Inhale through your nose, as if smelling a flower. Exhale through your mouth, blowing out the bad day like you would blow out a candle.
This is just one of the tips Newport News Public Schools uses to help its youngest students learn to calm down when they feel overwhelmed.
It is offered through a new book club for early graders. But this is no ordinary book club. Designed by local educators and school psychologists, the program not only aims to improve students’ literacy, but also teaches them to manage their emotions and interact with others through a series of tips and activities.
The program is called the Building Character Book Club, and it is for students from kindergarten to second grade. The idea derived from the loss of learning students have suffered as schools switched to virtual learning during the pandemic — from reading to their social and emotional skills, said Nathalie Rose, an elementary education specialist for literacy.
Some of the younger students never learned how to cooperate with others, make friends, share or deal with frustration, Rose said.
“These are things that we take for granted and that the kids learned by accident from being with other people their own age in the classroom,” Rose said. “Those opportunities have been taken away from them, so we’re just trying to give them more opportunities because we’ve seen a need in our classrooms.”
Rose worked with Scholastic, a publishing company, to select books for kindergarten, first and second graders. The books are different for each grade level, but focus on a central theme such as conflict management, self-regulation, and frustration management.
The books are sent free to all students. The program is funded by coronavirus relief funds.
The first book was sent home with the students in March. The books will be sent home every month until the end of the school year. Students in selected levels will repeat the program with new books next year.
In addition to the monthly book, families also receive online resources in English and Spanish with activities that will improve literacy such as word games or storytelling. Social and emotional activities for behavioral self-regulation ranged from breathing exercises to guided conversations about feelings.
Activities are divided into categories based on how they can be done throughout the day – in the morning, in the car, at meal times and in the evening.
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“We really wanted to focus on things that were as disruptive as possible, so things they could do without any type of equipment and things they could do throughout the normal rhythms of the day,” Rose said. .
So why a book club?
“One of the best ways kids learn to be good citizens — how people act, what people do — is through reading aloud and literature,” Rose said.
It’s about exposing students to characters they can relate to and inspiring them to problem-solve and deal with their feelings in healthy ways.
Each teacher has a copy of the books that are sent home with the students, but Rose said the school district has opted for an at-home program to ensure that the lessons children learn in school are reinforced at the House.
“Students do better when they get the same message at school and at home,” Rose said.
Jessica Nolte, 757-912-1675, [email protected]