Friday, March 10, 2017

I Just Spent 40 Minutes Consoling a Unicorn

Well that is not entirely correct because my five year old, who was so excited to put on her costume for Purim and has talked about nothing else for weeks, woke up this morning in tears refusing to put on her unicorn costume.  Today is the day where her school is celebrating Purim.  Purim is a Jewish holiday where we celebrate the ‘backwardsness’ of the world.  It is the day where the underdog wins and therefore we celebrate by mixing everything up.

Children come to school in costume, there is a special carnival, we walk around with noisemakers (as if a classroom with twenty children isn’t noisy on its own), the children eat ridiculous amounts of unhealthy food, the list goes on.  To many, this is a really fun and exciting day but to a small--sometimes hidden minority, days like this are the worst days of the year.

Children thrive on routine.  From a young age we know that the best nighttime sleep comes from a fixed schedule.  Bath, brush teeth, book, song, lights out.  For many first time parents this ritual is so sacred it carries an almost superstitious air.  If one of those steps is missed, one piece isn’t just right, they are doomed to a night of crying and consoling.  So fast-forward five years and zoom in on this same child.  He is now expected to be excited about a day where everything is backwards?  Everything he knows will now be changed, and he is supposed to enjoy this? How can we help children who crave this routine to succeed on a day like Purim?

Step 1: Preview.  For children who crave routine, it is key to preview what the day will be like.  What pieces of their routine will be switched, and what will remain the same?  Will they still be under the watchful eye of their teachers or will they be having a substitute?  Will they be with their classmates, or is it going to be a different grouping of children for the day? 

Step 2: Know your students.  As we plan for changes in a school schedule, we must think about what will really enhance the students’ experience.  Does it really add to the celebration if we switch classrooms or cubbies for the day?  At what age is this fun, and when is it just confusing?  How loud is it going to be, how many children are going to be in the same room?  Have some noise canceling headphones on hand for kids to wear if they are so inclined.  Put yourself in their shoes as you plan and be mindful of every child.

Step 3: Think of ‘opt out’ options.  In the same vein as planning the classroom celebrations with your students in mind, think about alternative plans for the students who can’t participate fully.  What would make this day special for children who need to be in a quiet, more controlled environment? Let the children know a ‘back up plan’ and a ‘check in spot’ that they can always go to when they need a break. 

On a day like Purim it is easy for us to get caught up in the fun.  As an adult, the break in routine is welcomed and refreshing, but as with everything else in school we need to think about the children in front of us and how these days will affect every last one of them.