I was in my ninth year of teaching high schoolers when I went on maternity leave with my son, and as I anticipated his arrival, I convinced myself that since I had spent 180 days per year for nearly a decade with about 100 “other people’s kids,” I was well-prepared to handle my own child. After all, there would only be one of him—and I (inaccurately) guessed that because newborns are relatively stationary and unable to speak, my experience as a teacher would automatically make me more than qualified to raise a child.
I should mention that I’ve always recognized I wouldn’t be a great elementary school teacher, mostly because I never considered myself to be “good” with large groups of small children. (I subbed for a third-grade teacher for one day when I was in college, and I broke out in hives while the kids were at their “special” and took three ibuprofen—and a three-hour nap—when I got home. And they were well-behaved.)
Anyway, I’ve always admired elementary school educators, and I started paying even more attention to what makes them so good at what they do when I had my son–especially when I realized that one of him could be immeasurably more difficult for me to handle than thirty 18-year-olds.
So imagine my joy when I came across a recent article in the New York Daily News that exposes just one of what I’m sure are many effective strategies the KIPP Star Washington Heights Elementary [charter] School in NY implements: the “calm-down room.”
My son is almost 4 years old now, so I often find myself researching ways to make sure he’s happy, healthy, and engaged; but it just so happens that lately I’ve also been thinking of ways to rearrange, remodel, or otherwise renovate our home, since save for some minor improvements we’ve made over the years, it’s been relatively unchanged since my husband and I bought it in 2007. Thanks to this KIPP school, I’m inspired to combine these two endeavors into one seamless toddler-behavior-modification and home-remodel project.
- I’ll obviously need a “calm-down” room (which, in retrospect, I should have thought of myself! Fail!), and since we have an unused walk-in closet in a spare bedroom, all I’ll really need to do is cut a little hole in the door—it’ll need to be high enough so I can see my son but he can’t see me—and slap some pads on the floor and walls. Done.
- As my son is a picky eater who is adamantly against trying new foods—and sometimes adamantly against eating in general—my next and most immediate project will be an “eat your food” room. We do have a pantry in the kitchen that would probably be large enough for such an undertaking, but I’m not really willing to give it up because my husband and I actually do eat food and I need the storage. I did just watch A Christmas Story, and Randy seemed content to sit in a cabinet under the family’s kitchen sink—so I might explore that option. It should be easy enough to install a trap-door (NO, not like the ones they have in jails, silly!—this one would be more like a drive-thru window at a fast-food restaurant) through which we could pass meals–and also a bracket on which we could mount a water bottle similar to the ones that deliver fluids to hamsters and other small, caged animals.
- We read to my son all the time, but with all this KIPP inspiration, I’m thinking he needs his own “reading” room that’s separate from the libraries we have for him in the playroom and in his bedroom. If the “reading” room is padded in the same way as the “calm-down” room and has nothing else but books (I’ll shop specifically in the Common Core section of our local bookseller just to make sure he has an extra jump on College and Career Readiness…WIN), I imagine that it will be a wonderfully-cozy retreat for him when he decides it’s time to hunker down for some learning. When he’s older, I’ll throw some CCSS flash-cards, number 2 pencils, and scantron sheets–maybe even an iPad loaded with Pearson software if I can get my hands on one from LAUSD–in through the observation window and he can quiz himself until he’s ready to come out. And if I move all of the clothes he has in his closet into a larger dresser, we won’t really have to do too much in the way of renovation to make this happen. YES.
- Speaking of my son’s bedroom: he does have a lovely space that’s all his own, but lately he’s been protesting bedtime by yelling ridiculous, stall-tactic complaints, observations, and questions from bed (“I’m thirsty,” “I think there’s a woodpecker in my room,” “I hear a train horn,” “There’s a shark in here,” “Is it a trash day?” etc.)–so a sound-proof “go to sleep right now” room might serve to eliminate ALL distractions and help him get to sleep each night. (With the soundproofing, we wouldn’t be able to hear him either. WIN again.) And really, does anyone actually need anything other than padding to achieve a peaceful night of slumber? I think no. I’ve actually found blankets and pillows to be cumbersome, so obviously those distractions will have no place in the “go to sleep right now” room.
- Finally, anyone with a toddler will likely understand our need for a “stop asking questions” room. This, too, will be sound-proof (for obvious reasons) and will effectively limit the incessant inquiries that so many parents of little ones are plagued by each day. Let’s be real: who doesn’t want to hear the word “why” about two dozen fewer times within a 24-hour period? “‘Why?’ Get in the ‘stop asking questions’ room. That’s why.” I like it.
An unexpected consequence (bonus, really) of this remodel will be that we’ll need to get rid of my son’s playroom to free up space for renovations. All the trains, trucks, cars, and fire engines that have been cluttering our house have got to go. But really, if our goal is College and Career Readiness, who cares? (We’ll probably chuck his nebulizer and both of our pets, too–because really, what are they doing to get him ready for the PARCC tests?–but that’s a project for another day.)
And if I can make this all happen within the next 36 hours, my son will forever be grateful to Santa for giving him the best Christmas gift of all: an environment that’s conducive to scholarship, academics, test-taking, and the general Common Core lifestyle for which all parents and children should strive.
Happy Holidays, everyone!