We build in a lot of movement at JRA because we know, both from the research and from our own observation, that kids learn better when they are allowed to move. We start the day with kickball, go walking or running after lunch, have regular Bal-a-vis-x as part of our daily schedule, and keep balls, a mini-tramp, plasma cars, and fidgets in the classrooms. Today I was showing a family around the school when a teacher and a child walked by with their coats on. “I’m taking L out for a lap around the building,” the teacher called. We know how important movement is, but even so, it’s easy to forget how powerful it is.
I love all our students, but E always puts a smile on my face. Gentle and funny, he moves at his own speed and is unmoved by peer pressure. Third period is his “make-up” class, when he works with me to catch up on the work he didn’t finish the first two periods. Today I was trying to explain about commas in between items in a series. I’d explain, he’d smile and nod, and then I’d ask him to show me where the commas would go. He had no idea. I explained again, with similar results. I tried again. His face showed nothing but incomprehension. “E,”I said, “Can you tell me what I just said?” This sweet child, who does not have an ounce of meanness or irony in his body, looked at me tentatively and responded, “You said blah, blah, blah, blah.” “Well, that explains the problem,” I said. “I thought that might be what you were hearing. Let’s go jump on the trampoline!”
He jumped 30 times, I jumped 30 times, and then I followed him down the hall as he did his best Rocky imitation. He reached the table before I did, and when I arrived, he had already correctly added three commas. Movement’s powerful stuff and a cheap intervention. And it’s worth using for any child with a bad case of the blahs.
Just about all of our students have sensory integration difficulties. Some are sensory seekers, others are overly sensitive to noises, textures, and visual chaos. As we enter our third year at JRA, we have worked harder to enrich our environment, including many sensory activities that help students stay focused and calm during the day. We have gotten good advice from Katie Reily, our Speech and Language Pathologist, who is also a therapeutic educator in the Waldorf tradition. Linda King-Thomas of Developmental Therapy Associates of Durham provided a great inservice for us, and Claire Marsh, the occupational therapist from DTA who comes to work with students weekly individually and in class, has also been helpful.
We have tried to increase opportunities for movement in several ways. Every morning starts with a rousing kickball game. Students are very patient with those who are just learning, so everyone gets to play. After lunch, the whole school goes walking or running in nearby Nature Conservancy land, where opportunities to climb, jump, carry, and throw abound. We keep a mini-trampoline in the hall, ready for someone who needs to bounce. And all students participate in our Bal-a-vis-x program, where students bounce balls and pass beanbags rhythmically and often in unison.
In most of our rooms, we’ve worked hard at keeping visual clutter at a minimum. Eight foot windows and our high ceilings provide natural light and a feeling of spaciousness. The fish tanks and gecko cage provide calming and interesting things to watch. Boxes of fidgets of every kind are in each classroom. Here, chewing gum is not a cause for punishment, but a coping strategy that we encourage students to use. Some classes keep a cup of disposable drinking straws for kids to chew on. We make sure there are multiple textures and activities to captivate even the most sensory seeking child among us.
Sensory Processing Disorder or even just sensory integration difficulties: come check us out and see how we can help your child!
If you have been wondering what we’re about, stop by and visit on Saturday, March 24, 2012, from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. It’s a chance to meet teachers, parents and students and to hear what we can do for your child.
Our address is 3717 Murphy School Road, Durham, NC 27705. Our phone number is 919.932.0360. Come have a preliminary visit and come back again during the week when we have kids.
At present we have 19 students and hope to expand to 25 for the next academic year. We take kids from third grade through ninth and will add the tenth in 2012-2013. Presently we have students coming from Raleigh, Cary, Wake Forest, Fuquay-Varina, Durham, Chapel Hill, Vance County, and Chatham County, so the car pool possibilities are endless.
Here’s a sneak preview of some of the activities that go on during a school day: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AxUSbne9iM&feature=player_embedded
When I ask parents what they want for their child, happiness is usually on the list. Their child’s needs may be many or few, but every parent hopes their child will find happiness in spite of their needs. When parents say this, I listen carefully to find out what they really mean. Do they want their child to develop the skills to be happy in life, or are they asking that we not make them unhappy, even if it’s just occasionally? This is important, because while we can work with the first parent’s wish, we will not succeed with the second.
I was reminded of this today when my co-teacher and I caused S., one of our camp kids, to cry. He had played a long time with a piece of equipment, and other children wanted to play with it too. We set the timer and then explained that it was time to let others have a turn. This did not go over well with him, and he clung tightly to the toy and wailed. Tarish and I didn’t even need to look at each other to know what to do. We gently but firmly stuck to our guns. We took turns sitting with him in his sadness, but even when the toy became available again, we explained that at JRA, you don’t get what you cry, or whine, or nag, or pitch a fit for.
It’s important that parents understand that JRA is not Narnia, but a place where children struggle with the day-to-day details of how to learn, live, work, play, be a friend, and yes, be happy. This isn’t easy. Kids fall short and fall down and sometimes fall apart for a while. That’s okay. We’re there to catch them. And we believe that every child deserves joy every day and so we build in opportunities for that to happen. But learning the skills that enable one to be happy in life isn’t always fun. We persevere because we know that the momentary pleasure that comes from always getting one’s way doesn’t last. It is having courage, character and resilience that come from deep within that makes a happy life a possibility. Those are qualities that must be forged and tested in order to become a lasting part of us.
When S.’s mother came today, I explained what had happened and why he didn’t get to play on the toy. She nodded and said, “That’s the rule at home too.” She seemed pleased that we loved S. enough to endure the storms he sent our way. I was pleased to realize this was a parent whose child we could help. And the hug and big smile he gave us as he left told us we’re on the right path.