Monday, July 23, 2018

We'll just skip circle time today.

This morning, I thought the kids and I would go outside a little extra early, enjoy the nice cool weather, do the art project I had planned in the beautiful outdoors.

However, each time I asked the children if they were ready for circle time, which is what we do before heading outside for snack and outdoor play, they said no.

It was clear that they were really enjoying their indoor play time. With each other. With our stuff.  The vibe of our small class size in the summer.

I asked again at 9:45 whether they were ready to finish up inside and move on to circle time.  I asked at 9:50. I asked at 10. I asked at 10:15. They repeatedly said no.  It became clear they were not motivated to do anything except to continue the play themes they had spent the whole morning constructing.

I wanted to honor their play. That's why I asked to do circle rather than telling them. Usually, I say "It's time for circle". Today, I asked "Do you want to clean up for circle tiem?".   They just seemed so invested in their play, and what was it to me, whether we stuck to the schedule or not?

Finally at around 10:45, I started getting antsy. If we have circle too late, snack is too late, children get hangry, the whole systems fails. So I thought, hm, they can sacrifice circle time if they want. I'll just have an extra social snack time so we can all feel seen and heard and connected. That's the point of circle time, anyway.

I was sure they would skip circle time in lieu of extra play time. And, I'm not going to say my feelings weren't a little hurt that they didn't care about "my" circle time, which I consider fun and something that elicits loads of motivation and participation and excitement.  I started doubting myself. Maybe I've lost my teaching mojo and my circle times are no longer fun or interesting. Maybe I've lost that magic of creating a circle time that induces a sense of wholeness to the individual and the group and builds up our little community members. Maybe I've lost my touch.  My circle time used to be so outrageous and spontaneous and fun. I guess it's turned hum drum and they would just rather free play all day.

So I offered them a circle time alternative. I announced this to the group:

"If you would rather play an extra three minutes than have circle time, I'm willing to let you do that. But if you take the extra time to play, no circle, because we have to have snack soon."

That's when I heard the murmurs. "What? No circle?" "Then when will circle time be?" "What did Stephanie say?"
Mass confusion ensued until one spokesperson said "Okay, we'll take circle time". They promptly began putting toys away.

Why did they take the circle time option? My ego tells me it's because I'm fun and know how to make that time engaging for kids and I'm this old experienced teacher who just know how it's done.  My more logical brain tells me that its because even tho they loved the make believe play that was happening, they are still children, and children need to feel the sense of routine, and they want to come together for this special group time to be seen and heard and acknowledged.

I'm honored to be a part of this.  So deeply honored.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Space to Feel

Children's responses to "would you like to share your feelings today?"

This list of feelings emerged in our circle time conversation today. I would like to share the complexity of feelings that emerge in our group time. It was a very honest and organic conversation.

Some days, I plan our circle time. Other days, I am spontaneous. Most days, the kids let me know what we're doing, whether verbally or just showing me that they aren't interested in my plan. Circle time is pretty flexible. We're always ready to change the course.

On this particular day, we would be singing songs. Before circle time started, I noticed a little wooden toy on the floor. I asked the child sitting next to me to put it away. When she returned to circle after putting away the toy, her seat had been taken by another child. I waited to see what she would do and she seemed content to sit in another spot. Normally i would save that spot since she was doing a job, but she didn't seem bothered in the moment and didn't ask for her seat back.

However, as circle time progressed, I noticed she had a sour facial expression and didn't seem too thrilled when it was her turn during the good morning song.

When that song was over, I announced to the group that I noticed some feelings at our circle time and asked if anyone would like to share their feelings.

I reminded them about a story from the day before - a story where a grumpy joey (baby kangaroo) who woke up feeling grumpy. It's a very sweet story, where the mama kangaroo tries to cheer up the joey. However, what I honed in on in this story was the mother kangaroo's persistence in cheering up her baby. When one strategy didn't work, she would move on to the next - hugs, distraction, jokes, games.

We talked about the idea of cheering someone up versus trying to change their feelings when they don't want help. We talked about ways to ask for help, for instance asking for a hug or asking to be cheered up. Sometimes we just want to feel our feelings, which is a trend that I've observed with this group of children. That's not to say they are unique in this way -- perhaps I have not tuned in to this with prior groups.

The same day, a child at story time didn't like the way I corrected her behavior, and she was quiet with folded arms (something I'd describe as "pouting"). I felt uncomfortable by her sadness and wanted to comfort her. Moreover, I wanted to control how she perceived me in my teaching efforts. I offered her a hug. She declined. I let her have the space to feel the emotion and she recovered quickly. But I SO BADLY wanted to "fix" her feeling.

A couple of guiding principles of my teaching philosophy are:

1. no one is in charge of anyone else's feelings


2. feelings, positive or negative, are okay and normal parts of our life.

We welcome and talk about feelings A LOT. Not in a way that creates a sense of victimhood and "poor me". We talk about feelings in a matter of fact way. It's okay to have them, feel them, not have them (because sometimes I really want kids to feel the "positive" feelings!).

I let the children know that when they share their feelings at circle time, I won't try to change the way they feel. They get to have whatever feeling they want. Feelings are welcome in our safe space. This seemed to allow them to get more vulnerable and share the darker feelings (as you might notice on the feelings list in the photo).

Each child went around the circle and each person was offered time to share their feelings. If they chose to share, they were asked if they'd like to elaborate. I wrote the feelings down (and made little faces to depict the feeling so the children could "read" the feeling). I wanted the feelings to be visible, reflected on this paper where we could see it, have a little more sense of perspective around it, let it be a word and not this whole nebulous overwhelming experience. I wanted to validate the experience while allowing the children to feel bigger and empowered over their feelings.

After all, we are not the way we feel. We are not the feeling. Feelings aren't facts. They feel like facts. But they are fleeting experiences. And when we know this, we can offer coping skills and ways to reframe their experiences when the experience is overpowering. We are building emotional literacy, so we can be members of the community who feel compassion and sorrow and excitement and hope, without acting irrationally and impulsively based on a fleeting emotion.

The child whose space was taken at circle time - perhaps she needed time. Perhaps she wanted to explore the feeling and just sit with it like a friend for a minute. Maybe she needed words to label the feeling and thereby understand it.

My most important role is to create the space, hold the space, allow the space, and be there for when (or if) the child needs my more direct support.


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