The other day I sat in the stands at the local pool watching my kids move through the water during swim practice. There is something calming about watching swimmers glide through the water amidst the repetitive rumble of feet making waves as each swimmer moves back and forth. This serenity is enhanced as I witness the persistence of my kids wanting to improve their skills and working through the practice despite being tired or disappointed by actions or activities earlier in the day. I know they find peace as well, and a bad day can turn into a better day.
In moments like this, I tend to reflect on life in general. I think it is because the senses are being stimulated: the faint teal paint of the walls paired with the light blue water, the dense heat of the pool house embraced by the humidity of the water, the chlorinated smell, the rumbling thunder of the swimmers, and the self-awareness as the bind centers on one thought before moving to another.
As we move through the holiday season, it is critical that students are given multiple opportunities to process and reflect. The constant stimulation from the bombardment of advertisements, music, excitement, sugary treats, and interactions can send emotions in many different directions. Building in time for students to think and find a sense of calm is essential to reinforcing and growing the relationships with peers and between students and teachers. It is during this time of year, that I recommend adding additional, or longer, processing and reflecting moments. This may be challenging as schedules are in flux and the curriculum tends to drive teaching in a rush before the holiday break. I am including a few simple ways to add processing time during a lesson.
- EMOJI Shuffle: For this activity, post a variety of emojis around the classroom. Direct students to move to an emoji that represents their understanding of the lesson at hand. Ask students to pair up and discuss why they chose the emoji they did. This activity can be repeated for different components of the lesson. A slight alternative could be to have students move to the emoji based on how they are feeling at the moment (not necessarily lesson based). Students can write thoughts on a post-it while they are standing next to the emoji. Once they have done so, they then crumble up the post-it and deposit it in the recycle bin before focusing on lesson specific topics/questions. This honors their emotions without the vulnerability associated with sharing about their feelings.
- Sensory Breathing: I attended a conference in the fall for teachers of gifted students. This activity is meant to help lower stress levels and anxiety of any student. The activity is simple. Direct students to look at something in the room. Once they have picked an object, instruct them to take a deep breath and then breathe out as you count slowly to ten. Direct students to pick a different object to look at and repeat the breathing process. This continues with five objects. After five objects, students are directed to focus on five different sounds. After sounds, students focus on five different touches.
- Color Walk: Distribute paint strips to table groups with warm and cold colors. Direct students to choose a paint strip that represents a color they either like or based on their reactions to a guiding question or topic. Give students time to think about why they have chosen the color strip they have and consider actions they can take based on the number of color choices on the paint strip (some may have four, some may have five) Have students pair up and discuss their choice of paint strip. Depending on space, students can walk around the room, through the hall, or outside discussion reactions and possible actions (answers to the question, next steps to determine learning, additional questions they have, etc.)
These are only three activities, but each of these activities acknowledges current feelings and emotions. The recognition of these emotions, even if just for self-awareness, can help foster a sense of safety allowing relationships to strengthen while reducing stress and anxiety associated with this time of year.