Here at The Cloverleaf School we understand that children often have difficulty with self-regulation. Often kids have difficulty “calming down” after a silly game, waking up in the morning, or stopping a fun activity to listen to a direction. We use The Alert Program developed by Mary Sue Williams and Sherry Shellenberger to teach our students the various stages of alertness as well strategies for self regulation.
As adults we self regulate throughout our day to help us maintain an optimal state of alertness. Do you drink a hot cup of coffee in the morning to help you wake up or snack on something sweet mid afternoon to ward off the after-lunch slump? Do you wiggle your leg or tap your pencil to stay alert in long meetings? Maybe you take frequent trips to refill your water bottle or switch the radio station during commercial breaks?
In a nutshell, The Alert Program uses an engine analogy to help kids understand the
three stages of alertness, “low gear”, “high gear” and “just right”. Children learn to recognize their engine and then they are taught what to do if they are in a non-optimal state of alertness. If you are too low, you may be “droopy,” laying on the floor, and slow moving. This is not an optimal state of alertness for learning a new math concept or playing a game with a friend. If you’re too high, with lots of energy and hyperactivity, you may not be ready to listen to friend or ready to sit in a chair for dinner. We teach children that there are five ways to change their alertness: move, touch, look, listen, or put something in their mouths. The ways to change our engines are called “engine helpers.”
In social skills, the students just finished a unit on figuring out what engine helpers were most beneficial to them. We emphasized that it’s ok to have a high and low engine. Sometimes there are appropriate times to be really excited and hyper (like when grandma comes to visit or when we play on the playground). Sometimes there are appropriate times to have a low engine (like when we are sick or sad). We also emphasized the importance of changing our engine when we need to transition to a different activity (like when we go from movement time to learning time, or from play time to bed time). Each student created an engine helper sheet that stays in their folder. They each identified three engine helpers that help them lower their engines if they’re feeling too high, and three engine helpers that help them rev their engines up higher if they’re feeling too low. During the school day if we refer to this list to help students pick engine helpers that help them get to “just right.”
What can you do at home?
1. Label your own engine. Identify when you have a high engine (stuck in traffic or when you’re running late). Identify when your engine is running at a low speed (reading a book, left your coffee at home, etc.)
2. Identify your engine helpers. (Turning on calming music helps my engine stay just right when I drive in traffic.)
3. Talk to your child about their engine helpers. Ask them what engine helpers work for them and identify when you see your child using an engine helper. (“It looks like your deep breaths are helping your engine stay just right.”)
Here are some of the engine helpers that help us: