De-Stressing Your Classroom
“Want to dance?” Miss Trish asked, smiling as she flipped on the CD. The kindergartners, congregating restlessly on the rug and unable to sit down as they transitioned from a series of stimulating events, began to swing their arms and bounce. “Freeze!” she commanded, hitting the pause button, and the children stopped in mid-step. Then on and off again until all 20 children were ready to settle into quiet, focused activity. Acknowledging the exciting morning that had occurred, Miss Trish never lost her smile while channeling the energy. She accepted and seemed to enjoy the children’s bursting feelings.
Going with the energy flow is a key teacher strategy for keeping young children feeling harmonious with the teacher and with one another. Transitions are a predictable time for scattered energy. Planning for them is another key strategy. As a transition time approaches, prepare children with advance notice—“Five minutes until it’s time for snack”—and set an egg timer so children can check the time passing. Then have a set of fingerplays, handclaps, songs, and sign language messages at the ready because they enable regrouping. Teach them before you need to use them; for example, as the group is moving to the next activity, you can start singing softly with the few who are watching you, and the pleasure of the singing will draw the others in. Songs can accompany children both to finish and start activities. A “clean-up” song is very useful!
A third key strategy is to vary the type of activity. Quiet times such as sitting and listening to a story should be alternated with vigorous times such as marching, stretching, and freely outdoors. An active body contributes to an active mind, enhancing learning and promoting healthy growth as well. Current research indicates that most children are not moving enough, becoming less focused for cognitive tasks.
Some teachers enjoy using yoga exercises. Poses such as “Tree,” “Mountain,” “Dog,” and “Cat” foster imagination as well as balance and muscle strength. Yoga exercises have a lifelong benefit to children, especially as they can be used anywhere and don’t require equipment.
Children also benefit from guided imagery: “Pretend you are lying in fresh green grass and looking up at the clouds floating by. Do you see a puffy pillow? How comfy to rest on it….” and so on. If you fasten a clustered string of tiny white Christmas lights on the ceiling above the rug, you can make a starlit night for imagery adventures. “Pretend we are going to a faraway star. It takes so long to travel…look, there is the moon,” etc. Such outdoor themes also connect children to nature, which they increasingly need in our highly structured indoor lives.
Provide outdoor playtime every day. The change in air, the ability to run, jump, shout, and choose what to do next are vital to children’s mental health. While teachers often need a break from the classroom as well, a teacher who enjoys playing some games with children, even ones as simple as tag or jump rope, can add to the friendliness of the group. Also, children show different abilities outdoors, which offer more chances for recognition and appreciation. “Josh! You found a caterpillar. And you are being so gentle with it. Want to show our friends?”
Make children aware of the nature outside—perhaps your yard lacks plants, but the weather, the sky, and the clouds are also nature. Shadows and sunshine make changes to capture interest. Usually birds can be spotted, even in cities. Learning to observe nature can give children lifelong satisfaction. You might be the teacher who is remembered for pointing out such things as fast-moving clouds or a bird’s nest.
Finally, a “Green Classroom” provides a supportive setting for the harmonious school life you seek to create. (see box)