It’s fair to say that the pandemic has changed us all in ways big and small that may take years to fully comprehend. Among the myriad challenges we have faced in the classroom is the number of students who have had little or no social interaction or structured learning experience in recent years. Many students enrolled in kindergarten and first grade have never even set foot inside a school building before, as pre-K and kindergarten enrollment plummeted.
As a result, some of our students struggle with the expectations and limitations placed on them at school. For example, sitting for long periods of time, being around groups of people, waiting, not being able to snack when they want, or being told “no” to things that might be fine at home can be stressful for students. .
Dealing with growing behavioral issues
In addition to adapting to this new environment, students experienced increased trauma due to nutrition/diet issues and parenting difficulties resulting from job loss due to the time off needed to support virtual learning at home and childcare inconsistencies. Not surprisingly, there has been an increase in behavioral issues across the board, including more tantrums, aggression towards others, attachment issues and low frustration tolerance .
Before the pandemic, about 13% to 22% of students had mental health issues, according to a recent report by the US Department of Education. It is estimated that this number has increased to 80%.
SEL songs, playing can help
More than ever, I focus on social-emotional learning to help my students improve their academic performance, cultivate and maintain healthy relationships, and learn to calm down when under stress. In my classroom, my students often struggle with big feelings, so I use game-based learning to help them develop age-appropriate social-emotional skills in an innovative way.
I often hear “I can’t”, so we change our mood by singing songs and dancing. We practice speaking to each other with love and using positive phrases that we may not have heard in the past. I even created a Calm Down Corner, where my students can take a break to stay still until they feel like they can join the rest of the class. Sometimes all they need is a hug!
Animatronic Class Pet Helps Transform Emotions
An essential helper in my classroom has been Bouncy, a multi-breed animatronic service dog with a prosthesis that anchors a social-emotional learning program that includes books, apps, activities, and music videos. When my students hold Bouncy heart-to-heart and belly-to-belly, their breathing automatically slows to match hers. We practice self-soothing breathing techniques using Bouncy’s music videos, and the apps provide an engaging tool that allows for both self-learning and group interaction.
I also encourage my students to take care of Bouncy by brushing his fur, “feeding” him, or even having tea together.
Overall, we are seeing a decrease in student outbursts and disruptive behavior during school transitions.
SEL courses are vital for students’ future
Mental health experts agree that the tools young learners need to thrive despite stressors include a sense of safety, emotional attachment, and training in specific SEL skills related to self-regulation and self-regulation. agency, especially controlled breathing and positive self-talk.
Empowering our youngest learners to feel safe and strong is so important to help them through whatever socio-emotional challenges lie ahead. This will help them succeed in the classroom and beyond.
Anita Compart is a special education teacher at the Jane Westerhold Early Learning Center, part of Consolidated Community School District 62 to Plains, Illinois. She uses Bouncing in his class. You can find it on Twitter.
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