Take it Home: What I learned as a teacher that shapes what we do at home
I am not 100% sure I know where teaching ends and being mom begins some days - so much wonder fills these early years that I'm always learning with my kiddo, modeling new things, attempting to explain stuff in 1000 different ways, asking questions, exploring new places, trying to stay calm when I want to pull my hair out... The snuggles are wonderful compared to classroom side hugs only though :). My work as an educator has definitely informed some of the choices I make as HG's mama. As we approach a school year, I want to share some powerful classroom practices to remind us all of the impactful work teachers do despite little prestige and ridiculously low pay in most places, and to share strategies and concepts we can use at home. If this blog post interests you, another one you may love is Tools for Staying Joyful, Peaceful, and Present in Teaching and Parenthood.
^A family portrait (tip 7), silliness at breakfast and story time (tip 3), home made name puzzle (tip 4), cleaning (tip 2 kind of)
Sometimes (probably most of the times) adults need the timeout more than the kiddo. When a student and I were particularly at odds, I often invited the student to go to the water fountain or to the bathroom (I taught high school, with younger kids I'd invite them to put their heads down or read a book or draw for a few minutes if they were not able to leave the room on their own). This gave us both a cool down period before we addressed whatever issue we were having, and often times, by the time the student was back, the fight was gone from both of us and we'd realized whatever it was was not truly a big deal. Unless HG is posing a safety threat to herself, others, or her surroundings, if we just aren't on the same page, I often simply walk away for a minute. I struggle to get out of the house on time for anything and HG slows down when I'm rushing and then I get crazier. So, if she's lollygagging about, I'll simply leave the room, put on my shoes or our dog's leash or something and then go back to helping HG get ready. But, I give myself that essential moment to calm down before working with HG again.
Teach, and expect, basic etiquette. Y'all, I am NOT someone who grew up saying "Ma'am" and "Sir" or who said "Please" and "Thank you" enough. I probably slammed my bedroom door a lot as a teen. And... I'm still horrendous about thank you notes (mainly putting them in the mail...). I don't think we need to teach etiquette as a way to take away children's choices or voice, but as a way to create a respectful and kind environment. As a new teacher coach, I'd be in 36 different teachers' classrooms once every one to two weeks for anywhere from 5min to 3hrs. These were not my classrooms and I was not going to do anything to jeopardize a teacher's authority in their own classroom teaching practice. However, I saw a lot of students being simply rude and teachers being simply rude back. I started ensuring that students said please and thank you to their peers and I (not in a mean way, but they knew after a reminder or two that I expected it) and we practiced not slamming doors even when we were mad because this disrupts the entire learning environment. As I learned more about early childhood education theories and theorists, I learned about lessons in grace and courtesy in Montessori practices and love this! So far, we've worked with HG on please and thank yous, greeting new people instead of staring, putting things away, etc. Please don't take this as permission to be a stickler or jerk to the young people in your life. Don't make a hungry kid beg for a snack. Don't make a student apologize to a class for being late. Forcing an apology from a toddler doesn't truly teach them to change a behavior. Embracing some basic etiquette is about creating a culture of respect and kindness, NOT about shaming children into submission.
Routines are essential. When a person feels safe, they can explore. In the classroom, this may look like a consistent agenda for the day (warm up/bell ringer, reading, discussion, new material, hands-on task, journal moment/exit ticket). At home, you may have specific routines around getting ready for the day and getting ready for bed. Perhaps your family has rituals around meal times. We often share a happy moment from our day. Between those grounding routines, there's a lot of day to fill. We keep things regular in our home, with yoga, story times, Tinkergarten, hikes, etc on the same day each week, but you don't have to be that consistent if you keep those basic routines the same. Telling children what to expect in a day is SUPER helpful, and it is a way to start sneaking in an understanding of sequencing, order, and time - some weird concepts for little minds :). In our house this sounds like, "We will walk Freda, then we'll water the plants. We need to get changed quickly and head to yoga" or "What do you want to do today? Go to the stream or stay home and play? We'll come home to have lunch with daddy". Some children benefit from visual schedules and reminders of what is happening in their day, they need the security of knowing what is happening next. I also find that when children know what is coming in advance, transitions from even a most beloved activity are less challenging.
Keep it simple, silly. In a podcast I love listening to, the host talks about setting low expectations, I don't think there is anything "low expectation"-y about keeping things simple. The more simple we keep things, the more space our kiddos and students have to take something (a math problem, a question in science, two hours outside) and run wild and deep with it. I often planned overly complex tasks for my students and it took me a while to learn that I could trust them and myself to get a lot out of even a simple task. There are lovely online simulations and neat kits that I could have used or purchased to do labs about erosion and plate tectonics and river pollution, but what often clicked with students were simple things. For example, each student would hold a pencil and stand in a line. We'd pretend the pencils were pollutants and pass them down stream to the next person, so by the time the person at the mouth of the river got the pencils, they could barely hold them. This became a visual students could come back to as we learned more about river systems and water quality. With HG, we often have one organized activity a day and the rest of the day we just kind of go with the flow. HG might chose to do a craft in the garage or build a tower with blocks or go swing on the playground. Along the way, we are practicing decision-making, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills with friends on a playground; and we might discuss colors, the moon, plants outside, animals we see, etc. Activities don't need to be planned to the T to be meaningful as long as we are ready to be present with our kiddo and follow their wonder and show them out to find answers.
Feed your people. This one, as parents, we probably don't really need too much info about. However, I don't think I was fully aware of how many snacks most toddlers (mine very much included) require :). When students were in a particularly slumpy slump, I often asked if they had had lunch. Frequently, the answer was no. I also saw what the school breakfasts and lunches were and they simply weren't adequate for growing teens. I stocked up on basic granola bars and 100% fruit snacks, etc. I found reasons to include food in lessons. If a student was spending part of their lunch with me because of behavioral choices or because they needed help, I always offered an extra snack. Hungry people cannot focus or learn or regulate their emotions. When HG starts to lose it, I've learned to ask if she needs a snack and so often that's all she needs. As our daily schedule shifts around her patterns, sometimes I cannot tell precisely when we should do snack time, so having a snack on hand and asking if she needs it is a go to. If you're like me, it might be good to bring a snack for you too. As parents and caregivers and educators, we're often on the go, which can make healthy eating harder and patience a bit thinner, so feed yourself too :). (I'm adding a giant bucket of mixed nuts to my shopping list now - that's my go to snack :).
Sorry...there are definitely stupid questions. I don't love the word stupid, but ya know, here it goes with a common phrase. I took TWO WEEKS at the beginning of each semester getting my students okay with asking thought provoking, scientific questions. In AVID, we spent an entire day helping our classmates get un-confused by asking them questions rather than giving them answers. I LOVE questions. And there are some that are just plain old obnoxious and petty and it's okay to say that. Three weeks into one school year, my students and I decided we needed a very clear list on what could get you sent to the refocus (adult timeout) table. The first thing they put on the list was "asking a question that was just answered because you weren't paying attention". I basically jumped for joy when they decided we needed to add this. It was a MAJOR pet peeve of mine and my kiddos often got this line, "How can we expect to be successful and contributing members of a democratic society if we cannot listen to each other? I just answered that question, see if your neighbor will answer it for you." If I could tell a student was stuck, we'd work through it, but if they simply were not listening to myself or their peers, they were going to have to work for the answer. The other type of question students knew not to ask was, "What are we doing today?" or "What are we doing next?" or "Where's that article?" or anything all they had to do was read the board or the directions to answer on their own. HG is asking questions yet, but she is starting to ask for help with things I know she can do on her own. I think my version of stupid questions is a mix of fear of getting it wrong/doing it wrong, a little laziness, and a lot of learned helplessness. Kindly encouraging one more try or offering teamwork can combat that. If your kiddo is simply asking questions about everything, ask it back in a different way. If they ask, "Why is that person wearing shoes?" ask, "What made you curious about why that person is wearing shoes?". This will either help you get at the root of the questions or encourage your kiddo to only ask questions they really care about :).
Discuss the culture of your crew. Successful classrooms invest time in creating class culture through building relationships, practicing norms, learning about the purpose and goals of a class, etc. Taking time to discuss what your family values and cares about is important. Perhaps this happens around religious practices, mealtimes, sports games, the news, hikes in the woods, or a book read aloud. Our family values acceptance, gratitude, learning, and family. We have books with diverse characters around our house, we share what has made us happy (HG doesn't know the word "grateful" yet, but happy makes a lot of sense to her :) each day, we are just all constantly learning and sharing what we've learned, and we make time to talk to and visit our family members. I had students whose families valued education, but were VERY uncomfortable talking about money - it was an adults only topic. This is a challenge because then my teens didn't actually know what the plan was for affording college. As adults, we get to choose what is age appropriate for our kiddos, but we also have to notice when what we care about is unclear or confusing for our kiddos. Looking for ways to start talking about what your family cares about and values? With younger kiddos, simply drawing a family portrait is a great start. Then, leave it on your kitchen table and add on. Add on favorite stories, pet peeves, hobbies, common phrases, etc for each person. Adults and older kiddos can try the VIA Character Strengths surveys and use it to spark discussion. I love the "Who We Are" kit from Ann Williams/Craft-tastic, which you could totally do on your own :). Choose a "Know Yourself Better" question from Gretchen Rubin, a happiness researcher, to discuss in the car or at a meal. My all time favorite getting to know you task was writing Where I'm From poems inspired by George Ella Lyons' poem by that name.
Give REAL choices. I got the tip from a counseling professor to always give three choices and it changed how I talk to kiddos who are heated up. Instead of saying, "You can eat this dinner or go to your room" or "You can throw that chair and get in trouble or you can sit down and do your work", giving three choices forces us, as adults, to help children find the choices in every moment. This might sound like, "You can eat 5 more bites of what is on your plate, choose a healthy snack after three bites, or tell me you aren't hungry today" or "You can put the chair down and walk to the principals office, put the chair down and get water, or sit down and rest". With a younger toddler I've found that three choices can be overwhelming (which some of my friends definitely knew but were kind enough to entertain me when I suggested three choices). Instead, I focus on giving real choices that both my toddler and I can live with and both get at least some of what we want. This might sound like, "Okay, 2 more minutes on the swing and a bath OR we can stay out here and no bath tonight" (if no bath is okay that night). I started with three choices and it helped me learn to give kids actual options instead of "do what I say, or do what you want and deal with the repercussions". When HG was really little we worked on "You can point, pet, or pat animal and plant friends" and "Your rock can go in your bucket, on the ground, or in your hand".
For the love of literally everything, please try not to yell. It rarely works. It is rarely enjoyable for the yeller or the person being yelled at. It often leads to erratic behavior on a young person's part. Go back to tip one if you feel the need to yell and take a timeout.
Share what impacts the choices you make as a parent/caregiver using #watchwonderbloom. I cannot wait to learn from you!