Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Classroom Energy Flow

We ECE teachers/providers talk a lot about our school/child care environment, curriculum, discipline, assessments, classroom management, etc. One of THE most important elements in a classroom, that never seems to be talked about, except how to squelch it, is the energy. 

However, the energy within a child or classroom can be directed and manipulated in such a way that it enhances, rather than detracts, from the learning environment and objectives.

I've been talking about this quite a bit in forums and with my clients over the last six months, and I am amazed at just how much effort care givers spend in stopping, repressing, or disciplining children's energy. 


First, we have to acknowledge that each individual child, and ourselves, have a common energy level. It may vacillate due to those around us and the activities at hand, but in general, each person has a fairly set energy level. Some are high energy, naturally, while some are low.

Second, we have to acknowledge that there is a common energy level between certain children, certain groups of children, and naturally occurring in certain activity situations. For example, I have two 3-year-old boys, one of whom is high energy and one is medium energy, but when they get together, the energy sky rockets. They egg one another up the scale until they need to be separated to come down from it.

Third, we have to acknowledge that we are usually most comfortable with others of an energy level similar to our own. While a young man in college may have ample patience and energy to play and corral some high energy children, an older woman with low energy will usually have little patience for rough housing and high energy children. Someone with high energy, may be constantly trying to entice the low energy children to join in more active games and activities, pushing them out of their comfort zone.
I call this the flow of energy. Each person, and the environment and activities, contribute to the flow of energy in a classroom. It is an INNATE PART of each person and what is going on. Yet, we tend to think of it as something easily manipulated and controlled to the level we, as care givers, perceive to be the "appropriate" energy level at the time. 

We see this in many classroom management practices such as the stoplight, where children are no longer allowed to talk once the stoplight for loudness reaches the red zone. So the energy, and decibel level, ramps up and up, then it is supposed to instantly lower to zero. Hmmm. 

Go for a good run and then try to get your heart rate to instantly get back into the normal zone or below it. Doesn't work that well. What if you were in the middle of a run, in your groove, and someone said to stop and sit down and be still. I know I wouldn't be happy. Same for children and their energy. 

I look at the energy of the individual and class as a flowing stream. If you dam it up, the pressure becomes explosive, overflows the restrictions, and you have children misbehaving. If you channel it, you move that energy into appropriate activity until it slows to a controllable level or runs out. 

For example, I observed at a very well-known franchise in their 3-year-old class in the morning. The children were using the large cardboard blocks to build very large towers, which would fall over and the children were laughing uproariously. This was a very high energy group doing a high energy activity. At 8:00 a.m., it was now time to do circle time and all twelve 3-year-olds were told to pick up and sit in a circle, criss-cross-applesauce-spoons-in-the-bowl, still and quiet. 

The teacher began to go slowly around the circle asking each child a question. The other teacher kept correcting children to sit still, sit properly, don't touch your neighbor, etc. The wiggles just kept getting worse, and the teachers' patience started to erode and the corrections became more curt, etc. By the end of 20 minutes, the teachers were angry, the children upset, three were in time-out, and the purpose, and any learning potential, of the activity was forgotten. 

A) A three-year-old's attention span is approximately 5 minutes, so the activity was not developmentally appropriate.

B) There was absolutely no transition of the energy level from very high to the expectation of sitting still, quiet, and being patient. [They are THREE!]

At a smaller, high-end child care, I observed a young 2-year-old class. It was open play when I got there. The children were running, climbing, squealing and having a great time. Again, the teachers decided to do a curriculum activity of rolling a ball. The little ones were sat in a line and a teacher rolled the ball to the first child who picked it up and started playing with it. She kept trying to get the child to roll it back. 

The other teacher was changing a child's diaper, and most of the children quickly wandered off. The second teacher finished and brought the other children back and sat them in line, and kept doing it, bringing to mind the term, "herding cats." The same exact issues of developmentally appropriate activity and expectation, along with the absence of energy transition, were in play, with the same results.

Being Reggio inspired, I naturally look to the children for what we should be doing. They also have the option of participating in activities or not. Some children may be coloring or doing small-world play, while others are jumping, spinning, or doing a high-energy activity. If we are going to be doing something as a group that I would like everyone's participation in, then I will purposefully tire out my high-energy kiddos first, or do the activity in a naturally low-energy time period. 

For instance, these two are obviously interested in stories and at a low energy level. It would make sense to do story time now.

If misbehavior occurs due to high energy, putting a child in time-out, stopping the flow of energy, is just not the right response. I have them jump, crawl, or move that energy until it dissipates and they are in control of it. If they say, "Can I stop now?" Then I know they need just a bit more, a few more seconds, of high energy activity. 

If you tell a child in high energy to move, they won't balk, but gladly do it. It is what they need. Once they are tired out and in control, then they can rejoin. Often, other children will join in the "discipline" because they, too, have energy to release. 

It's become so normal for me to recognize high energy, that I will usually do this as a preventative measure rather than a disciplinary measure now. 

If we do high energy activities at a high enough level to use up all their energy, then I can go straight to a low energy activity such as story time. Usually though, we take it up and down in increments. Being play and movement based, the children here are never expected to just sit still and quiet. After all, they are children. That is nearly impossible and not developmentally appropriate practice until about age 8, if then. 

We will do story time, then maybe table activities which they move from one to another but is mainly fine-motor, then a gross-motor activity, then back to a combination fine and gross-motor activity, then down to a fine-motor activity again. We will transition from a high-energy activity to picking up, which requires a lot of movement but focus and fine-motor as well, then sit down to eat which is a low-energy activity, then straight to nap, which is even lower energy. I try to have the energy flow smoothly in a wave, rather than have any harsh changes asked of them. 

This is NOT a good time for sit work.

I've been asked what to do with high-energy kiddos at home. Trying to force the energy down usually leaves in its wake tantrums, misbehavior, discipline, etc. Parents are now flowing the energy to walks, backyard play time, mini-trampolines, horizontal climbing walls, doorway gyms, jumping/twirling/crawling, dance videos, and yoga videos, rather than expecting the child to simply bring their energy down from high when the high energy is still wound up. 

They say it has made a big difference in their child's attitude, their attitudes, and the family dynamic evenings and weekends. If it happens at a restaurant or such, they are now taking the child outside to jump or run, rather than expecting a 3-year-old to get their energy under control in a public place with nothing much to do.

With it being -20 windchill this week, we are stuck inside. Yesterday we did dance party, Five Little Monkeys about 5 times, Ring Around the Rosie about 15 times, etc. All to get the wiggles out of the high energy kiddos. The low energy kiddos looked on as they sat quietly doing their activities. To each his own.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome, awesome, awesome!! Thanks for all the great stuff!! I enjoy your posts and your great ideas!!!

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