Punta chica kindergarten
Teachers: Florencia Gonzalez de Leon & Romina Porcelli
Subject: Social and Emotional Learning
What is Social and Emotional Learning?
“Social and emotional learning (SEL) involves the processes through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL is based on the understanding that the best learning emerges in context of supportive relationships that make learning challenging, engaging and meaningful”.The collaborative for Academic, social,and emotional Learning. (CASEL)
In order to do this, we want to provide the children with practical strategies for helping them to focus their attention, improve their self regulation skills, build empathy and develop a positive mind-set in both school and life.
Our aim is to help make social and emotional learning an integral part of education from preschool onward. Self regulation, focus, concentration and effective listening play an important role in life and should be taught to children like any other subject. Those important skills create the foundation for successful life-long learners.
Implementation throughout the school Day
We establish practices of deep breathing and attentive listening, which are then practiced several times a day throughout the school year. These practices are designed to enhance student’s self awareness, focus attention, promote self regulation and peaceful conflict resolution.
We remind the children that they can use these tools, for example making three deep breaths, listening to relaxing music, focusing on the sound of an instrument, counting out loud, using self-talk, for their own self regulation and focus, not only in school but also at home, or whenever they feel it necessary.
We suggest it can become a routine for the opening and closing of each school day, as well as the moments of transition. It could be done when settling down after break time, after snack/ lunch , moving from one classroom to the other, coming down the stairs, and before introducing the lesson. This is ideally done three times a day (for a few minutes each time), always adjustable to the students’ and teachers’ needs.
The children get easily accustom to respond to a simple reminder which helps them to center themselves and prepare to move easily into another activity. (Triangular chime, chin chin, instrument, raise hand to the silent signal..)This simple routine can be an extremely useful focus and management tool in order to redirect attention to any specific topic, and it becomes a habit.
There are many resources out there to help teach these skills. Below is one fun way to teach belly (deep) breathing.On Sesame Street, Common, Colbie Caillat and Elmo sang a song called, “Belly Breathe.” We think this is a super cute way to introduce inner thoughts and breathing as a way to self-regulate. Check out the video !
Here we post a video of the Angry Octopus story, which we show to the children for them to see how breathing helps them calm down.
Introducing our children in how our brains work, the basis for SEL.
Children are fascinated by facts about their brains, and this is why we started teaching about it this year.
The objective is to learn about some of the parts of the brain and what each part does, introducing the three key parts of the brain involved in thinking and acting: the prefrontal cortex (PFC),the amygdala, and the hippocampus.
The children identify the location of each part by pointing to their own head as a model , (PFC right behind the forehead;amygdala deep inside, behind each ear, hippocampus just behind the amygdala on both sides)
The children model their brains by making a fist with each hand and putting their fists together with right and left knuckles aligned and thumbs side by side, pointing upward.
The thumbs are the prefrontal cortex , our wise leader, who helps us make good choices and pay attention, the tips of your pointer fingers are buried deep inside, they are the amygdala, our security guard, who warns us of danger, keeps us safe, and helps us express emotions, such as anger and fear. The tips of the middle fingers are the hippocampus, the saver of memories. It keeps important information and brings it back when we need it.
Here you can see a video of Daniel Siegel,M.D, where he talks about how what happens to your brain when you get angry.
Providing real life scenarios where different reactions are presented, and eliciting experiences from children, gives them useful examples to attach meaning to. This way of solving conflicts could eventually be used to solve conflicts in which they are involved.
As they become more familiar with the key parts of the brain involved in thinking and learning, they begin to understand how their feelings arise, and that they have the ability to change what they do in response. This allows them to monitor and regulate their behaviour by calming themselves, focusing their attention and taking control of their actions.
Familiarity with brain parts and and their functions helps children begin to think about thinking: How do I learn? How do I remember? And solve problems? How can I understand myself and other people?
In the following videos we can see how 4 and 5 year old students can relate what they know about their brain to everyday situations.
Calming down and focusing. a lesson worth learning.
Being in contact with nature, and the world around us, is good for our bodies and mind. We want to teach the children that this is an easy way of calming down and relaxing. Investing time on this kind of activities enhances their ability to work being more aware. We need to exercise our brain to be able to remain focused on one thing at a time, disregarding what we usually do, that is multitasking. The brain can only do one thing at a time.
This activity starts when we go to the field, and ask them to take their shoes and socks off. While doing so, we tell them that we are getting ready to enjoy the nature around us, and that we should embrace this experience by exploring it with all our senses. We have previously done similar activities in the classroom, as for example mindful tastings, feelings and listenings.
When all of them are bare- feet we encourage them to run across the field, or walk if they don’t want to do so. We emphasize, before they start running, that they are in control of their bodies, and that their brain is in charge. Depending on what they need, they will be able to regulate their pace. They feel relieved to be able to run in such a big space after they have been inside the classroom, especially the boys. The girls also love the experience of running freely with their teachers. Some children even ask if they can run for a second time, because they still need to do so… And of course they can.
When they come back they lay down on their back and start breathing to calm down their heart rate. We go guiding them to breath in and out, taking the air to their tummies, being conscious about this.When we see that they are calming down we ask them to look at the sky, to focus on what they see, the colours and the clouds. Later we focus on other senses. We ask them to touch the grass with their hands, and then with their feet, all these while they are still lying down. We ask them some simple questions such as: “Is the grass hot or cold?” “ How does it feel?”. They don’t answer at that moment, but they go thinking about it. We also ask them to focus on how the wind and sun feel on their skin. We also engage them in a mindful listening, trying to identify sounds that they hadn’t paid attention to before.
The teachers then ask them to turn around, and to look at the grass where they have been lying down, the colour of it, the textures, even if they can find any living creature.
So as to evaluate this activity we sit down in a circle, and they are able to reflect and share on how all of this has made them feel. The children spontaneously say that they feel relaxed, more calm, happier, not angry any more… And that they love coming to the field. To finish this activity we ask them to get a snack, as for example an apple, and we enjoy a mindful eating, where the teacher goes telling them to observe the apple, to smell it, and touch it, before they can eat it. They do this in complete silence, until the teacher tells them they can start eating, while they slowly go tasting the apple. We ask they to go listening to their teeth biting the apple, to focus on which part of their tongue is in charge of feeling the taste of it, etc.
When did this activity take place? This activity was done after visiting first grade for the first time. We had planned it knowing that they would feel excited, and maybe nervous, about what they had just experienced. While the snack went on, they started sharing how they had felt. This break in the morning allowed us to stop, calm down and reflect, so as to be able to focus again on other activities later.
Some parts of this exercise can be used to create a short break in the children’s daily activity. We strongly believe that teaching them how to calm down and focusing, through very simple activities, is a lesson that is worth learning at school, and that is also be very helpful for them in their adult life.
You can see some pictures of this lovely activity in the following video:
Soledad Ghirimoldi, Education Psychologist in Primary Punta Chica, observed this activity and gave us this feedback: “Con motivo de seguir pensando y mejorando la articulación entre Kinder y primaria, me invitaron a participar de una actividad de Mindfulness en el field. Me encantó ver cómo los chicos con algo tan simple, pero profundo podían conectarse con sus sentimientos, con su entorno y saborear y disfrutar del presente que en este caso era un rico healthy snack! Gracias por la invitación! Los felicito por la actividad y creo muy rico poder aplicar estas prácticas en primaria también.”
For these last two years we have been working really hard on the SEL in our classrooms. We think it is as important as any other academic area, or may be even more. As long as we have children that are worried, sad, scared or angry we will have a very tough time trying to engage them in learning activities. Children nowadays are used to focusing in front of a screen for a long period of time, but find it very difficult to listen to others.
Last year we prepared a website where we share our practice, more theoretical background and lots of activities with pictures and videos.
We would be very happy if you could read it and get ideas for your own classrooms. We think that the idea of this blog is to share good practices that can benefit all of these children who are in our classrooms, and we would love to hear that somebody in other sectors has tried out any of these and has helped them. Please feel free to contact us through our website, we will be happy to help!!
Florencia Gonzalez de Leon y Romina Porcelli.
Punta Chica Kindergarten