I was out recently with a fellow educator who teaches at a different school. She mentioned that she has a child in her junior class that bites her nails. “Just think about the germs,” she said. “Last year’s teacher tried to get her to stop, but she still does it. I need to get her to stop.” This really got me thinking, for you see, I could relate to this child.
For years, I bit my nails, right until I was an adult. I still do at times, but I’m more aware that I’m doing it, so I can also talk myself into stopping. I have another habit though, and it’s a hard one for me to stop. I tend to suck on things. I always wear a necklace around my neck, which used to belong to my grandmother. It’s important to me, and I never leave the house without it. Unfortunately, the chain is just the perfect size to fit inside my mouth, and if I start to feel stressed or anxious, I always put it in there. I have the same bad habit with my school identification badge. I wear the lanyard around my neck, and at times, I find myself sucking on it too.
Apparently, I’m not the only one that notices that I do this. Last week, I was outside one morning, and there was a lot of activity happening in our outdoor classroom space. I found the area much louder than usual. A little more frenzied. As I stood there contemplating how I might be able to resettle the space, a Kindergarten child from another class came up to me. He said, “You’re sucking on your necklace, Miss Dunsiger. You do that a lot!” He was right! I told him this, and said, “I tend to do this when I’m feeling stressed.” He replied, “You must be stressed then.” Maybe I was. I took a few minutes to breathe, and about five minutes after that, our class headed to the forest. The quiet and the space out in the forest, helped me a lot, and I quickly noticed that I was no longer sucking on my necklace.
View this post on Instagram
This is where the forest space becomes magical. On the way out there, so many kids are walking alone. And then on the way back, you start to see the forming of some new friendships. Alba and Elise are holding hands and running back, while Rileigh and Mackenna walk back holding hands. Truly connecting with others! ❤️ SWIPE ⬅️ FOR MORE. #iteachk #teachersofinstagram #ctinquiry
It looks like the forest is magical — and calming — for many of us!
I share this story because my own experiences sucking things — including even chewing on the edges of my sleeves when I was a child — makes me remember that often this desire to chew is a lot more complex than we might think. For this child — or in my case, this adult — we may know that it’s not the best habit to have, but it’s also a sensory experience, which helps us self-regulate. I mentioned this to the teacher I was out with, and said, “Maybe you could substitute the finger nail biting for another more socially acceptable, oral sensory experience. What about sucking on a mint or chewing gum?” Her reply was, “Well I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be fair. Nobody else is allowed to eat candy or chew gum during class time at school.” My final question is one that I’m going to leave you with today: do they need to? Equity is not equality. I’m a firm believer in this. And I know that we speak about this a lot, but what does it actually mean in our classrooms and schools? For me, it’s about …
- the child that needs a fidget toy when other children can sit on the carpet without one.
- the child that sits on the sofa or lies on the small carpet instead of joining our group for meeting time.
- the child that plays with plasticine, but still listens into the full class discussions, while others can do so without the plasticine.
- the child that brings in a blanket, toy, or doll from home, even when we discourage home objects, for this is what helps calm the child.
- the child that always needs to be at the front of the line.
- the child that has to write a note in red marker (or blue or green or orange, etc.), even if others are encouraged to use pencil. For this child, colour choice matters.
This is not a comprehensive list, but just some of my examples from previous years. A teacher once asked, “But what about when all of the other children want to do this too or have these same accommodations?” I would usually answer this query with the same response that I pose to children, “Do you need this? We all get what we need to do our best.” Students are never too young to learn about equity, and maybe it’s this very learning, which will help reframe the thinking behind the finger nail biting and necklace chewing. I sure hope so!