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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Glitter jars, bean bags and progress

Second-graders urge each other to walk peacefully and quietly in the halls. Photo: Maddie McGarvey/Atlantic

At a Columbus, Ohio school in a high-poverty neighborhood, teachers use different strategies to help children learn to calm themselves, writes Katherine Reynolds Lewis in The Atlantic.

Many students at Ohio Avenue Elementary come from troubled families and violent neighborhoods. Staff have been taught that “trauma can make kids emotionally volatile and prone to misinterpret accidental bumps or offhand remarks as hostile,” writes Lewis. “They’ve learned how to de-escalate conflict, and to interpret misbehavior not as a personal attack or an act of defiance.”

Teachers use a “patchwork of strategies” to help children develop “social-emotional skills”, such as self-control and empathy, she writes.

Recognizing that some children can self-calm with sensory toys, the staff lined the molding in the hallways with bottle caps, puzzle pieces, and plastic teddy-bear shapes for agitated children’s fingers to touch. A first-grade teacher, Jessica Bedra, applied for a grant to secure beanbags and stress balls that the children can manipulate or push their faces into when they feel overwhelmed. Another staff member filled Gatorade bottles with liquid and glitter as a tool that children can use to become centered. Suddenly the bottles were in almost every classroom. . . . Teachers who produce the most orderly, productive classrooms combine a nurturing approach with clear limits and predictable routines.

With so many strategies being tried, it’s not clear what’s working, writes Lewis. However, the school received an A for progress on most of its recent annual report cards, which measure students’ growth based on past performance as part of the state’s accountability system.” A neighboring school, Livingston Elementary, received F’s. 

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