Saturday, September 18, 2010

Emotions Are Hard


I've already known all the children in my 3-5 class for at least a year, many of them for two, and a couple for their entire lives. The first week of school, especially since it was a "slow start," was a relative breeze for the kids. The ones who spent time with us during the summer sessions were definitely the most comfortable, but even the kids who are returning after a well-deserved summer break were solid, not taking long reminding themselves of what it is they like about school.

We'll spend the first month or so in a somewhat lower gear, some of the parents may chose to linger longer than necessary, we'll likely stick to our familiar songs, we won't take any field trips. The idea is to establish our routines, agree upon a bedrock set of rules, allow the children to get to know one another, and generally give the community of children a chance to gel, but by our Halloween party we'll be at full speed with no turning back.

The Pre-3 class is a different animal. Sure, I've known several of them for their entire lives, but only as appendages to their older siblings, and most have only recently met me. I'm lucky, I think, that I get to first know the children in terms of their relationship with their mothers and fathers, which is one of the special things about working in a cooperative preschool. That is, after all, who they genuinely are right now, still in the process of emerging from their parents as independent human beings with their own distinct personalities. Sure, they are walking, they are talking, they are making their opinions known, but the line between themselves and their most loved adults is still a fuzzy one. There are many things to learn about a young child in the absence of a parent, of course, other aspects of who they are tend to express themselves more boldly when left to stand alone in the world, "hidden" traits emerge, but I treasure the opportunity to witness first hand how moms and sons or dads and daughters are connected with one another. I have plenty of time to get to know them as stand-alones in the coming months.

And that is, to my mind, one of the highest tasks of the Pre-3 year: to help the child learn who he is when standing alone.

I enjoy these Pre-3 circle times at the beginning of the year. We come in from outdoors to take our place on the blue rug. I have a simple song that evolved during my first year teaching. It worked so I've stuck with it. I start by beating the drum:

Boom boom
Boom boom boom
Boom boom boom boom.

Then I chant, "Preschool children into the blue rug."

Boom boom
Boom boom boom
Boom boom boom boom.

I chant again and repeat it several times, making my way slowly to the blue rug. Before too many weeks have passed the children will come running the moment they hear the drum and I'll be leading a kind of Pied Piper brigade. This week, however, only the ones who spent time with us this summer, those who have already learned this signal, made beelines for the blue rug, while the rest stopped what they were doing and simply stared at me. What's with this noisy guy and his odd drumming performance? 

As the kids assemble on the rug with the help of their parents, I switch to our next song cue which I learned from my daughter's kindergarten teacher, to which I've since added many, many of my own verses. The original:

Not on the ceiling,
Not on the door,
Everybody find a seat on the floor.

To this, I've added such mini-masterpieces as:

Not on your feet,
Not on your knees,
Everybody sit on your bottoms please.

Not on your back,
Not on your tummy,
Everybody sit right on your bummy.

Not in a bed,
Not on your head,
Everybody sit on your bottom instead.

There many more, even sillier verses, but for the first week, this is as far as we went.

Once I have a critical mass on the blue rug, I segue into this ditty that I think comes from Tom Hunter:

I've been waiting for you to come to this place
I've been waiting for you to come to this place
Where ever you're from
I'm glad that you've come
I've been waiting for . . .

I draw out the word "for" pointing my index fingers into the air before lowering them to, in a sort of staccato-style, point at the kids, singing . . .

. . . you and you and you and you and you and you to come to this place. 

Believe me, this is the height of 2-year-old humor. It will be good for a laugh for 9 full months. The song then allows me to sort of review our day together.

If you want to squish play dough,
I'll squish play dough with you.
If you want to paint on easels
I'll paint on easels with you.
Where ever you're from,
I'm glad that you've come . . . etc.

At this time of year every proper circle time starts off with a round of Jump Jim Joe (Woodland Park's anthem) followed by several other full-body songs. This week we then went with Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, followed by the Mad Hatter's version, entitled Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat, the first for its universal familiarity, the second to set a standard for silliness. We sang, I Have A Little Turtle, regular, fast, faster, and finally fastest. And no first week of Pre-3's is complete without Orca Whale. I learned this infinitely versatile song from teacher Chris David, but have no idea where she picked it up. This song calls for motor-boat chest pounding while singing, "Sea otters! Sea otters!" What's not to like about that?

And then, the felt board comes out. I only have 4 felt board songs, and we'll pretty much sing them every single school day until June. These are quite popular with the kids, mesmerizing even, and they never seem to get enough of them, although the adults will be sick of them long before winter break. I have never felt the need to add new felt board songs to my repertoire, maybe I should, but I haven't.

Learning about emotions, both our own and those of others, is one of the first steps in developing a thriving in a community, and progressive education, frankly, only works within the context of community. Just as with everything else with 2-year-old development, the level of emotional sophistication among them varies wildly. Many, for instance, are quite experienced at identifying emotions, especially those with older siblings. Others, on the other hand, seem to have come to their emotional sophistication innately, already capable of inspiring demonstrations of sympathy and even empathy. Some find the whole thing confusing, like the girl who tried to sooth crying classmates by beating them about the head and face. And there are always those who seem oblivious to anything other than their own feelings.

It's upon this spikey landscape of experience, knowledge, and capability in the Pre-3 class that we set to work creating a common language for our emotions. There is no better place to start than with If You're Happy And You Know It.

I used to demonstrate the various emotions in this song simply by making my own exaggerated facial expressions, but several years ago, Eliza would break down in tears at my sad face and was genuinely frightened by my angry one, so I came up with this very simple felt board version in order to keep my own face smiling.


If you're happy and you know it clap your hands. (Clap, clap)
If you're happy and you know it clap your hands. (Clap, clap)
If you're happy and you know it,
Then your face will surely show it. (Point at the face)
If you're happy and you know it clap your hands. (Clap, clap)



If you're sad and you know it cry a tear. (Boo hoo)
If you're sad and you know it cry a tear. (Boo hoo)
If you're sad and you know it,
Then your face will surely show it. (Point at the face)
If you're sad and you know it cry a tear. (Boo hoo)



(We stand up for this verse.)
If you're angry and you know it, stomp your feet. (Stomp, stomp)
If you're angry and you know it, stomp your feet. (Stomp, stomp)
If you're angry and you know it,
They your face will surely show it. (Point at the face)
If you're angry and you know it, stomp your feet. (Stomp, stomp)



If you're surprised and you know it, say "Oh dear!" (Oh dear!)
If you're surprised and you know it, say "Oh dear!" (Oh dear!)
If you're surprised and you know it,
Then your face will surely show it. (Point at the face)
If you're surprised and you know it, say "Oh dear!" (Oh dear!)



If you're silly and you know it, go like this. (Silly face, silly sound, silly arms)
If you're silly and you know it, go like this. (Silly face, silly sound, silly arms)
If you're silly and you know it,
Then your face will surely show it. (Point at the face)
If you're silly and you know it, go like this. (Silly face, silly sound, silly arms)



If ye be a pirate and ye knows it, say "Arr!" (Arr!)
If ye be a pirate and ye knows it, say "Arr!" (Arr!)
If ye be a pirate and ye knows it,
Then yer face will surely shows it. (Point at the face)
If ye be a pirate and ye knows it, say "Arr!" (Arr!)


I know, I know, but before you call us out, can you really say that "pirate" isn't an emotion?

This week, Lily cried at both the sad and angry faces. I wonder if I forgot to keep my own face smiling. 

Emotions are hard.

Bookmark and Share

6 comments:

Sherry and Donna said...

It's really nice to learn a bit more about your songs and "circle time" Tom. I really like your sitting song as I have a couple of children in our pre-K groups who would benefit from a song to remind them how to sit on the mat. As for keeping the expressions off your face while singing 'If you're happy and you know it' ... forget it! It's impossible not to act out the expressions during that song ... or when you read it in a post for that matter!
As for Eliza and Lily what sweet girls they are. Our children think it's hysterical when we sing with sad faces or cry during songs lik "5 jellyfish' when we sing ... "NO jelly fish, No jellyfish, No jellyfi-i-i-ish sitting on a log ... boooohoooohooohooohoooo!
Donna :) :)

SurprisedMom said...

I'm not a certified preschool teacher but I enjoy reading about your students and thinking back. I think I've sung the "If You're Happy and You Know It" song a million times in my children's youth. Preschoolers seem to get into that song. It allows them to show so many emotions.

Circle time on the rug is also familiar to me, but I don't think I've seen it done as cleverly as you do with your drum. I giggled a bit at your song as well.

It sounds like the school year is off to a wonderful start for you and your young charges.

Aussie Mum said...

I love the felt board faces for mat time. My boys would really enjoy this.

Deborah said...

I am printing all of this out to teach those songs at in my schools:) I love the additional verses to "everybody sit down on the floor" I only knew the first verse.

I tried to put one of your good pictures on FB but blogger and FB are not working together well now and I am not allowed to choose the photo I want to share - I am so bummed!!

Tracy said...

What kind of tune has the Orca Whale song got? I found the words in one of your old entries, but I can't make a tune fit. I found Jump Jim Joe on you tube - ain't technology wonderful?

The songs for sitting are really great! We've gotten into the habit of chanting what we do. I ask, what are the three things we do on the mat, and hold up 3 fingers. The children call back to me 'sit on your bottom so your friends can see!' then all they all scramble to do it. Then two fingers 'Cross your legs so they don't kick your friends' and one finger 'Keep your hands to yourself!'. It works for us...

But I am definately stealing the felt faces idea, heheh...

ChildsPlayMusicPerth said...

Another great post!

Is it just an Australian thing, or has anybody noticed that "If you're happy and you know it", a song about understanding real emotions and expressing them appropriately has started to be subverted by the "little children should be happy all the time" emotion deniers?

I'm increasingly finding that people are only singing the "if you're happy" verse and ignoring the other verses altogether. Or worse yet, they are singing all the verses without the corresponding emotion; they are singing "if you're happy and you know it stamp your feet" and so on.

As you so rightly say, emotions are hard. Denying emotions doesn't make them go away; it just buries them where they fester. Let's follow Teacher Tom's lead and help children learn about their own emotions by treating them (the emotions) with the respect they deserve.

http://www.facebook.com/ChildsPlayMusicPerth

Related Posts with Thumbnails
Technorati Profile