Wazi-wazi, as I have written before, is a sense that the world is moving too quickly. When that happens, the metaphysical sphere in which one travels is broached, allowing an alien and angry self to come in, making us literally beside ourselves. Most of us have occasionally experienced that feeling; we think of it as being overwhelmed, or if it’s serious, we call it a panic attack. Some children live in a perpetual state of wazi-wazi. This child was the toddler who cried when his parents were in a hurry, the young child who took forever to eat his lunch and who was difficult at every transition, the kid who wanted the same meal every day. Schools are often nightmare places for these kids, especially as they get older. Class changes bring hurry and jostling. Lunches must be gulped down. The daily schedule may differ, according to what day of the week it is. Some kids become accustomed to this; some thrive on it. And some never get used to it but become more and more anxious.
I was reminded of this yesterday when we had some new lockers delivered. We had warned the kids the lockers were coming and would be in place when they arrived Friday morning. They are logical and useful things for us to have. We will no longer have cluttered cubbies, and as winter approaches, everyone will know where to find their shoes and coat. There is a basket for ear-buds and snacks. They are even a cool color. Some kids greeted them with enthusiasm; they like knowing where things are, plus most of the kids fit inside them easily, a fact they find endlessly amusing. There is every reason to accept and even celebrate our wonderful new lockers.
But for four of our kids, the world had moved a little too quickly. Two were fairly verbal in their disdain and dislike, but after a bit, they stopped asking us to take them away and stored their belongings neatly. Another child just pretended they weren’t there. The fourth . . . it shut down his whole day. He stacked his stuff outside the locker and loudly proclaimed that he wouldn’t use it. He worried about it during recess. He was unable to function during his first two classes or go out to lunch with his classmates. He sat huddled outside his locker in a profound state of wazi-wazi, his arms around his knees, literally holding himself together.
In another teaching life, I would have insisted that he put his stuff inside his locker and get to class and do his work. I would have gone to the mat over it. His refusal to put his things away was clearly disobedience. And after all, he has to learn to cope with things and what if everyone pulled what he’s pulling?! It’s just a locker, for Pete’s sake! I don’t have time for this nonsense!
But that was before I knew about wazi-wazi. What good does it do to push a child having motion sickness of the soul to go faster? If a child is telling me he is in profound distress through his words and body language, perhaps I should listen. I ignore his message at the risk of his exploding in a big way. So instead, we will put up with clutter a few more days. We didn’t insist on his coming to class to work. We let him stay behind with a teacher when the rest of us went out to lunch. We slowed things down and gave him time and space and an ipad to play on.
By the end of the day, his belongings were still scattered on the floor in front of the lockers. But he attended afternoon classes and even got some work done. He no longer shouted at anyone who approached him. He was able to sit in afternoon circle, accept his awards for the week, and offer appreciations for his classmates. Monday will again be rough, but we hope not as hard.
And I wonder . . . . perhaps instead of hurrying kids along, we should listen and slow down ourselves. What do YOU think?
Have you been wanting to learn more about Just Right Academy? A great opportunity is coming up; our winter Open House will be Saturday, December 4, 2010, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Come talk to teachers, parents, and students, enjoy refreshments, and learn what makes our program different from other schools.
We are enrolling students grades 3rd through 8th, and we will go up a grade each year. We offer structure, consistency, positivity, and both remediation and challenge. We also pride ourselves on what we don’t offer: stress, homework, and end-of-grade tests. We are housed in a beautiful building in the country.
Is your child a square peg trying to fit in a round hole? We have holes of all shapes and students of all kinds at Just Right Academy. Come check us out.
Sometimes what looks like a child with severe problems is actually just a child who needs a different environment. Here is the first in a series of posts about students and their successes. This article was written with parental permission and input.
R. came to us after unsuccessful experiences in both public and private schools. He knew me from a previous educational setting, but we still had him visit several times during the summer to become familiar with the space and the other staff. His anxiety about school was out the roof, and he could talk of little but his past school failures. He worried a lot about whether he could be successful, if he’d have friends, and that the work would be too hard. He was in a state of wazi-wazi (see earlier posts).
R. just got our Positive Leadership award for the third time since school started and has done very well. In early October, he went through a one week period of being annoying to other students and difficult with staff, but he has been able to turn it around. What has made the difference?
If a child is having difficulties, we don’t blame it on the child. We look first at what we are doing to contribute to the problem. Several things helped with R. First, all children do well with structure, but R. does particularly well. He likes knowing what is going to happen when, and he finds comfort in constant feedback about his behavior. Hearing every fifteen minutes what he is doing well and what he needs to improve (which we do with all our students) is helpful to him. Because we know he worried about his work being too hard, we started him at a lower level than he needed to be and allowed him to be highly successful. Then we pushed him as fast as he could comfortably go. Another factor is that we allow him to use the strategies he had been taught in the past. He often needs time to himself and regularly crawls in our time and space tent for a few minutes when he is feeling overwhelmed.
When he went through his short period of difficulty with behavior, we found three things really helped: unconditional love and acceptance, listening to his take on things, and trusting that his mother knew her child.
Every time R. had a problem, he was sure he’d ruined his chances of having friends and being successful for good. But every day is a chance to start all over again, and we assured him of our love and acceptance. He was really sad about his behavior and we tried to help him see that he didn’t need to get stuck there, but could move on. We stress that with all the kids, and they were equally ready to accept his apologies and be friends again. As a result, he has several buddies and regularly has play-dates with his classmates.
R. is a child with great self-awareness, and he knows how he learns. As he say, “My brain works differently.” While we were trying to make the lessons multi-sensory and interesting, he wanted worksheets. This was hard because it went against what we believed as teachers, plus it was difficult to find worksheets that taught the same things as a science experiment or an art project did. But if he didn’t have a worksheet, he felt like he wasn’t learning. So now he has worksheets, LOTS of them, which he does with proficiency and great joy.
He was also able to articulate that he found a large amount of print on a page overwhelming. When they read O. Henry’s “A Retrieved Reformation,” I broke it down into 20 quarter-pages, highlighted the names of characters, and put it on a ring so the pages would not get out of order. He was able to read the story with comprehension and no discomfort. When I assign him books to read, I look for graphic novel versions; he is reading Robinson Crusoe at the moment.
Last, but by no means least, we listened to his mother’s take on his difficulties. While I may not always agree with a parent when it comes to what a child needs, I never doubt that they are the ones who best know their children. She was able to offer suggestions and help R. translate what he felt—”I’m bored”—to what he meant—”When I have nothing to do with my hands, I don’t feel like I’m learning.” She also pointed out that his behavior problems happened when he was “bored.” She was dead on, and we were able to make the changes he needed.
R.’s changes have carried over to home. He loves the feeling of success so much that he is seeking it in other areas. I don’t doubt that he will hit other rough patches at school, and we will go through the same steps again. We follow a similar process for each of our students. It is not unusual for one of my colleagues to come in saying, “I’ve been thinking . . . ” We tweak and we try and we practice diagnostic teaching. When a child is having difficulties, every part of his ecology must change. As adults, it is our responsibility to change first. Only then can students such as R. make the changes they need to be successful.