04 Dec Observations of a Compassionate Schools Classroom
On a Friday in early December, representatives from several organizations whose missions include improving the lives of
local citizens through the promotion of wellness, quality public education, innovative medical research, and ample social services, visited a Kindergarten class using the Compassionate Schools Project (CSP) Curriculum. The visitors observed
a lesson from a unit on student self management. This lesson, “Many Feelings,” uses the book, My Many Colored Days,
by Dr. Seuss to explore the way that emotions affect us and the ways that we can settle our minds and calm our bodies after experiencing strong emotions.
Alexis Harris, Ph.D., led the tour. This is what she observed:
When we arrived, students were engaged in a movement activity in which they did movements for each of the emotions in the book. In between each, they came back to a calm, settled Mountain Pose. One of the sections in the book mentions a “mixed up” day and Ms. Clem used the “mind jar” with swirling glitter to show how a mixed up day can feel when many emotions are swirling in our minds. After the activity, they reflected on which emotion/movement was hardest to calm down from – and they skillfully noticed that after the excited/happy flamingo movement, it took a little longer to get settled. Students then revisited the “mixed up” day. They recalled that the jar represented the mind, and the glitter inside represented the thoughts and feelings that can be swirling around in our minds, suggesting “feelings,” “emotions,” “words,” “pictures,” and even “music” could be swirling in their minds and making them feel unsettled. Students then identified what uncomfortable emotions might cause the experience of a “mixed-up” day or “swirling” thoughts and feelings in their minds. They displayed impressive emotional vocabulary and insight for Kindergartners, suggesting “embarrassment,” “feeling mean,” “sadness,” “anger” and “having to be quiet.” They suggested that a good way to calm/settle these swirling thoughts/feelings was to find their “anchor points” (hands on heart and belly to connect with the breath) and take three calming breaths. They recalled that an anchor keeps a boat calm and stable and that their breath can do the same for them.
These Kindergartners showed us sophisticated understanding of emotions, thoughts, and the application of this knowledge for self-management. Ms. Clem shared with us that after we left the room, she told her students, “Wow, I was experiencing strong emotion in class today. Can you guess what it was?” Then several of the students called out together, “Nervous!” From 5 year olds, this is an amazing level of emotion recognition and perspective taking, and they haven’t even reached the unit on social awareness (empathy & perspective taking)! This is a great testament to the teaching and learning going on in the CSP classes. Of course, not every class is like this every day, but we are seeing this kind of work on a more consistent basis in our schools!