Remote Control

One of the hardest things to learn when you are little is how to modify your behavior to fit the situation you are in. As adults, we know that when we are in an office meeting, we should be quiet and focus on the person who is speaking. We know that we are probably supposed to sit still in our chair and refrain from entertaining ourselves and our co-workers with noises and comical expressions, even if we think the discussion is boring. These are things we have learned about societal expectations along our journey to adulthood. For children, it takes many practices and many mistakes for us to figure out what we are supposed to do.

Today, we talked a bit about how hard it is to come in from playing outside to moving in to the carpet for a quiet whole group lesson. I explained that it is like watching a wild movie with lots of running and loud music and then switching the channel to a quiet stream with only the sound of the water running across the rocks. I told the children that we all have our own remote control inside ourselves that we can turn so we are ready for the quiet moments. However, it’s really not quite that easy, so I asked the children for some suggestions about how they help themselves switch to their quiet selves.

We can sing a song.

We can take deep breathes.

While both of these are great ideas, they are not easy to implement when we are in the heat of the moment. In the spirit of Ross Greene’s Collaborative & Proactive Solutions, I believe that “children will do well when they can.” With that in mind, I expect that my students will need lots of coaching and practice to be able to meet this societal expectation by the time they are grown-ups.

Stopping what you are doing and moving to a completely different tempo of activity takes many skills; noticing the change, holding the new expectation in your mind, inhibiting your current tempo, ignoring input from other sources (like your friends….who might just be way more interesting than what the grownups want from you), and moving your focus. These fall under a catagory of thinking called Executive Function Skills.

How can we practice this? Lots and lots and lots of practice. Here are a few of the activities we’ve used to support our learners as they navigate these skills. All of these provide opportunities to practice noticing change, holding the new sets of rules in their minds, inhibiting automatic reactions, and allowing flexibility in thinking.

Rhythm Walk

Using two sticks, I tap out a predictable rhythm. Each tap signifies a step across the room. Fast taps tell a child to walk quickly. Slow taps are for very slow steps. A child must listen to the rhythm and adapt their gait based on the tempo of the sticks.

The Opposite Game

This game starts out as a simple “Copy Me” game. The easiest way to explain it is with a script.

Me: This a a listening game. You’ll need to listen with your whole body, your eyes, your ears, your brain, and your body. When I say, “Head” touch your head. When I say, “Feet” touch your feet.

(I say “head” and “feet” many times in an order, sometimes with two “heads” in a row or the other way around.)

Me: Now we are going to mix it up. Ready? When I say, “Head” you’ll do this (touch feet). When I say, “Feet” you’ll do this (touch head).

(Now when I say either direction, the children have to think to remember which action they are supposed to do. An automatic response doesn’t work anymore.)

You can play this many ways. You can say, “Jump” and “Sit” or give each child a colored piece of paper and have them raise them up when you say, “Blue” and “Yellow.”

Freeze Dancing

Yep. The good ‘ole standby, this game cannot be done without self-control.

How’s your bucket?


This week we read, “How Full is Your Bucket? For kids.”  In this story, we learned that each of us has an invisible bucket we cart along with us everywhere.  With each negative interaction or event drops of “water” drip out.  When your bucket is empty, it can be hard to be kind or helpful.  It can also make you feel sad or irritated.  On the other hand, with every positive interaction or event, our bucket fills up.  We also found out that when we are kind or helpful to others, not only do we refill their bucket, but add new drops to our own, too.

Some days, your bucket seems to be leaking like a sieve.  Your alarm clock didn’t go off.  You burnt the toast.  Your dog stepped in the mud and then jumped on your pants as you walked out the door.  All of these tiny little things take from your bucket.  Children and adults are more quick to anger, irritate, judge,  and outright react without thought when their bucket is empty.

We’ve been noticing when our buckets are losing water and when we can help fill another person’s bucket.  Today on the playground, I saw children filling buckets by sharing binoculars, taking turns on the swing, helping others build once a building had collapsed, and by inviting friends to join them in play. If you notice your bucket is a bit low, try a small act of kindness.  You’d be surprised how quickly it will fill back up.


Princesses can never get dirty.

I was a bit 20121211_6555thrown by a comment made during a small group discussion today.  I’ll try to replicate the conversation. Of course the names have been changed to protect the growing identities of our young social scientists. Let’s call them Marcella and Hildegarde.  The two children were discussing the action in a plot they were creating.

Hildegard: The boys can go out and do hard work and build.  And the girls can have tea parties.

Mrs. Forst: Girls can build and boys can go to tea parties.

(The two children laugh at my comment.)

Marcella: (scoffs) Princesses can’t build.  They NEVER get dirty.

Mrs. Forst: What if they want to go milk the cows.

Marcella: (aghast) They don’t do that! That’s what villagers do!

Mrs. Forst: What if she puts on work clothes so she can go do some work?

Marcella: She can’t dress like a villager. That would be hideous.  They [princesses] never wear “ragedy” clothes.

The conversation that followed included Marcella’s definition for “ragedy” (torn and ripped up and dirty) and an emphatic group agreement that princesses would never do actual work.  I countered with a few questions.  If a princess has to stay clean and fancy all of the time, does she ever get to have any fun?  At some point Marcella and Hildegarde identified themselves as villagers.  I asked them if they ever wore “ragedy” clothes.  Of course, the answer was a resounding “No!”  Being five years old, they didn’t notice the gap in their logic.

Next, we had a political discussion:

Hildegarde: It doesn’t really matter, because the villagers are in charge of the whole kingdom.

Mrs. Forst: Why is there a princess, then?

Hildegarde: (exasperated) All castles have princesses.

In our class, we are encouraging all of the children to explore many different roles as they play.  We want them to know that all options are open for princesses, princes and villagers.  Women build things. Men design dresses. Girls design computer software and enforce laws.  Boys sing and create dazzling culinary feasts.  Humans create. Princesses are not made of glass. They can get dirty. They can wear work clothes (without any rips and holes) and they should never be forced to stay in the tower, segregated from the rest of the world.