in this, or is it highlighting a different messageAs uncomfortable as these answers may make us feel, I think these questions are worth thinking about. What about you?