School is back in session. Sending your kiddo back to school can be nerve-wracking, especially when your child has experienced trauma. Whether your child’s classroom is physical or virtual this year, the sense of security and safety that the teacher establishes is vital to your child’s success. Here is what a trauma informed classroom might look like:
- Intentional Language.
When working with kids, especially kids who have experienced trauma, language matters. Often, we hear teachers saying “take this home to mom” or “I am going to have to call dad”. We may not even think twice about this, whether you are the teacher of the classroom or a student’s parent or caregiver. But, let’s look at this from the perspective of a child who does not come from a two-parent home, a home with a mom or a dad, or lives with a relative, or lives with a foster family. Making the assumption that the child lives with mom and/or dad could potentially trigger a trauma response within a child and ultimately excludes some kids from the conversation. Some alternatives to referring to “mom” or “dad” might be: “grown-ups”, “adult”, “trusted adult”, or “guardian”. Another thing to think about is that these words might sound a little funny to children who have never heard them before. It is important when using this language to normalize the idea that all families look different, whether it be their family structure, their language, their religion, or their culture. Which brings us to our next topic: representation.
- Representation Matters.
It is important for all children to see others who look like them, speak like them, act like them, and eat like them as they go about their day. It is also important for children to see that other people and families might not look, speak, act, or eat like them. Representation validates the experiences of children and allows children to see that there is not a “one size fits all” family structure and that that is okay, and even good. Ways to foster a representative and inclusive environment could look like:
- A diverse selection of toys including (but not limited to) dolls that represent different races and cultures, food that is representative of other cultures, and doll houses or house items that are representative of differing demographics.
- Library with books that include different family structures, cultures, religions (including religious holidays), and languages.
- Art supplies that are inclusive. Many children’s art brands now make multicultural markers, paints, crayons, and colored pencils. There are also packs of skin tone construction paper that represent a vast array of different complexions that are perfect for self-portrait activities!
- Acknowledgement and education around religious and cultural holidays.
- Accommodating Sensory Needs.
Spending seven hours in a classroom, with the expectation that they will pay attention and behave in a socially appropriate way, with maybe an hour to an hour and a half of a break can be excruciating, and honestly unrealistic, for a child. Now add sensory needs into the mix and it can be extremely difficult for a child to succeed in the classroom. Ways to create a sensory-friendly environment include:
- Sensory fidgets on hand. This can be play-doh, putty, fidget spinners, pop-its, etc. Giving children something to do with their hands during a lesson can actually maximize the amount of the content that their brain takes in.
- A procedure that allows children to safely take a break when it is needed. Sometimes, when a child is experiencing sensory overload, what they need to do is take a step away from the situation. However, in classrooms with one teacher and many kids, it can be difficult to allow the child the space that they need to process their emotions. Having a plan in place to allow children to safely take a break can give the child what they need at that moment while minimizing any disturbances to other children’s learning.
- A calm down corner. A calm down corner is a space in the classroom that holds resources for children to use in order to cope with moments of big emotion. This corner might look like cozy pillows and blankets, soothing light, sensory items, and items with calming scents (like lavender).
Knowing what comes next or what will be coming later in the day gives children a sense of control, which is something that children who have experienced trauma often have taken away from them. Some ways to create some predictability for children in the classroom are:
- Make sure that it is clear where all important locations in the building are - the bathrooms, the school office, water fountains, the school nurse.
- Give time checks. Pick a time marker - 5, 10, 15 minutes - and give time checks prior to a transition. Let students know that they have five minutes before switching classes, before lunch, before dismissal, etc.
- Give children choices when applicable. If they are doing an assignment, give them the option of where they would like to sit to complete the assignment. If there are two tasks that need to be completed, let them decide which to complete first, etc.
- Visual Schedules. Pictures are perfect for helping children know what will come next. Place pictures representing different subjects or activities throughout the day in chronological order in a place where all children can see. If appropriate, include the time that the activity will occur next to the picture. The more notice given, the more control children feel that they have.
We hope that these tips and tricks will help you better advocate for trauma-informed education for your children, students, and loved ones. If you have any questions, leave a comment below!