This is the second installment in a nine-month series called “This Week In Kindergarten.” We will be following Stacy Glowacki’s kindergarten class at Washington Elementary School in Janesville.
While this week’s topic is teaching children emotional control, there is other news to report as well. Blaine likes combines. You have to climb up a ladder to get into a combine. Jax got some gravel in his shoes at recess. He likes undersea creatures such as octopuses, but he wants to know what they are doing down there. Liam made a sentence, and Joseph pounded on his chest like Tarzan.
Raise your hand, and sit on your spot on the colored carpet.
Those were the kindergarten rules from our childhood. If you had a squabble over, say, the green crayons, your teacher settled it.
Now, along with all of the academic subjects, 4- and 5-year-old kindergarten students are learning about conflict resolution and emotional control.
It’s part of what educators call “social-emotional learning.” At its most basic, it refers to the process of teaching children how to identify and manage their emotions, how to form friendships and work with others, how to be responsible for their actions and choices, and—probably most important—how to express their feeling with words.
At first, those seem like intuitive skills--the type of things children learn naturally as they age. But take a step back and consider the adults in your workplace or family. How many of them can express their feelings with words?
Consider the thin-skinned adult shouters and sulkers or the grownups who use social media for vicious, angry, snide or passive-aggressive remarks without knowing the facts and without any empathy for their victims.
Those skills aren’t so intuitive, after all.
In the Janesville School District, social-emotional learning starts in 4-year-old kindergarten, said Angela Lynch, coordinator of program.
Schools use “Second Step,” a curriculum that gives students tangible methods for managing conflict.
Outside Sarah Oswald’s 4K classroom is a set of posters displaying, with pictures and words, what kids can do when they find themselves in conflicts. Similar posters are hung on the walls inside.
Is someone being mean to you or getting on your nerves? Express how you feel. If that doesn’t work, you have plenty of other choices: Walk away, play with another friend, talk about it when you feel more calm, take ten deep breathes or ignore them.
In 4-year-old kindergarten, student work on social-emotional skills for a short period each day. In 5-year-old kindergarten, school counselor Erin Martin comes in each day during the first two weeks of school to talk about some of the same issues.
On a recent day, she was teaching students about the “zones of regulation” and the emotional “toolboxes” they can use to help manage their feelings.
The blue zone for example, is when you’re feeling sad or tired. The red zone is anger, and the yellow zone means you’re struggling with stress, frustration or anxiety. The green zone is when you’re calm and content.
“Remember, it’s okay to go through all the different zones at different times,” Martin said. “It’s really about how we get out of those zones.”
Recognizing how your body feels is important, too, she told them.
“In the yellow zone, you might be starting to lose control of your body, right?” Martin said. “We need to remember that ... what that feels like. What could you do if you were starting to feel that?”
The kids had answers: Take a deep breath. Ask Mrs. Glowacki for a hug or tell her how you are feeling. Go and get a drink of water.
They even have a special method for taking a deep breath: Smell the flower (breathe in deeply through your nose), and blow out the candle (exhale through your mouth).
How many of those “tools” do kids really remember to use? After Martin’s discussion, kids colored a paper “toolbox” featuring the zones of regulations.
As Miah and Clara worked on their projects, they talked about what Martin said.
Miah remarked she knew this stuff, and Clara, with a world-weary sign, said, “Mrs. Oswald taught us this last year.”