In this post, I will discuss the importance of incorporating hands on tinkering and practical learning initiatives for children who have experienced trauma, as well as discussing some techniques that help keep children who have experienced engaged and resilient in learning.
Many children who have placed in foster care have a hard time in school, both learning and behaving in a manner that is conducive to classroom learning. We know that there are several factors that compound this problem. Of course, having a home life that is unstable or lacking in basic resources causes children’s attention to be diverted away from learning at home and at school. Also, when children are moving frequently within a school year they lose months of academic growth, relational growth, and emotional growth as well. All of these things can be summed up by saying that a child who has experienced trauma has difficulty learning both educational and behavioral initiatives within the classroom. According to Jennifer Gunn of Concordia University in Portland, “With fight or flight responses over-activated in the brains of students of trauma, the learning and memory centers of the brain are conversely turned down.”
So, what do we do with this information? How do we help children who have experienced trauma, whose brains are sending excess stress hormones out that tell them to run from or fight the people around them? The following is a list compiled by several sources, links to which will be included for further reading and learning.
1. Teach the importance of community and support systems.
As we continue to utilize technology more and more, the tendency can be to become more isolated and allow children to learn on their own. But, if we don’t teach the importance on leaning on each other, using our own strengths to support others, and collaborating to complete projects, we are doing our children a disservice, particularly our children who have experienced trauma. Trauma can make us feel isolated, it can make us feel as though our problems and our pasts are insurmountable. However, if we can teach children that they have peers and adults who they can count on to support them through their trouble, and who also need their strengths to accomplish goals, we are teaching them that they are not alone and that they are needed just as much as they need others.
2. Stop implementing zero tolerance policies in your classroom.
We have seen the idea of restorative practices sweeping through several different schools, but it bears repeating. Restorative practices such as de-escalation, meditation, and multiple chances help shape resilience in a child’s view of themself. If they can be taught to get to the root of why they are acting out through consistent counseling, time and space to own up to their behavior without shame, and positive reinforcement for positive behaviors, they have the chance to believe that they can overcome and take control of their lives. Traumatic experiences often leave children feeling like they are not in control of their own lives. They act out because they haven’t had consistent teaching or they are stuck in a constant state of fight or flight. By using restorative practices, you are both teaching them that just because they are struggling does not mean that they lost for good, and that they can take control of the their present and future.
3. Implement hands on learning such as those seen in STEAM programs as much as possible.
A child who has experienced trauma often is behind developmentally, which translates to their school performance. This often means that when met with abstract ideas or complex mathematical problems, frustration can ensue. However, when teachers can re-enforce these abstract ideas and mathematical problems with hands on learning such as through tinkering in engineering, baking, or gardening, these children are able build bridges and connections that they may not have otherwise.
It should be said and added here that this is not meant to add difficulty or shame to teachers who have not yet been trained in trauma-informed care. However, it is simply meant to provide tips to start moving in the direction of providing extra support and care for children that need it.