This time of the year is prime wazi-wazi time (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, look to earlier posts for an explanation). August is speeding past and we try to cram in the last little bit of summer fun. Shopping for school clothes and supplies, lining up childcare, signing up for dance and music, all in stifling heat and humidity . . . I’ve seen more than one child burst into tears as parents drag them place to place, trying to get it all done. And we may feel like bursting into tears right along with our child.
For kids who find school scary or traumatic, think how much harder this time of year is. For many of our students, school has not been a happy place, and they are thrown into a major episode of wazi-wazi. How do we deal with that at JRA?
First, we have invited all the students one at a time to see the school and to meet us. What does the school look like? Where are the bathrooms? Where will my lunch go? What’s this thing? We have found that feeling comfortable in the space and knowing one’s way around lowers anxiety.
Next, we invite them back in groups of two and sometimes three, beginning to work on social interactions and how we get along as a small group. We invite them again to give them reading and math pretests so we will not waste instructional time figuring out where they are. Some students spend more time with us than others; if they are highly anxious, they need time to get angry and see they’re still accepted, vent about their past school experiences, and figure out why we do things the way we do.
Third, we have mapped out a set of procedures for every transition of the day. We will go over the first one with them at one of their visits, and we’ll also mail them a laminated card so they can have a “cheat sheet” on the first day of school. This will tell them how to enter the classroom in the morning:
•Enter and greet the teacher.
•Put your items in your cubby and your lunch in the lunch box.
•Take the clothespin from your cubby and put it on the roll poster.
•Choose which morning activity you will do; if you are having trouble, an adult will help you decide.
•The timer will ring five minutes before circle time. Finish your activity, put your materials away, and start coming to the big rug.
During their visits, they will have a chance to scope out the morning activities and have one in mind for the first day. One funny guy has already decided he will set up a soccer game with the little medieval soldiers, using the tiny plastic cannonball as the soccer ball. Another loves our Cross-section books. The day will start this way every day. There needs to be no anxiety about what is going to happen during that first half-hour. During the first week, we will work on transitional procedures for going to class, ending class, lunch, end of the day. When procedures are in place, learning can happen instead of wondering what one is supposed to be doing.
Last, the building itself makes us slow down and relax. The kids ask to come back after their initial visits. One child lay on the big rug, looking at the pressed tin ceiling and said, “I LOVE this rug.” Another likes to hear the old wood in the hall creak as he walks. And then there is the ever popular merry-go-round. Murphey School, the location of JRA, has some of the best energy of any building I’ve ever been in. I feel calmer the minute I walk into the light-filled, airy space. No flickering fluorescents are needed, even on cloudy days.
When kids are having trouble in school, it’s very easy to tell them they need to make different choices. But sometimes it’s the adults that need to adapt. Changing the environment and making the time there safe and predictable are two ways of doing that.
Come visit before school starts on September 7. But come slowly and peacefully and stay for awhile.