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Winter Carnival Day: a Self-Regulation Nightmare

Today was winter carnival day. I have to admit: I have never liked winter carnival day. Even as a kid, I didn’t enjoy days like today. Back then, I wouldn’t be able to tell you why. Later as an adult, I would tell you that it’s boring watching kids play the same game over and over again while you have to just watch and somehow keep the behaviour somewhat in line. But after Aviva Dunsiger’s series of blogs about self-regulation last spring/summer (https://adunsige.commons.hwdsb.on.ca/category/selfreg/), I now understand better why I despise this day so much.

As an introvert, I find winter carnival day to be overwhelming. It causes me extreme sensory overload. I know it’s not just me. Today I got two twenty minute breaks to go to my classroom and sit in the dark and take in the silence, but by the time the kids left the station, I got a bathroom break, and I dealt with whatever else had popped up, those twenty glorious minutes were whittled down to five or ten at most.

The real difficulty, though, lies in what this day does to the kids. One of my students today chose to wait outside the gym during part of the morning setup because it was just too loud and overwhelming for him. He had the ability to recognize his needs and advocate for them, but how many kids don’t? And if every kid who was overwhelmed did what he did, would there be any kids left in the gym? Actually, the day usually starts out well. Kids are excited and ready to begin the day, but as the day goes on, so too the behaviours start to become more and more extreme. You can literally see the dysregulation that they are experiencing. So many things contribute to this.

  • First, the teams are made arbitrarily with an average of about one student per class per team. Students have zero input as to who they spend their entire day with. They spend more time with these random strangers this day then they do with their regular class, and they at least have friendly faces and familiar adults with their regular class. As teachers, we didn’t know who was on each team from other classes. One of my students got stuck with a kid who he can’t stand because she makes his life miserable. If we had known, maybe we could have avoided having a meltdown to start the day. Fortunately, there seemed to be few of these issues, but there was potential for many.
  • Second, the students have no input as to which activities they get to do. There were more activities today than students had time to do so each group didn’t get to do three or four stations. Some of them were extremely disappointed to miss out on an activity that they wanted while they did have to go to something that they don’t like.
  • Third, the older students were the “leaders” leaving them responsible for the younger students. They gave it everything they had. They worked very hard. But how can we expect a twelve or thirteen year old to handle a five year old who barely listens to his own teachers?!?
  • Fourth, there is no down time. Students are on the go all day long, switching activities every twenty minutes. Even if a student wanted a minute to take a calming time out, there is nowhere in the schedule to do it.

At the end of the day, my class came back together for a few minutes. Several of them were disappointed in their stations. Many of them commented to me that they don’t know how I do it every day as they struggled all day with the younger kids. I have to admit; I don’t know if I could do those little guys every day. I’m very thankful for my junior/intermediate students. I brought my voice down to almost a whisper and had a few very quiet moments in which I thanked them for their outstanding efforts with the kids. The organizers had cookies for them as a thank you, so we shared those and just enjoyed finally having a chance to breathe.

As I reflect on the day though, I wonder how we can make this day less distressing for the students. They had so little choice today. I don’t know if there is ever a day in my class where they have so little choice. Usually they can choose who to work with or what to work on or where in the room to work, at least one of those at least once per half day usually more. Today they had no choice. How can we allow for students to have some choice in how they participate in winter carnival day? How can we build in some self-regulation time, opportunities for students to take a break from all the kids and all the noise and have some peace? How can we make the day less stressful for the older students so that they don’t have so much added responsibility? They’re kids too! They deserve to enjoy fun days also! I know we need to know who is where and when for liability purposes, but there has to be another way, a way in which students get at least some choice in how they spend what should be their winter fun day, a way in which everybody has an opportunity for self-regulation in a positive way.

2 Comments

  1. Aviva

    Melanie, I could totally feel what you were feeling on this day (I think it might be what I would be feeling too). Your point about choice is great, and maybe something as simple as a little choice would make a huge change in how the children feel and respond to the day. Is there a committee that runs this day? I wonder if something could be discussed with this committee. Could students share some of their thinking and even brainstorm some possible solutions? Maybe even a small change would make a big difference. Good luck!

    Aviva

    1. Melanie

      Yes, there is a committee that runs this event. Some concerns were raised before the event this year about the student “leaders” and the overwhelming responsibility for them. The kindergarten teachers put name tags on their students and the leaders were given a stick with their team number, a list of team members, and a schedule for the day, which made a big difference in helping them with their job. It was still really tough for them with some of the more challenging students. The tricky part is figuring out how to let students have some choice without the day becoming bedlam with kids going wherever they want whenever they want. I wonder if the format we used to use at camp would work with some modifications. Logistically it might be tough, but I wonder if it would work. I would like to see a couple of student leaders sit on the committee, but I’m also not sure how that would work or if the committee would be open to having that student voice. I’m not entirely sure how I would go about making suggestions for next year (I’m new to the school, having started in December, and temporary), but I will have to look into it and hopefully be able to be a voice for the students who don’t have one. Thanks for your thoughts!

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