Life in my classroom before the holiday break was a bit crazy. As I am sure every teacher and parent understands, the kids were increasingly excited as Christmas approached, and I had more and more trouble holding their attention. I was beginning to feel like a circus performer or a tap dancer, trying my hardest to captivate them while competing against the million and one things running through their minds.
Unconsciously, I realized I was speeding up along with my kids. I found that I was ending writing workshop time sooner, wrapping up partner discussions earlier, and zipping through activities. I thought that I was adapting to work with their attention spans. However, I came to realize that by zipping and speeding along, I was actually shortening their attention spans myself! I needed to slow down….
As teachers, we are meant to set the pace, and then help our students to match us. We want them to look to us to see what to do, and then follow our lead. In thinking about this, I remembered Mr. Rogers. My mom told me once that Mr. Rogers had been told that his television show was too slow for young children. It was suggested that he pick up the pace and be more like Sesame Street – short, speedy segments to keep up with the kids. Mr. Rogers stood firm and maintained a soothing, calm program that moved slowly. Slowly through speech, scenes, and routines. And, if you ask my mom, my brother and I were captivated. Mr. Rogers set the pace, and we were happy to join him on his peaceful journey.
With all of this in mind, I worked to create a bit more stillness in my classroom in December. One way that I did this was through yoga. I have been using yoga stories with my students, and they respond wonderfully when we slow down and breathe together. In fact, their favorite part (along with mine) is the final rest pose. I have all of the kids stretch out on the floor, close their eyes, and do some visualizations. It takes a few minutes for them all the settle in, but there are a few moments when they are still and calm. It is incredible for them and me.
I also worked to adjust my environment. In keeping with the idea of the environment as the third teacher, I wanted to create a calming atmosphere. I invested in some lights and lanterns, and when we needed to slow down, we turned out our regular lights and enjoyed the dimmer lights.
A colleague once told me that stillness is almost absent from children’s lives. They are always doing, watching, listening, etc. If you take a minute to notice all of the stimuli in our classrooms at any given time, it is overwhelming. Her goal was to give her students an increasing number of minutes of stillness each day. The hope was to match their age (five minutes of stillness for a five year old.)
I can say that slowing down my teaching, my breathing, my talking, and my otherwise racing around was powerful for me, and my students, this December, and I plan to work to keep this in mind in the new year.
How do you slow down life for your students? What techniques, activities, or methods do you suggest to help bring a little peace and stillness back to their busy lives?