Posted by: carolread | February 17, 2010
E is for Energy
When working with classes of children we need lots of energy. We can also be forgiven for sometimes thinking that the children we teach have too much energy!
We need to conserve our energy, especially if we teach large classes and have a full timetable. We also need to manage the children’s energy and find ways to channel it positively to enhance their learning.
Here are some ideas for conserving your energy:
Ensure that you get enough sleep before the teaching day (often not possible I know but worth aiming for anyway!).
Eat a good breakfast, including fruit if possible. Teaching on an empty stomach can be tiring and give you a headache.
Avoid drinking too much tea and coffee. Although caffeine provides a short term energy boost, it can leave you feeling worse later.
Avoid too many cakes and biscuits in the staff room at break time; fruit and raw vegetables are easier to digest and will make you feel good (and virtuous!) too.
Drink lots of water – keep a bottle with you in your bag to re-hydrate between lessons.
Find time for exercise outside school – from walking the dog to Salsa dancing, whatever appeals! Generally, the more exercise you do, the more energy you’ll have.
Find time for relaxation outside school too – an ideal dream at times I know, but can be reading, listening to music, cooking, gardening, whatever you enjoy.
Look after your voice – you’ve only got one. Keep it low, project rather than shout, and develop strategies to ensure you don’t have to endlessly repeat explanations or instructions.
Establish routines and rituals that children are familiar with e.g. for starting the class, story time, starting and stopping activities, tidying up etc.. This ensures the children know what to do. This makes them feel secure, and saves you explaining.
Appoint monitors on a rotating basis to do things such as collecting in and giving out materials, taking the register, writing the day’s date on the board. As well as giving children responsibility and increasing autonomy and collaboration, you don’t have to do it yourself.
Teach children the names of activities and games, so that when you do the same activity or game using different language, you don’t have to re-explain the rules and you can just say e.g. Let’s play Word Tennis!
Try not to fall into the trap of becoming a ‘walking dictionary’ available at the children’s every beck and call; train them to use first of all themselves and their books, and secondly their peers as resources before they call on you.
In the event of conflict brewing, practise abdominal breathing and speaking in a low, slow voice to stay calm. It can also help to stay detached or to ‘disassociate’ and imagine watching yourself dealing with the situation to keep things on an even keel and conserve emotional energy.
Here are some strategies for managing children’s energy:
Encourage awareness and good habits about all the things that also apply to you with regard to sleep, breakfast, snacks, water, exercise, relaxation and eating habits generally. In particular, try and ensure that children avoid high fat, sugary snacks and fizzy drinks which, as well as potentially leading to obesity, can cause or exacerbate attention deficit problems too. It is well worth the whole school working to get the parents on your side about these issues too.
If children have a lot of pent up energy at the start of lessons, rather than fighting it, it’s best to go with it and begin with a physical activity such as a short aerobic work out to music, or Brain Gym ® exercises before settling down to work.
Equally, if you notice children are becoming restless at a later point during the lesson, stop what you and they are doing and have a brief ‘physical break’ e.g. by doing either of the above or a short gym or stretching routine (which you can also invite different children to take turns to lead).
Teach physical actions to accompany rhymes, songs, chants and stories. As well as clarifying meaning and making it memorable, this gives children a welcome opportunity to move.
Incorporate physical movement into other activities too. For example, even something as simple as getting up to read a text pinned on different walls around the classroom rather than at their desks can give children the physical break they need.
Do physical activities which get children collaborating and working together e.g. making a mural, preparing a story tableau or acting out a story.
If you don’t have much space in your classroom, children can do physical activities using their hands rather than their whole bodies. For example, if you want children to mime being a butterfly, they can either do this standing up and using their arms as wings, or holding their hands together and using their hands as wings. They can also act out stories at their desks using e.g. pencil puppets or Cuisenaire ® rods.
Allow children freedom to move about the classroom within reason to do things such as fetch materials or sharpen a pencil as long as you make the parameters clear and children do not abuse this.
Remember that little ones (the 3-5 age band in my chart under ‘D for Development’) need to move around a lot: 10 minutes sitting on the carpet is a long time! Although the need to move gets less as children get older, I tend to think that even as adults we need to move too – just think back to the last time you had to sit through a one or two hour seminar for example!
It would be great to hear your thoughts on energy – either the children’s or your own or both!