Last week my Dad, who was visiting from California, and I helped out in my son Donovan's kindergarten class a couple of times. I was so impressed with the amazingly calm environment created by the teacher and the teaching assistant that I just had to share a couple of my observations that I think we can all benefit from trying at home.
Sensory cues instead of voices: These days schools are so much more in tune with the fact that we have five senses and that we all have different sensory preferences. As a result they use different sensory cues to get the children's attention which are much more effective than simply using words. At home I notice we use mainly our voices and words and often feel like those words are going in one ear and out the other that is usually exactly what is happening. Even I get tired of hearing my own voice so I can't blame the kids for experiencing the same.
Whether it is using an auditory cue such as clapping to indicate that it is time to listen, or a combination of both a visual and a physical cue such as turning down the lights and putting your hands on top of your head, as my son's teacher did, right away the children know that it is time to look at and listen to the teacher. At each transition stage in the classroom the lights went down and the children had a moment to gather their thoughts and end an activity and get ready for the next. I am going to try some music at home for the bedtime transition because I notice the transition from dinner to the bedtime routine is currently not as calm as any of us would like it to be.
I also noticed during the transition times that the teacher's voice actually was lower and not higher. I'll admit, when I am tired and asking for the fifth time for my nine year old son Cole to put his pajamas on and brush his teeth it is rare for my voice to get lower. I know he responds to sensory cues much more effectively so I am going to try a music cue by putting on one of his favorite bedtime songs, something from the O' Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, and asking in a nice calm voice and I know I am only going to need to ask once.
Even just thinking about this as I write I can tell that by using the auditory cue I am going to be respecting the transition period more. After dinner Cole normally likes to go and play with his toys, creating extremely elaborate battles between knights, dragons and a myriad of other figures. This is very real to him and when I am continually asking him to get ready for bed I am missing an opportunity to acknowledge the creative process he is absolutely enthralled in. Of course he wants to get the battle to a certain stage and by acknowledging that I can use the opportunity to connect with him and empower him to get to that next stage and then get ready for bed. A much nicer way to end the day.
I had to laugh when I looked around the kindergarten class and all the adults helping out also had their hands on top of their heads when the lights went down. In just a short time in the class room we got into the rhythm of the transitions quickly. No wonder the children are enjoying kindergarten so much - it is such a nice play to be, you are only asked once, and there are no raised voices.