Losing our sense of routine can leave us frazzled. That’s especially true for children. Despite recent holidays and snow days, my fellow Ursuline Sisters AmeriCorps member Janie and I resolved to make sure the children we mentor maintained a sense of routine.
We do our best to meet regularly with the children in Beatitude House's English Language Learning program for tutoring, and when the weather permits, fun activities like a show at the Youngstown State University Planetarium. Unfortunately, I recently learned that even when there is routine there's also the unexpected.
One of the children had a particularly rough day at school and refused to participate in our scheduled reading time. She wanted to play a board game, and it seemed she wasn’t going to cooperate until she did just that. This didn’t fit into the tutoring timeline I’d set up, and I was stumped on how to motivate her.
As mentors, we walk a fine line between friend and authority figure, and behavior management can be especially difficult. How do we push kids to work hard without pushing too hard? After all, learning can be fun, but there are times when we have to buckle down and face those tasks that we dread. How can we make homework and study time less daunting and overwhelming? How can we be more aware of their emotional state and sensitive to their individual needs? The kids are just coming from a long day of school where they’ve been sitting and working all day. If the child has a rough day, it can be even harder to get started and stay focused.
After asking for advice from former teachers and doing a little research of my own (Pinterest has become my new best friend) I stumbled across something called the “Zones of Regulation.” Four colors represent a variety of feelings/emotions the child may be experiencing at the start of tutoring and how they relate to readiness to learn:
Green Zone (Ready to Learn): Happy, Calm, Focused, Feeling Okay
Blue Zone (Moving Slowly): Sad, Tired, Sick
Yellow Zone (Loss of Some Control): Frustrated, Worried, Silly/Wiggle, Excited
Red Zone (Out of Control): Mad, Scared, Yelling, Elated
One recommendation is to give each child a five-minute break card with activity options specialized to their “Zone” or emotional state. For example, a student who’s feeling frustrated may need five minutes to take deep breaths, grab a snack or color. A student who’s feeling bored or sleepy way takes a few minutes to stretch or dance. An angry student may need some quiet time or a chance to talk about their feelings with a mentor or other trusted adult.
Another recommendation is to allow the child to choose a topic that is particularly interesting to him or her, then find a book find a book on the subject. Choosing a subject is something that they don’t often get the chance to do in school and can increase their motivation to learn.
These are just some small adjustments that can help keep students on track. If we’re willing to be flexible and adapt to sudden changes or challenges, we might find that the result is more rewarding than anything we could have planned.
I'm about to give these ideas a try. I'll let you know how it works out. Meanwhile, if anyone out there has a tried-and-true method they'd like to share, please do so in the comment section.