During the rush to retrieve my class after lunch, I saw Olivia crying as she was running to get a spot in line. Her arms were cradling a coat, food containers, and her lunch box. I took a step toward where she was running, to see what the tears were about, just as a dangling arm from her coat tripped her and she tumbled forward, her things falling to the floor as she fell to her knees. Her face broke down. The other classes were filing out, and I felt pressure from the watchful eyes of those in charge of the lunchroom to get my class out of the way so that the next grade could come in for their lunch.
I quickly decided to slow down and care for Olivia. I got on my knees in front of her and put my hands on her shoulders. “It’s okay, Olivia,” I said.
“I fell,” she cried.
“I know,” I said. “I saw it. Why were you crying before you fell?”
“Because I couldn’t get my containers back in my lunch box, and I had to get in line,” she said as she started to cry again.
By this time first graders from other classrooms had left and the next classes were starting their lunch routine around us. My line stood behind me and talked quietly, almost patiently, as I gave Olivia attention. I helped her get her containers zipped into her lunch bag. (It was difficult! The containers were much too big for the bag. She said her dad had packed her lunch that day.) She joined the end of our line. She was settled, the tears were gone, and the next grade was going through the lunch routine as if my class wasn’t even there. My line was remarkably at ease during all of it.
As we walked out of the cafeteria and headed toward our classroom, I wondered, What’s the rush? Is it really worth it to put kids in a position where they are running toward a line with tears and frantic expressions on their young faces?
The experience reminded me of a workshop I recently attended about materials exploration in a writing workshop. The inquiry session focused on giving students time with different materials to explore their ideas and invite them to write their stories at their own pace. The instructor demonstrated how to set a place for arts exploration. “Beauty invites kids to slow down and show care, and it gives the teacher time to listen and observe,” the instructor said.
This workshop inspired me to watch my own classroom and my own teaching. It inspired me to resist the rush of timelines, standards, and the pressure to check items off a to-do list. It encouraged me to look for opportunities for beauty and for slowing down. And I have found that the instructor is correct. When I slow down, when I take the time to offer materials that are different from the regular pencils, glue sticks, and paper, students also slow down and take time to create. And I’m able to use the time to find out what is going on with my students, to listen in on their ideas and give them care as needed.
Here are a few ways that encourage me and my students to pause from the classroom rush and enjoy each other, classroom materials, and the world around us:
- 20 Ways to Draw a Tree: I use this book for guided drawing, displaying a page on the document camera and having us all try different versions of the nature item. After I attended the workshop, I changed up this activity a bit. Instead of having each child grab a pencil and scratch paper as quickly as they could, I taught them to set their place with background paper (to catch drawing off the paper), Sharpie pens (and other ink pens) of different sizes, and nice drawing paper. It was amazing how much better their sketches were. They slowed down, took their time, and also took more risks!
- ZOOM: This game is from Tribes, and I’ve used it for years. There are lots of variations, and I’ve also added my own. Although it’s a fast-paced game, gathering in a circle around the rug to giggle together slows us down!
- Tree Walk: I regularly take my students for walks around our school campus to look at what is changing in nature (specifically trees) around our school. We look, we listen, and we talk quietly about what we notice. Sometimes we bring clipboards or iPads to record things we notice. Other times we just walk and look. I think this could work inside the school too!
- Morning Entry: Upon arriving each morning, students put away their things and take care of their needs at their own pace as they transition into the classroom. Reading with friends, finishing up any leftover work from the day before, chatting with me, and running an errand in the school are all options during these first 10-15 minutes of the day. It’s relaxed and stress-free, because everyone has time to take care of their needs, chat with a pal, and get ready for our day.
- Booklet Publishing: When students published their booklets in writing workshop, I offered additional materials for them to use to create their final pieces. Instead of the standard construction paper covers and staples to hold it all together, I offered additional paper choices, ribbon, pens, hole punches, and more. I shared examples of other student-published books and let my students explore. Publishing became less of a box to check off, and instead was an opportunity to slow down and create. Students were so focused and so proud!
I don’t have control over the lunchroom situation, and I still often get caught in the rush of a busy classroom of 29 kids. But being more aware and having some activities that are sure to slow us down is important to me. I hope that if I can offer my students (and myself!) slow moments during our days to absorb and try out new learning, to give us time to listen to and care for each other, then maybe it will transfer to other parts of their day and eventually become more ingrained in our classroom culture.