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Kids in the Canyon: Moving Toward the Greater Good
April 10, 2014 -
Sitting still versus sitting in stillness. I was pondering this thought recently and then, with the kind of synchronicity I love, my husband shared an article in the April issue of Esquire magazine: The Drugging of the American Boy.
I read the note from the Editor-in-Chief, David Granger, introducing the controversial topic of the increasing diagnosis of ADHD in boys, and suddenly, leaping off the page were the words: the boys in one study who were born in Decemberthe youngest kids in any gradewere 30 percent more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than boys born the previous January.
I have spent the past 10 years teaching these boys and, thankfully, a Transitional (Developmental) Kindergarten program was developed that allows these children, the youngest in their grade, to have an extra year to grow and mature. Following the works of David Elkind, Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, the work of the Gesell Institute and Dr. Becky Bailey, has helped me to focus on providing a structured, developmentally appropriate learning environment.
The classroom environment includes the required academic rigor, introduction of the Common Core Standards and learning school-appropriate behavior, but integrated into the education of these young children, is the practice of controlling ones own body, recognizing feelings and communicating thoughts to both adults and peers.
Movement is natural and necessary. People like to move, especially young children. We are inspired to move when we hear music, when we want to get close to something or someone, when it is a windy day or when we search for comfort.
Children need to move and they are also able to learn when it is a time for movement and when it is necessary to sit still in order to show respect, to eat a meal in a restaurant or listen to a story in a classroom (without distracting those around you).
Children can also learn to calm down through breathing, meditating and through focusing or releasing their energy in a positive way. Dr. Becky Bailey has a wonderful program for teachers and parents that can empower children through learned techniques of relaxation, mindfulness and positive choices.
Some children are in touch with their feelings and are able to articulate their feelings easily, but it is a learned skill for most. Our young children do not always have the words, though they certainly have strong feelings. They anger over small injustices, such as losing a game, someone cutting in line or a friend walking away during a conversation. Often, very young children or children unable to express themselves lash out physically, detach emotionally from the group and retreat into themselves.
It is our job, to help children identify their feelings in order to clearly express what is hurting them. There are times when children are physically hurt (being pushed down) but there are many times when children are emotionally hurt (the loss of a pet, being ignored, feeling that no one is listening or paying attention to them). It is during these times that a caring adult can step in to help the child identify their feelings with words (soon to be mimicked by the child), by saying, Your face looks like this. (Make an expression similar to the childs face) and it seems like you are upset. Are you angry?
Practice listening with the heart, as in The Way of Council, as practiced at the Ojai Foundation, allows all to be heard, gives everyone a chance to speak their truth, thoughts and feelings, and provides an opportunity to listen from a place free of judgment. As we practice Council, most children find it easy to stay still, to focus and to listen to their friends. Providing a quiet time, a non-hurried time to be with each other, to listen respectfully and speak from our hearts, opens the door to self-expression and positive communication.
We walk a fine line as parents and educators, teetering between teaching social behaviors and modifying our expectations to meet the needs of children. As Transitional Kindergarten expands in California through SB 837, The Kindergarten Readiness Act (soon to be voted on) we will be in the forefront of helping all young children learn not only the academic skills they will need to succeed in school, but the social and emotional tools they will need to develop into the great, unique, creative and loving children we know they can be.