Trust The Children

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Breathing Out, Breathing In... Revisited!

When was the last time you experienced a melt down with one of your children? The kind of meltdown that leads to some kind of "time out" or banishment into outer space? When this happens, and it happens to all of us at one point or another, there is often this feeling of helplessness. "What do you do when they are just out of control?" you ask. A red faced, teary eyed, jumping up and down, ranting and raving, inconsolable melt down can even be a bit frightening.

My son and daughter in law had just such an experience with Grant. Grant is 3 I think. David came home, and finds that Grant has been "transferred" to the garage to work out his tantrum. He is crying, screaming. I am not sure exactly what Launna said to David, but if it was me, I might have said "You deal with him!". David goes into the garage, and finds the red faced, teary eyed, ... all of it, pitching a fit for no observable reason. So what to do? Whether it was inspiration or exasperation, David said, "Grant, you want to kick a ball? " Grants eyes open, he looks up and nods his still sobbing approval of the idea. David says, "Ok, then go get a ball and meet me in the back yard." Grant runs to his bedroom, opens his closet, begins digging through the pile on the floor, tossing things behind him into the center of the room, like a dog digging a hole, and finally finds the ball. They meet in the back yard and begin kicking the ball. In just a few minutes Grant is centered. The red face has gone away, the sobbing has stopped, and he is laughing and running and settled down again.

As David was relating this to me, I said to him, "Well of course! I blogged about this over a year ago. You know, Silvia Ashton Warner, breath out and breath in." Obvious, of course, to a grandfather living in a remote part of the universe. David reminded me that just because I blogged about something once in my life, that doesn't mean even his #1 son remembers it. "Maybe you need to blog about it again?" he suggested.

So I am. Right now. The short version is this: Silva Ashton Warner was a teacher in New Zealand among the Maori people. She found that when she allowed for an hour or so of creative expression at the beginning of the school day, like singing, drawing, dancing, etc, that when she moved into more formal instruction, these students were more attentive. Even after lunch, she began again with a session of active creativity before teaching. Her label for this was "breath out, breath in." Let them breath out all their energy first, to prepare them to breath in the formal instruction. It makes sense. It works. (The full blog is here).

I believe there were several things that made this work for her. First, this was not a one time event, but part of the regular rhythm of her instructional pattern. Making this activity part of the daily flow, brings a kind of comfort and peace to the kids. Another thing she did, was listen to them as they were playing. She listened for their banter, their story telling, their expressions of life as described in her own words. She listened for the content and she also listened for the words they used. Then she leveraged her observations during her moments of instruction. She used the words already in their vocabulary to teach them to read, write and spell. She used the stories of their own life experience, where she could, to teach arithmetic, social studies and other topics. So not only did this activity time settle the kids down, but it provided, in a very natural way, the fuel with which she build in them a bonfire of learning.

Not too long ago, I was asked to teach a group of 12-13 year olds. There were four points I wanted to make with them. The class was after the dinner hour. I introduced my topic and then said, "But before we get into the first idea, I want to do an activity." Then I set up a relay race and said "go!" They did the race and came back panting. It was at that point, that I gave them the first topic of instruction. When I completed that, I sent them on another running race. They came back tired and breathing hard. I gave them a few minutes to recover and taught item number 2. Then I sent them on another short activity and upon returning taught them item number 3. Then another activity and then the last point. I imagine that to some, this process sounds silly and a waste of time. But I can tell you that at the end, I conducted a review with them, and they not only remembered what I taught, but were all anxious, even the most reluctant ones, to answer and share their take on each point.

Now it is true, that I am 6'4", weight over 300 lbs and have a direct nature about me. So I don't think they were disposed to argue much about the process. However, since then, I have seen other leaders of young men do this and have the same result. In addition, it is no surprise to me, that when Boy Scout Troop meetings begin and end with this kind of physical activity, that the troops organizations grow and thrive. ( I have noticed this idea is too simple for many scoutmasters also too simple for many home schooling parents, I am afraid).

While I am reading like crazy to prepare to go to graduate school this fall, I find myself even doing this same thing myself. Breaking up reading and studying activities with physical activity. (My version of a relay, however, is usually getting up to go to the bathroom.) It does the trick for me as well.

My suggestion is, to use this principle with your children at home in your teaching environment. Teachers in the public setting are always trying new ideas to make their teaching more effective. Why not you? Let us know how it works. In the meantime, I am putting this topic on my calendar to revisit in a year or so. I hope Grant finds himself kicking his ball more often in combination with his learning activities.

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  • I am so happy to find you have a blog! Before I moved to Boston I was shy of the world of internet social groups, but when my first phone bill after leaving Seattle was $300 and my second near $400 I decided it was time to find an alternate form of communication. :) So I started a blog! It's been an invaluable blessing. blog isn't all that inspiring, I must say, it's just the every-day musings of someone who has a lot of growing left to do, but you're welcome to visit it if you like:
    My blog is private (due to some unruly comments left by a stranger a few months back) so you have to sign in. I'll send you the invite.
    Good to hear from you!

    By Blogger Joanne, at 6:01 PM, August 15, 2008  

  • missing your posts! i know life has been busy but drop the blogging world a line on what you have been learning, okay!?

    By Blogger Jennifer, at 7:25 PM, August 30, 2008  

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