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.

Letter Builders

In the past week, the students have been playing a game during center time called “Letter Builders” where they work with various wooden shapes to build a given letter. At the beginning of the game, the students are given a card with a letter displayed on it and they are asked to figure out which pieces they will need to make their letter. They then take the wooden pieces and place them right on top of the letter card. In most cases, the students exclaim how easy the task is and that they are ready for more of a challenge.

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Once the students are comfortable with their abilities to manipulate the shapes, the letter card is then placed on a stand that sits in the middle of the table. The students must now create the letter shape while looking at the letter card from afar rather than directly in front of them. While this seems like it should be an easy task, the children actually must now use their executive functioning skills and working memory to hold the shape of the letter in their minds while searching for the appropriate pieces. Then they must create the shape of the letter in front of them without the help of the card underneath as a guide. The letters that use more straight pieces tend to be the easiest for the students to create, while the letters that use curvy pieces or letter that requires the students to cross the midline prove to be the most challenging. Some of the letters require the students to overlap the pieces, which created an extra challenge for them to tackle.

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The last step in the game is when the students must create the letters completely on their own. The letter cards are put away and the student are asked to create the letter completely from memory. This is obviously the most challenging as the students must think about what shapes they will need without an example in front of them to use as a resource. Some students quickly problem solved this issue by looking around the room for the letter they were working on or even looking at a neighbor’s completed letter. The more the students work with the letters and their shapes, the easier the task becomes.

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Today, we focused on creating uppercase letters as they are easier to form. Next time we play, the students will be challenged with creating lowercase letters with the wooden shapes. This makes the task slightly more difficult as the students will have to make sure their letter shapes are facing the correct direction. When shifted, even slightly, it can be easy to accidentally create the wrong letter. Letters such as b, d, p, and q look remarkably alike and the students will have to stay focused in order to create the correct letter. We know that our Pre-k Letter Builders will be up for the challenge!

Friends Work Together

Our study of friends has brought up many questions.  It has been illuminating to hear the solutions that the children provide. Working together is one of the struggles we  encounter often in Pre-Kindergarten.   When the children are sitting in a group discussing possible solutions to this quandary, they quickly come up with logical, kind ideas.  However, in practice, emotions are sometimes too high to allow children to process solutions on the spot.  For this reason, we intentionally provide the class with opportunities to practice working as a small group to solve a challenge.

Below you will find a video of three children designing a way to reunite a family of pandas.  Within this clip you’ll find our children practicing a wide range of essential life skills (focus, perspective taking, communicating, making connections, and critical thinking) as well as other executive functions (planning, organizing, impulse and emotional control, and working memory).

The most exciting part for me was watching as they persisted with a challenge even in the face of failure.  Twice, their idea completely collapsed   Not once did they give up.