We covered lots of ground today. Our conversations ranged from favorite colors to scissors to how to use glue. Ask your children how to safely carry scissors when they are walking. They might even remember the words to our cutting song (sung to the tune of London Bridges);
Keep your thumb up when you cut,
When you cut,
When you cut.
Keep your thumb up when you cut,
Cut with scissors.
As we slowly introduce each of the tools available in Pre-K, the children become comfortable with procedures for use and clean up. Thank you for your patience as the first six weeks of school seem to be centered on the minutia of classroom routines. Using techniques emphasized in Responsive Classroom all of the teachers at Winchester Thurston recognize the importance of beginning the year with strong, visible expectations that can be modeled and practiced. The up-front investment in time creates a more smoothly running classroom as we dive more thoroughly into projects and curriculum later.
We have been quite busy the last few weeks learning the myriad of routines and procedures involved in a Pre-K student’s daily life. Following the Responsive Classroom approach, we slowly and intentionally model every possible action taken on within our classrooms. This includes everything from how to hold a pair of scissors to what a listening body looks, feels, and sounds like.
We begin the class year with almost all of the manipulatives put away and the shelves covered. In this manner, we can slowly introduce each type of material and guide the children on safe uses and clean up strategies. Outside play routines and materials are handled in the same manner. We have found that by dedicating the first few weeks of school to setting up and practicing routines, the rest of the year flows much more smoothly.
As part of our Responsive Classroom approach in the WT Lower School, we use Take a Break in every classroom here at North. Mrs. Pless and I introduced this new routine today. Take a Break is an opportunity for children to remove themselves from a situation when they are “beginning to lose control in a way that is disruptive or that compromises safety” (Northeast Foundation for Children, 2003, p. 103). The child will then move to a quiet, predefined part of the room so that he or she can pull themselves together. As soon as they feel they are ready to join the class, they may return. This is not the same as a time out where an adult is in charge of how long they stay away from the group and usually ends in a discussion between the teacher and the student regarding their behavior. Take a Break is suggested when the child already knows what is expected of them and they simply need a chance to step aside and refocus.
Here is a fictitious example:
The class is listening to a short story on the carpet in the library. As the teacher reads, “Allen” is making faces at the other children and trying to get their attention. The teacher says, “Allen, take a break.” Allen gets up and quietly moves to a preset chair in the room. He sits down. Takes a couple of breaths, decides he is ready to listen to the story, and returns quietly to sit on the carpet.
Notice that during this example, the teacher did not spend any time talking to Allen about his behavior. When Take a Break is used appropriately, the child is already aware of what the expectations are for the situation. The teacher does not need to unnecessarily draw attention to the child’s behavior. It works more as a reminder that “you [the child] know the expectations, you are not meeting them right now, take control of your own body and behavior, and join us again”.
The more we practice stepping aside when we are angry, sad, or simply too tired to focus, the easier it is to return to our previous task. This strategy for self-monitoring behavior will be revisited throughout our children’s lives.
Northeast Foundation for Children. (2003) Responsive Classroom: Level 1 Workbook. Turner Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.