Playful Directions

Mrs. Forst's Pre-Kindergarten Blog


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Do you see the signs?

120314_7303Children show the signs of stress in a huge variety of ways.  Sometimes, it can be easy for adults to mistake stress for another emotion or motivator.  A few common behaviors that look like something else, might be stress related instead.

Here are a few examples:

  • Fits of tears seemingly out of nowhere
  • Snarky, sarcastic comments
  • Withdrawn silence
  • “Fidgetiness”
  • Non-stop talking
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Quick temper
  • Giddy silliness

Recently, we spoke with Lucy about how she sometimes feels stressed.  She mentioned that she was feeling a little bit of stress as Winter Break approaches.  She is worried about the upcoming Winter Performance and all of the changes to her routine related to the break. A few of the children made a connection with Lucy’s feelings.

Identifying stress as an emotion is really not part of our current childhood culture.  Adults usually relate stress to work, health, interpersonal relationships, time and money.  We generally don’t pay attention to the other triggers for stress that frequently effect children (not to mention us.)  Many small things can set our stress reactions off.  A change in routine, an anticipated event, or even an unexpected reaction from others when we try, and fail, to communicate a need.

We helped Lucy identify some of the physical clues that indicate stress. A tightening of our muscles, a need to “get away”  or disappear and a burst in energy can all be signs that we might want to assess our situation and response.  The children helped Lucy find ways that she could alleviate some of her stress and begin to calm down.

The first thing we tried involved tightening and relaxing our muscles.  We closed our eyes, balled our hands into fists and squeezed as hard as we could.  We held this while we counted to ten, then slowly allowed our hands to open, releasing the tension and the built-up energy.  Our second experiment dealt with breathing.  Again we closed our eyes as we slowly inhaled deeply, held for one second and then slowly released our breath.

The children noticed that after both movement sets, their muscles felt more loose.  Some suggested that they felt more tired.  We don’t expect our children to leave Pre-kindergarten with the ability to manage their stress at will.  Our hope is that they begin on a long path to recognizing their own feelings of stress. With at least a few strategies in their pocket to help them manage stress, the world can be a lot less frightening place.

 


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How do you feel?

Pre-kindergarten students can have a very hard time interpreting other people’s feelings.  In fact, sometimes figuring out their own feelings is a bit confusing. …. Who am I kidding? Even grown-ups have moments where they misinterpret a facial expression or react in a way that is contrary to their actual feelings.  One of our school wide goals is to encourage children’s propensity towards kindness and ability to think of a choice’s impact on others.

Meet our friend.  He/She doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t have a gender. We don’t even know if it is animal, vegetable or mineral, yet.  This friend is sometimes referred to as the Edushape Feelings Friend.  It’s facial features are velcroed in place and are easily interchangeable.  Extra pieces store in it’s “pocket.”

IMG_1167We introduced this friend today to help us practice understanding feelings, our own and others’.  Tomorrow, the children will begin the process of choosing a name for our friend.  We’re looking forward to joining him/her/it on many adventures.

 


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You’re not my friend anymore!

Ah, Spring. The time of new growth, warmer weather, and storms…lots of storms. Swirly wet, angry storms surge all around us this time of year, but not outside.  Inside the classroom, a little crock-pot-like enclosure, friendships have been growing, pulling and mixing all year.  We are no longer a bunch of strangers, getting used to one another. Instead we are a family.  Where once the children held back their frustration, anger, and tears, they comfortably let loose.  We’ve all become their siblings.  This is wonderful in that they realize how much all of us care for them.  They also know that they can depend on each other and the adults.  On the other hand, they are also more apt to react to each other unkindly.

Many things can go wrong in a pre-kindergartener’s day.  Your best friends may want to play farm, but you want to be a dinosaur.  The person next to you might think your noodles look yucky.  The blue scissors that you really wanted are in another person’s hands.  A very common reaction to all of these perceived insults is to say, “Well, if you are going to do that, you’re not going to be my friend ever again!”

Ouch.

Pre-K children are very “here and now”.  They are literal people who generally aren’t good at seeing a statement said in anger as just a passing emotion.  If another child tells them that they will never play with them again, they believe it to be so.  It is also hard for young children to consciously take time to choose words before they speak.  Thus, although I wish it would work, simply telling them to stop saying mean things and be nice won’t help very much.

So what do we do? We help them practice.  We are there when they make a mistake, when they tell their friend that they will never invite them to their birthday party.  We talk with them about what they are feeling, why they are talking in this way.  Our job is to help them recognize the emotion they are feeling and put it into words.  We explain that it is o.k. to say, “I’m mad at you,” and is preferable to, “I’m never playing with you again.”  It is not always easy to express our feelings truly.  Instead the reaction usually come first, before we’ve really got a hold on the situation.  This is why it is our job to help them practice.  You feel an emotion. You express it. If something needs to be done about it, you do it.  We usually skip the first part and move right into the “do it” section, later feeling regret that we acted rashly.

Remember, though, we are talking about 4 and 5-year-olds.  (O.k., maybe 38-year-olds should be included, as well.) We are not expecting them to master this skill this year.  Metacognition, or “thinking about your thinking”, is hard.  My well-adjusted 92-year-old grandmother hasn’t yet mastered the ability to completely control her emotions 100% of the time.  Practice is the key word.  We will practice identifying the emotion that preceded an unkind comment.  Practice stating what our feelings are.  Practice finding a solution to assuage those feelings without harming others.

Mrs. Pless and I have been working with the class this week on this very skill.  We (and all of the other Pre-Kindergarten teachers on the planet) are trying to help the children understand that it is alright to tell your friends your feelings, but it is not acceptable to threaten them in any way.  This includes threats of lost friendship, exclusion, and bodily harm.  Most of the anger exhibited in our class stems from misunderstandings.  When the children practice recognizing that they are angry, sad, frustrated, they can develop a more appropriate response.  We are practicing saying, “I’m angry because….”


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The First Day!

Whew! That went fast! At 8:00 this morning, our little explorers began to arrive. Some of them were a bit nervous, some were very excited, and a few acted as though they had been coming here for years. (“Bye, Mom! Time for you to go now.”)

The beginning of the school year is always very busy. Many of the areas of the classroom are not yet open for use so that we can slowly teach the children the procedures and routines for particular supplies and manipulatives. For this reason, there are not very many options available upon arrival for the first couple of days. As we introduce new centers and materials each day, the choices that are available will certainly expand.

Today we introduced the kitchen in the dramatic play area and the block center. In our kitchen, we discussed the purpose for returning items to their previous baskets and shelves. We decided that food should go in the refrigerator, pots and pans in the oven, and dishes in the dish washer. Although it might seem a bit overboard for a group of four-year-olds, we know that they can keep an area organized if they know the expectations from the beginning. In the block center they learned that each block has a corresponding label on the shelf so that they can easily find a similar block or replace them when they are finished.

We also reflected on our feelings during our first day of Pre-K.  We were pleased to see that many of the children were feeling “happy” and “good”.  A few were more in the “shy” range with only one admitting to being overtly “sad” (although the picture she drew was of herself smiling).  One student went so far as to say that she was “nervous AND excited”.

Our class did make it outside today, as well.  Although the weather did not at first appear to be cooperating, luckily the rain stopped early enough for us to spend some time outside on the black top.  Children who brought rain boots were allowed to play in the grass, too.  If your child would like to keep rain boots at school for outdoor play, we can certainly accommodate them.  We believe that it is extremely important to get outside and get moving many times a day.  Heavy rain and dangerous weather are about the only things that keep us inside.

Amazing that we did all this in one short four-hour period.  We can’t wait to do it again tomorrow!