Reflections on responsive tools and scheduling for children
Reflecting on placement experiences with early childhood education students provides rich and valuable learning opportunities, not just for the students, but for us as their teachers.
During a recent presentation, a student spoke about her experiences on placement of observing and using mindful practices with young children, in particular, yoga. She enthusiastically recalled how the children were so excited for their ‘Friday Treat’, which involved an afternoon yoga session before they went home for the weekend. She said that they looked forward to it all week and repeatedly asked the teacher when it would be happening. I was struck, as she described this practice, by the idea of a mindful and self-regulatory practice such as yoga, being scheduled for a specific time on a specific day. And in particular, scheduled for a Friday, before home time.
It reminded me of my own practice when I was in school, of scheduling certain activities and lessons for certain times on certain days, with little reflection or thought about the purpose, or about the efficacy of that schedule. Aistear in the afternoons, Golden Time on a Friday, Religious Education before lunch, Gaeilge in the morning. Much of what I did was based on my own personal experiences of primary school, and what others around me were doing. The concept of adapting the timetable or the schedule to meet the needs of the children in front of me, only emerged when I began teaching in an SEN context.
I remember once doing July Provision in a school for children with additional needs. There was a new sensory room in the school, and lots of talk about the rich sensory experiences that it had to offer children with sensory processing difficulties. I loved the idea of the sensory room and of children’s sensory needs being addressed and tended to. I was taken aback though, and left wondering, when it was announced in the classroom one day that it was ‘our turn’ to visit the sensory room. There was a timetable devised, and each class was scheduled to visit the room at a specific time each day. I thought about this (and I am still thinking!). Isn’t the idea of sensory regulation to respond to individual children’s sensory needs at a particular moment in time? Sensory regulation activities help to bring children to the correct state of ‘alertness’, that is required for optimum learning and engagement. A child who is feeling ‘too high’ may benefit from a sensory experience that will help to ‘bring them down’ to that state of alertness, and a child who is feeling ‘too low’ might require a more stimulating experience to ‘bring them up’ to that state of alertness. A ‘sensory room’ however, houses a myriad of sensory experiences that have the potential to deliver either result. So the idea that a scheduled visit to a sensory room could meet the sensory needs of individual children made no sense to me, nor did it offer any opportunities for children to develop any sense of awareness of their own body’s needs, or to develop skills of self-regulation.
Similarly, the idea that children would have to wait all week to practice yoga or any other mindful practice, of which the aim is to develop self-regulation and awareness, seems nonsensical. Why associate yoga practice with a ‘reward’ or a ‘Friday Treat’? Why schedule it only for Friday afternoon? If we are to really think about the children’s needs, and the purpose of what we are trying to achieve, perhaps yoga would be best suited to Monday morning, to help with the often stressful transition from home to school. Or after outdoor or yard time – to help to self-regulate, after what can often be a complex time filled with negotiation, stress and conflict. Or better still – used as a responsive tool at any time of the day on any day of the week, to help children to self-regulate when they themselves identify the need to do so.
If we are truly committed to this idea of developing mindful practices and self-regulation with young children, then we need to shift our thinking around scheduling. Children need to see mindful practices used responsively, and as tools that can be integrated into daily living. And while schedules undoubtedly have a place in our early years settings and in our classrooms, let’s be mindful that essentially, schedules around mindful practices or sensory processing are in fact the very antithesis of self-regulation and self-awareness…
Sinéad McCauley Lambe
Sinéad McCauley Lambe is a lecturer in Early Childhood Education at Marino Institute of Education and is currently completing her PhD research in Motor Development and Emergent Handwriting Skills.
Lenses into Learning is the guest post feature of this website. Here, educators spanning a variety of educational sectors share opinion pieces, recommendations and thematic articles to inspire conversation, development and learning.