Getting a good start in 2020

I know it’s hard to believe that we are almost back at school! The summer has flown by and many of us may still be finishing the Christmas ham. But it’s time to start thinking about school uniforms, book bags and bedtime routines again.

There will, of course, be thousands of families for whom this is not a priority, and who are starting the year without homes, schools or who may have lost family or loved ones in the bushfire tragedies. Even if you have not been directly affected, your children may be experiencing anxiety, distress or uncertainty. This is a normal reaction and there are wonderful resources to help you talk to your children about bushfires from The Victorian Government and Autism Tasmania.

As you move toward the new school year, many parents may be worried about the struggle of getting children back to their usual bed time routine, and making sure they have a positive start. This is particularly true if your child struggled last year. Below are my top five tips for a great start to the new school year:

  1. Get into a routine early! Your child may have gone to bed later, spent more time on devices or eaten a different diet. Now is the time to get some routines in place so they are ready for the new year. If your child is about to start school and has not worn a uniform before, make sure they get used to this, particularly if they have sensory issues. Do a run through of packing bags and lunch boxes. Try to iron out the kinks before that first day!
  2. Get organised. These days most schools will have some form of homework from the first year of school. This is on top of extra-curricular activities and your child’s need for play. Make sure you have a space for your child to do their work and time set aside to do this. Getting into good habits early will reduce the homework battle later on. Use visual schedules and calendars to help your child plan their day and show them how to use these. If you are well organised, your children will learn to be.
  3. Meet with teachers. This won’t be necessary for everyone, and it may be that there is another adult in the school who is a better contact. But this is very important if your child has any additional needs. Do not assume the teacher will have seen any reports by specialists, ask them.
  4. Encourage risk taking (in learning). “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” Children learn by trial and error, and by observing others. In order to encourage your children to have a go at new things and to practice, you need to do the same yourself. A lot of what we teach our children we do without even realising so make sure you use the language of growth when talking about their learning: focus on effort over accuracy; encourage them to compare themselves to their past, not to others; and use ‘two stars and a wish’ to get them to reflect on what they have done well (stars) and what they would improve next time (wish).
  5. Seek help early. If your child is struggling, seek help early. It may be that there is a need for more support from the teacher, or you and the school may feel further assessment is needed. The earlier you get help, the earlier your child will get support.

Let us know your top tips for the school year including brilliant organisation hacks below!

Coping With NAPLAN

This week NAPLAN starts in Victoria. These tests are sat to “provide information for students, parents, teachers and principals about student achievement which can be used to inform teaching and learning programs.” However, more often than not, they cause a huge amount of stress for said students, parents, teachers and principals.

So, what’s the key to surviving NAPLAN?

1. Use a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy! The idea behind CBT is that it’s not what happens that causes emotions, but how we think about this. Be aware to catch any catastrophising thinking errors and minimise these (it’s not the end of the world!).

2. Tune in to your child: Even though we want to minimise worries about tests, don’t be dismissive of your child’s anxiety. Using phrases such as “I can see you are feeling worried” can help your child acknowledge their worry and help them to explore why they are worried. It is much easier to help them challenge a thought if they feel accepted and validated, than if they feel you are dismissing their feelings.

3. Use Mindfulness: Be aware of your own body signals that indicate stress. Teach children to use relaxation strategies to manage these. My favourites are simple: breathe slowly and deeply; bring your mind back to the present by noticing or counting something in your environment; give your brain a different problem to solve by counting in 13s, or saying the alphabet backward.

4. Don’t forget self-care: Make sure you have a good bed time routine so your child can sleep well; eat well (don’t skip breakfast!); do things that you love before and after the test.

If you are a parent or teacher looking for further support, please get in touch. Alternatively, if you want to teach a whole class, or group of staff, about stress management, please call or email for a quote for training.

Getting to Know Your New Class

It’s that time of year again!! Schools are starting over the next few days.

What do you do to get to know your class?

Here are some fun ideas I use in therapy:

  • A game of Two Truths and a Lie. Everyone has to come up with two things about themselves, and one lie. Everyone else has to guess which one is the lie!
  • A soccer ball with questions on it. You pass/throw/kick the ball and have to ask the question your hand lands on when you pick it up/catch it. Some questions we have on our ball are: if you were invisible for a day, what would you do? if you could have any superpower, what would it be? when is the last time you laughed?
  • Human Scavenger Hunt. Everyone gets a ‘bingo card’ with a set of descriptors, they have to find someone that matches the description. The first person to fill out the card is the winner. Some descriptors may include: someone who is the oldest child; someone with a sister; someone with a pet fish; someone who has been to New Zealand.
  • Make a Puzzle. I used to buy person shaped jigsaws that could be decorated. Each child would have to write or draw something about themselves (a fact, hobby or something they love) on each puzzle piece.

Let me know what other ideas you have! And good luck at the start of the year.

Emotionally Literate Classrooms: Levels 3-6

The final part of our series of ideas to make your classroom more emotionally literate.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) sets out what students are expected to learn across all year levels from Prep to Grade 10. Alongside the Learning Areas, this curriculum also identifies 4 ‘Capabilities’ that students are expected to meet. These are:

  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Ethical
  • Intercultural
  • Personal and Social

The area of Personal and Social Capability focuses on the ability to recognise and express emotions, develop resilience and manage social relationships with sensitivity and collaboration.  While this can be achieved through specific classes aimed at targeting skills, it is also important to have an emotionally literate classroom to support this.

VCAA descriptors:

By the end of Level 4, students explain the consequences of emotional responses in a range of social situations. They recognise personal strengths and challenges and identify skills they would like to develop. They suggest strategies for coping with difficult situations. They persist with tasks when faced with challenges and adapt their approach when first attempts are not successful.

Students discuss the value of diverse perspectives and through their interactions they demonstrate respect for a diverse range of people and groups. They describe factors that contribute to positive relationships with peers, other people at school and in the community. They explain characteristics of cooperative behaviours and they use criteria to identify evidence of this in group activities. They identify a range of conflict resolution strategies to negotiate positive outcomes to problems.

By the end of Level 6, students describe different ways to express emotions and the relationship between emotions and behaviour. They describe the influence that personal qualities and strengths have on achieving success. They undertake some extended tasks independently and describe task progress. They identify and describe personal attributes important in developing resilience.

Students recognise and appreciate the uniqueness of all people. They are able to explain how individual, social and cultural differences may increase vulnerability to stereotypes. They identify characteristics of respectful relationships. They contribute to groups and teams suggesting improvements for methods used in group projects and investigations. They identify causes and effects of conflict and explain different strategies to diffuse or resolve conflict situations.

 

At this age, children are starting to reflectively monitor emotions, for example noticing how big they are, or understanding more complex feelings. By now they should be able to listen to another person’s point of view, accept feedback or constructive criticism and be able to focus on tasks through to completion. It is important to note that children who feel they do not belong, will often make negative behavioural choices that impact others. Therefore, it is important to create an inclusive classroom atmosphere that is non-judgemental

“children are invariably trying to solve a problem, rather than be one. Their solutions are often misguided because their conception of the problem is faulty, or because their skills leave much to be desired” Herbert (1985)

Ways to create an inclusive and supportive environment are:

  • Provide an emotionally secure and safe environment that takes action to prevent any form of bullying or violence. Teach specific skills that help children to notice and tackle bullying in age-appropriate ways.
  • Be a role model: sometimes teaching can be hard, and it can be easy to snap or criticise. Make sure you act as you wish your pupils to act: praise others, notice the positives, celebrate differences and ensure each child feels included and supported.
  • Mixed Ability Groupings: encourage children to work together in mixed ability groups so the children can each use their strengths (or practice something they need to work on) with reduced pressure to carry all of the load themselves. Some children will need to act as a scribe, some as a leader, some as the reader etc.
  • Use specific interventions for children who may be showing early signs of anxiety or mental ill health: Circle of Friends, Friends for Life (or Fun Friends) and PATHS are three such interventions that can be run in schools by a suitably qualified person, and are proven to increase social inclusion and emotional wellbeing.

 

Books that teach us about approaching new challenges include:

  • Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume
  • Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
  • Matilda by Roald Dahl
  • Oh, the Places You’ll Go by Dr Seuss

Children’s books that help to see the world through a different perspective include:

  • All Dogs Have ADHD; All Cats have Asperger Syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann
  • Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
  • The Ant Bully by John Nickle
  • The Hundred Dresses by Wanda Petronski
  • Thank You Mr Falker by Patricia Polacco
  • Wonder by RJ Palacio
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
  • Out of My Mind by Sharon M Draper

Remember to include stories that show a range of gender roles including:

  • The Boy in the Dress by David Walliams
  • Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky
  • Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmes
  • Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz

Emotionally Literate Classrooms: Level 1 & 2

This is part 2 of a series focusing on how to support emotional development, resilience and relationships in the everyday classroom.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) sets out what students are expected to learn across all year levels from Prep to Grade 10. Alongside the Learning Areas, this curriculum also identifies 4 ‘Capabilities’ that students are expected to meet. These are:

  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Ethical
  • Intercultural
  • Personal and Social

The area of Personal and Social Capability focuses on the ability to recognise and express emotions, develop resilience and manage social relationships with sensitivity and collaboration.  While this can be achieved through specific classes aimed at targeting skills, it is also important to have an emotionally literate classroom to support this.

Levels 1 & 2:

By the end of Level 2, students show an awareness of the feelings and needs of others. They identify and describe personal interests, skills and achievements and reflect on how these might contribute to school or family life. They recognise the importance of persisting when faced with new and challenging tasks.

Students recognise the diversity of families and communities. They describe similarities and differences in points of view between themselves and others. They demonstrate ways to interact with and care for others. They describe their contribution to group tasks. They practise solving simple problems, recognising there are many ways to resolve conflict.

At this stage children are learning more about emotions of themselves and of others, they are more able to notice their understanding of the range of emotions is increasing. However, at this stage children will often talk about anger as a bad thing; it is important to teach that no emotions are bad (if we never got angry, we’d never stand up to bullies!!). The important thing is that a) it’s the behaviour that gets us into trouble, not the emotion and b) maintaining an emotion about something that happened in the past is not helpful, this occurs by continuing to think about it in unhelpful ways.

In the classroom, we use strategies to help children show positive social skills toward others, to develop their sense of self and their resilience. We should also be encouraging children to explore the world around them, beyond their immediate family, neighbourhood or culture. Some ways to do this include:

  • Explore character strengths: have a display in the classroom where everyone gets to put up their strengths, achievements or work they are proud of. Celebrate a range of strengths from academic work to sporting, creative, musical or compassionate actions.
  • Multi-cultural celebrations: consider displaying signs in community languages, or inviting people to share their own cultures or celebrations. Allow everyone’s voice to be recognised and celebrated.
  • Have an emotions display: as with Foundation level, children should be encouraged to check in with how they feel throughout the day. What this looks like will change, but it is important to continue this strategy throughout their primary years. A worry box may also be helpful for them to express how they feel in an anonymous way.
  • Have a ‘calm down’ space: exactly as in the Foundation year, this can be called anything and should include nice, relaxing activities or resources that help children to get calm when they notice they are becoming overwhelmed. It may also include a quiet workspace children can move to if they are being distracted.
  • Gratitude Diaries: writing in a gratitude diary once a day has been shown to increase school belonging and academic self-competence.
  • Books: as ever, bibliotherapy is a great way to teach children to normalise their experience, and learn to manage their emotions, behaviours and develop social problem solving skills.

Stories for teaching thinking strategies and problem solving:

  •  Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
  • The Dot by Peter H Reynolds
  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
  • Enemy Pie by Derek Munson
  • I Think, I Am by Louise Hay

Books for teaching emotions and appropriate ways to regulate these:

  • The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside
  • Is a Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff
  • The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers
  • Panicosaurus; The Red Beast; Disappointment Dragon all by Haitham Al Ghani
  • My Mouth is a Volcano; The Worst Day of My Life Ever! by Julia Cook
  • How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Tom Rath
  • Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen

Books to celebrate individual and family differences:

  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
  • It’s Okay to be Different; The Family Book by Todd Parr
  • The Colours of Us by Karen Katz
  • Mommy, Mama and Me; Daddy, Papa and Me by Leslea Newman
  • The Different Dragon by Jennifer Bryan
  • When the Bees Fly Home by Andrea Cheng
  • The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

Having an Emotionally Literate Classroom

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) sets out what students are expected to learn across all year levels from Prep to Grade 10. Alongside the Learning Areas, this curriculum also identifies 4 ‘Capabilities’ that students are expected to meet. These are:

  • Critical and Creative Thinking
  • Ethical
  • Intercultural
  • Personal and Social

The area of Personal and Social Capability focuses on the ability to recognise and express emotions, develop resilience and manage social relationships with sensitivity and collaboration.  While this can be achieved through specific classes aimed at targeting skills, it is also important to have an emotionally literate classroom to support this.

Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing on how to support emotional development, resilience and relationships in the everyday classroom. Each post will focus on one level and will be referenced against the VCAA curriculum.

Foundation:

By the end of Foundation level, students identify and express a range of emotions in their interactions with others. They recognise personal qualities and achievements by describing activities they enjoy at school and home, noting their strengths. They recognise that attempting new and challenging tasks are an important part of their development.

Students identify different types of relationships. They begin to identify and practise basic skills for including and working with others in groups.

inside_out_emotions

 

Most children are able to recognise the ‘core’ emotions; however, they may struggle to label these when they experience them. More importantly, they often struggle to cope with them when they get too big. At the Foundation Level we want to use strategies that help children to recognise and regulate their emotions.

  • Have an emotions display: children can place their name on the face/colour/label that matches how they are feeling. They can be encouraged to check in with this and move it throughout the day. This helps them to notice the emotions change over time.
  • Have a ‘calm down’ space: this can be called anything and should include nice, relaxing activities or resources that help children to get calm when they notice they are becoming overwhelmed.
  • Label feelings: when you are talking to children one-to-one, model emotion skills by labelling their emotions (‘I can see you are feeling upset about that’) and normalising these. You can offer to problem solve, but never just launch in to solve a problem without permission, they’ll only dismiss your ideas and possibly get more stuck.
  • Play games: emotions charades helps children to notice what happens in their body when they feel a certain way; emotions bingo or snap helps with facial expressions and names of emotions; role play characters that feel certain ways and work out what they are thinking to help hcildrne notice that their thoughts and moods are linked.
  • Use popular culture: there are a wealth of popular culture references to use in the classroom to support emotional recognition (think: Inside Out, Emoji move, the Hulk).
  • Stories: these are a wonderful way to teach children about emotions, and more importantly, about how to handle them. Some of my favourites for this age group are below.

Resources

  1. When I am feeling… by Trace Moroney
  2. Have you filled a bucket today? by Carol McCloud
  3. In My Heart by Jo Witek
  4. The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
  5. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  6. It’s Okay to Be Different; The Feelings Book; The Feel Good Book all by Todd Parr
  7. The Mixed Up Chameleon or The Bad Tempered Ladybird by Eric Carle
  8. My Many Coloured Days by Dr Seuss
  9. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
  10. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst
  11. The Bear and The Bees by Ella Richardson
  12. Personal Space Camp by Julia Cook
  13. Social skills books by Shona Innes (The Playground is Like a Jungle; Friendship is Like a Seesaw; Worries are Like Clouds etc).
  14. There are also a range of relaxation books by Lori Lite

 

The Importance of Feedback in Classrooms

Research Review: this information is a summary of Swinson, J. (2017). Evidence based practice, classroom behaviour, the importance of feedback. DECP Debate. 164. 17-21.

 

There is a great range of manualised programs regarding supporting children’s behaviour in the classroom. And that doesn’t even include the infinite number of blog posts/articles/pinterest pins full of creative ideas. But what actually works?

There tend to be common elements to all programs. These include: rules, consistency, clear expectations, boundaries and fostering good relationships between teachers and pupils. However, it doesn’t always follow that what is popular, works. So Jeremy Swinson has done a great job of finding out what does.

He found that the two most well explored areas are those of rules and feedback. Many research studies have looked at the comparative effects of having rules in a class, praising pupils who follow these rules and punishing those who don’t. The most interesting point raised from the research appeared to be that when the first two were in place (namely, rules and praise), the third (punishment or consequences) was rarely needed.

Indeed the advice provided is:

  1. Make very clear to pupils your expectations for the conduct of the lesson in terms of behaviour and what they are expected to do. This may include a set of classroom rules.
  2. Follow any directions given to the class by looking for pupils who are conforming and give them positive feedback.
  3. Redirect any pupils not following the rules, and then provide them with feedback as soon as they conform (‘catch them being good’)
  4. Always have a plan for any pupils who consistently fail to follow your directions. This is best dealt with at the end of the lesson so as not to interrupt your teaching.

They found that when teachers follow this advice the use of sanctions becomes redundant (although, they also found that teachers often misinterpreted this advice and provided positive feedback only on work, not on behaviour).

So what about when it goes wrong? Interestingly, Swinson poses that in classrooms with high rates of negative feedback, there is often low pupil engagement. It seems that as the class becomes more disruptive, the teacher begins to tell them off more, and there is little to no effect on the pupil’s behaviour, leading to a vicious cycle.

And finally, if you are aware of John Hattie’s summary of effective classroom interventions (updated in 2011 in his book Visible Learning for Teachers), you may recognise Feedback as being a well established intervention, with an effect size of 0.75.

 

Screenshot-2017-11-9 Hattie Ranking Interactive Visualization - VISIBLE LEARNING

If your professional development targets for this year include strengthening your behaviour management strategies, why not get in touch to see how Inclusive Classrooms can support you.

Supporting Development Through Play

‘Play, as a medium for curriculum delivery, is recognised as the most appropriate way for young children to learn’

Neaum & Tallak, 1997

Did you know that this week is Children’s Week?

This is a national program recognising the talents, skills, achievements and rights of young people. Throughout the country there are a range of activities that encourage play (see what is available in your area here).

Psychological perspectives on play vary, depending on the underpinning theory. Social Constructivists (Piaget, Vygotsky, Bruner) view the child as an active learner, reconstructing experiences and combining this with creativity to explore accepted social conventions. Psychodynamic theorists see play as central to emotional development as they express feelings and come to terms with new experiences.

Anyone who has ever played peekaboo with a baby, or any game with a toddler, will probably have noticed that much play is repetitive. This is because the children are seeking to make sense of what they encounter (peekaboo is an important conservation skill that is required for theory of mind and mathematics). Anyone who has ever had a child hide things in the washing machine will know that children can be fascinated by just moving things around. But did you know that children’s play can be helpfully defined in relation to schemas, which can in turn be used to design teaching opportunities that ‘fit with children’s observed persistent interests and explorations’ (Atherton & Nutbrown, 2016).

So what are the schemas, what problems may arise in the home/school, and what opportunities can you provide?

  • Transporting: Children enjoy picking things up, moving them, or pushing objects. You may notice things go missing and objects are moved to new areas (books outside; phones in the washing machine!).

Children will love: trains; cars; shopping play; outside building play including wheelbarrows

  • Transforming: Children enjoy materials which change shape, colour, consistency. You may notice that they enjoy a lot of messy play, or enjoy taking things apart.

Children will love: dressing up; face or finger painting; cutting and pasting; mixing colours; pretend washing play; cooking or mixing textures such as sand and water.

  • Trajectory: Children enjoy moving things up, down, sideways, through the air. You may notice that they bang things or throw things at inappropriate times.

Children will love: construction activities (especially knocking them down afterward); sawing; hammering; energetic painting (maybe try water on concrete if you don’t like the mess); climbing; cooking that involves pouring or kneading.

  • Rotation and Circularity: Children enjoy tings that turn, wheels, balls. You may notice that they turn handles or dials on or off a lot, causing toast to burn or radiators to be turned on.

Children will love: cogs; winding toys; train tracks; paint rollers; parachute or spinning outdoor activities; waterwheels; cooking that involves mixing or whisking.

  • Enclosure and Enveloping: Children enjoy covering things, hiding. You may notice that things get lost or hidden, or that the child carries bags or clothing everywhere.

Children will love: Lego; inset puzzles; Russian dolls; dressing up; making forts or hiding under blankets; wrapping paper or envelopes; painting a page until it is covered or covering objects in playdough; cooking that involves icing or decorating.

  • Connecting: Children enjoy joining things or tying them together. You may notice that they tie things together, such as shoelaces.

Children will love: train tracks; Lego; Jigsaws; gluing or sticking; dot to dots; follow the leader games; marble runs or watercourse toys.

  • Disconnecting: Children enjoy taking things to pieces, scattering parts. You may notice that drawers are emptied, collections taken apart or appliances/toys are taken to pieces.

Children will love: building and knocking down towers; spreading toys across a surface; cutting; undressing; smashing ice or sandcastles; cooking that involves tearing/shredding or making crumble.

 

Remember that children are just a way of talking and thinking about patterns in play. These may help you plan play experiences that will engage your children, and encourage them to further expand their social and exploratory play. They may also keep you sane as you look for that remote control or those keys, again.

ASD: Reducing Anxiety Caused by Social Interactions

I read this beautiful blog recently. It was written by someone who was diagnosed with Asperger’s later in life, and talks about how their ‘cup of human interaction’ was full and how hard this made school.

It was timed perfectly as I had just had this discussion with a parent whose child was starting to school refuse. So, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to write some tips for an Autism Friendly Classroom- with a specific focus on reducing the social interactions that people with Autism (ASD) may find so overwhelming.

  • Use lots of visuals: children with Autism learn faster with visuals, and it reduces the amount of verbal processing they need to do. Make sure the visuals are age appropriate (pictures to support instructions and routines are great in grades Prep – 2, a high functioning grade 5er won’t thank you for it!) Don’t forget to be creative:  they can use diaries/lists/iPads to support themselves.
  • Create a distraction free environment: most neurotypical (non-ASD) teachers love a colourful classroom with lots on display. The processing capacity this requires for a child with Autism is likely to overwhelm them. Provide a quiet workstation that *any* child can use when they need a quiet space. This will normalise this form of self-regulation for the child with Autism, and all children in the classroom.
  • Have a breakout space: Children with Autism are often taught how to recognise when they are feeling overwhelmed in therapy. However, this skill is useless if they can’t then put this into practice. Some children may need a quiet space or tepee in the corner of the room they can access any time; others may need a separate room or office they can go to when needed. They can take their work to this place and complete it without all the social and sensory pressures of the classroom.
  • Think about social times: Most children need to let off steam in their recess or lunch break and they will do this in different ways. Some love to run around, some to sit quietly with one or two friends, some would love to go to a library and be alone. Think about the options you have available in your school, and practice getting children to check in with their feelings, and work out what they need to do to be ready to learn afterward.
  • Use simple language: This works for any child. Don’t give too many instructions at once, use concrete language, don’t use saracasm.

 

Remember that all children are different: it is important to monitor success of strategies over time, and adapt these as needed. If you are looking for individual PD to support a child with Autism in your school, below are a list of resources you may find useful:

Amaze (www.amaze.org.au) previously known as Autism Victoria, provides tip sheets and training

Sue Larkey (www.suelarkey.com.au) is a highly experienced and inspirational special educator who provides tip sheets and online e-learning that specialises in supporting children with Autism

Victorian State Government (www.education.gov.au) provides resources to support your professional development

Inclusive Classrooms (www.inclusiveclassrooms.com.au) can also provide individualised, tailored training in your school, meeting your whole school’s professional development needs in a time and place that suits you