One year, when I was teaching a junior class, I had a student who used to put everything in her mouth. She’d eat everything from little pieces of paper to chalk. I knew that she was trying to fulfill a sensory need, and somebody suggested that I get her some chewelry. The school bought her some, and she loved it, but chewing on a necklace or a bracelet often produces a lot of spit. This is when I wondered if gum might be a better option. So through consultation with her mom and permission from the principal, I got her some gum. And it worked! We had to work together to figure out the best number of pieces to chew at a time, how she could determine when the chewing might be too much, and when/if she needed a break. The gum chewing though met this sensory need, helped her focus on instruction and on her work, and even seemed to support self-regulation. I’ve shared this story with others before, and most people ask me the same question: what happened when everyone else wanted to chew gum? I let them.
Now there were a few questions for students to consider before the gum chewing started.
- How can you chew quietly so as not to disturb others?
- Where will the gum go when you’re finished with it?
- What will you do if another teacher does not want you chewing gum?
These students were incredibly respectful of each other, of the classroom, and of various teachers, who might feel differently when it comes to chewing gum. When I first moved to breaking the cardinal school rule of “not chewing gum,” I first had to think about why the rule existed.
- Choking. To help reduce the chance of this, I made it a requirement that kids couldn’t chew gum if they were engaging in physical activity.
- Respect. I love chewing gum, but if I get a couple of pieces in my mouth, my step-dad would joke that I “sound like a cow eating her dinner.” 🙂 It’s true! Nobody needs to hear this loud chewing. In fact, the constant noise might be a stressor for others, and we need to be aware of that. So that’s what inspired my first question above and our rule of respect.
- The mess. Nothing is worse than a gum mess on the floor. I still remember when I accidentally got gum on the car mat in my sister’s brand new car. That was multiple cars ago, and more years than I can remember, but I still hear the story. To reduce the chance of similar school stories, there was a firm rule of “gum goes in the garbage when you’re done.” No saving it for later. No putting it on litte papers to throw out at another time. If gum grinds into something, I know that we will all end up losing our chance to chew gum.
- The sugar content. Yes, there are sugar-free gum varieties, but there are also many gums full of sugar. This can lead to tooth decay. So what if this becomes a case of the person who brings the gum is the one that chews it? I am no longer a fan of the firm “no sharing food” rule — depending on circumstances of course — but I did hold to this rule for gum.
Dissecting the “why” helped me see the gum issue differently than I did before, and allowed me to work around a rule that I would have never considered breaking in the past. Now I teach kindergarten, and the constant movement in the room, the developmentally appropriate desire for many children to only move by running (no matter what might be blocking the path), and the lack of experience chewing, means that I would be far less likely to support this gum chewing. Maybe in a specific circumstance. For one child. If agreed to by the parents and admin, and with certain caveats in place. Different kids. Different needs. A different answer.
But in kindergarten, I might offer a similar argument for wearing hats indoors.
- For some children, the hat provides comfort. When one day, an unexpected circumstance had us coming inside earlier than usual and combining with another class, children that always took off their hats, didn’t. Some students were anxious about this change in plans. The hats helped. And as the day went on, and routines went back to normal, many hats came off.
- For some children, hanging up the hat is one more transition. Transitions can be a challenge. This is often when, as educators, we see the most behaviour. And so if we can offer a space inside for kids to put down their hats, or just wait until they come off naturally, we do.
- For some children, it’s about an exciting event. When the Raptors won in June, there were lots of Raptors hats the next day. The hats were all about celebrating a win and being part of the larger community of fans!
I keep thinking about my teaching partner, Paula, and a presentation experience from last year. The two of us presented at the Hamilton-Wentworth Principals Conference (HWPC) on Self-Reg. It was an incredibly cold day in Niagara Falls, and Paula bundled up to walk from our hotel over to the conference centre. When she got there, she realized that she would need to take off her snowpants and hat for the presentation, and this required some deep breathing and time to adjust. Hats can also offer adults comfort. In this case, Paula’s dysregulation caused by being cold, would have made the hat the item she needed for success.
Now think about kids. Would students have felt as Paula did, and if so, with a Kindergarten Program Document that supports Self-Reg, would wearing a hat have solved the problem? The Kindergarten Program Document also shares the view of the child as “competent and capable,” so what does that mean when it comes to hats? Just as in my gum experience, maybe this also comes down to children being respectful of different viewpoints:
- Knowing when hats are permitted and when they’re not.
- Taking them off for O’ Canada.
- And being responsible for keeping track of their hats (and other belongings) so that they make them back home.
This works for me, but I know it might not for everyone. As I see a few hats in our documentation, I realize that some children are keeping them on periodically throughout the day. Now I’m left wondering …
- How do I feel about this?
- Is this something that we need to change?
Like with gum, I tend to think that the hat argument is not always worth it — aligning with some of my thinking about when we talk to kids, what do we say? — but if we’re going to argue for or against something, do we need to consider the pedagogy behind our arguments? Gum. Hats. What else? Maybe it’s time to explore some contrary views.