To the teacher:
In these uncertain, stressful times, coming together and connecting socially and emotionally is especially important. For young people to see and connect with their peers can be ray of light for some, and a real lifeline for others. Students might connect over things that spark joy and gratitude or over things that bring on more challenging feelings. Young people, like all of us, need a chance to express and share their feelings, and get the support of others.
In this series of lessons and activities, we offer strategies for exploring the topics of change and loss with our students. No matter their age, all of our students have experienced change and loss in their lives at some point, some more than others. How well they’ve been able to manage loss likely depends not only on its severity, but also on the level of stability, love, and support in their lives, as well as their own internal resources.
As the pandemic wears on, students have likely experienced loss on multiple levels—whether the loss of school as a safe, welcoming space; connections with peers, friends, teachers and other caring adults; the freedom to travel or hang out with friends, and of course play dates for our youngest students. Young people are probably also absorbing the changing moods of the adults in their lives, as family members are forced to do hazardous work, are laid off, face illness, or are struggling to handle new responsibilities, uncertainty, and stress. Some students may have lost family, friends, or community members. These things are hard to talk about. And yet as Mr. Rogers reminds us, “anything human is mentionable and anything mentionable is manageable. The mentioning can be difficult, and the managing too, but both can be done if we’re surrounded by love and trust.”
The lessons and activities that follow are intended to help students be in community together, supporting each other with you as a trusted adult at the helm.
Materials: Paper and pens, pencils, or crayons
Opening Yoga Activity: From Seed to Tree
Explain that for our opening activity today, we’ll all pretend to be seeds and then see what happens (what will change) with some sunshine and care.
The activity also serves as a breathing exercise that can help students ease their stress.
Step 1: Invite your students to become a seed (to the best of their ability!) by making themselves small. For able-bodied students, ask them to get on their knees, bending their torso forward over their legs, wrapping their arms around their knees, while their heads rest on the floor in front of them. As they make themselves small in this way, ask them to take a few deep breaths and imagine themselves as a seed, a small seed, in a warm, comfortable bed of soil. Breathing deeply in … and back out … as they lie comfortably in their bed of soil. Breathing in … and back out …
Step 2: Ask students to take another deep breath in as they now start to slowly unfold their bodies, lifting their heads from the ground in front of them, unwrapping their arms from their knees, slowly rising up. Ask them to imagine themselves pushing through the top layer of soil, as they become a teeny weeny seedling. See what it feels like to unwrap themselves in this way, allowing them to start to stretch out beyond their bed of soil. Continuing to breathe deeply in … and back out … in … and back out.
Step 3: Ask them to slowly look up toward the sun, as they now reach for the sky with their arms. Feel their knees pushing into the floor below them, imagining themselves sprouting roots down into the soil. Continuing to breathe deeply in … and back out … in … and back out …
Step 4: Encourage students to imagine reaching for the light as their hands, as leaves, begin to unfold. Now that a slight breeze has picked up, ask them to slowly start swaying their hands and arms from side to side. Slowly, swaying together, little plants in the breeze, feeling their roots in the soil below them, grounding them as they sway from side to side. Breathing deeply in … and back out … in … and back out …
Step 5: Remind students to keep breathing, as they now move their arms to their sides as branches, helping them to keep their balance, as they slowly rise and come to a stand. Placing their feet shoulder-width apart, ask students to ground themselves again, feeling all four “corners” of their feet connecting with the floor beneath them, as they continue to breathe deeply in … and back out … in … and back out …
Step 6: With their roots now grounding their feet, ask them to start swinging in the wind, this time by rotating their torso and arms slowly from their sides to the front and back, and the other way, past their sides to the back and front. Rotating their arms slowly in a circle stretching out from their core (trunk). All the while, remembering to breathe deeply in … and back out … in … and back out …
Step 7: Continuing to breathe, ask students now to stop their rotation but keep their branches out to the side for balance. The wind has dropped. Ask them to find a spot on the ground in front of them to gently rest their gaze. This can also help them with their balance as you now invite them to shift their weight onto their left foot, still continuing to breathe. Ask students to feel the roots from their left foot holding them down, as they slowly lift their right foot off the ground by getting on their tippy toes, (remember, right foot only). Keep breathing deeply in … and back out … in … and back out …
Step 8: With the weight now shifted onto their left leg, slowly lift their right foot up off the floor, towards their left knee and place it onto the left calf, as they slowly rotate their right knee away from their body at a right angle. Imagine this being a another branch, growing from the trunk of the sapling they’ve now become, as they remember to their breathe, once more, deeply, slowly, staying balanced by focusing on the spot on the floor in front of them.
Step 9: Continue breathing deeply in … and back out … in … and back out … as you ask your students to hold their pose for 10, 20, or 30 seconds. Whatever makes most sense for your students. Then have them slowly put their right foot back down, sit down and get comfortable.
Ask students to share:
- What was this activity like for them?
- How did they feel before the activity and how do they feel now?
- What changed?
Explain that today we’ll be talking about change. Ask students to give you some examples of what has changed since the school building closed. What have they lost? What have they gained?
The Invisible String or The Invisible Web
We know that story time is an important and exciting part of the school day for many young students. If and how students will hear books read aloud by their teachers and school librarians during the Covid -19 pandemic depends on how your school district is choosing to offer remote learning.
Fortunately many publishers have given permission, i.e. open license, for online story time and classroom read-aloud videos and live events.
So if you have The Invisible String available to you at home, you can freely engage students in a read-aloud and book talk either live or by video. And though read-alouds are more engaging than the video clips, they do allow you to pause and ask questions along the way to keep your students engaged. A YouTube reading of the The Invisible String is here.
Questions/prompts to consider for a read aloud of The Invisible String book or video are below:
- How did the twins feel when the thunder and lightening woke them up?
- How did the twins feel when they were with their mom?
- How did their mom explain that we’re always together, connected with those we love? What metaphor did she use?
- According to the story, who has strings?
- According to the story, how long is the string and where can it reach?
- According to the story, does the string go away when people are angry or disagree?
- How did the twins feel after learning about the invisible string? What changed?
- How do you feel thinking about these invisible strings?
Closing for The Invisible String
Ask each student to take a piece of invisible string. Hold up your string for all to “see.” Pull it tight between your hands, then give it some slack, and pull it tight again so students can imagine your string. Explain that this string extends to all of them, despite the physical distance between you, because all of your hearts are connected. Remind them that the string is long enough to reach anywhere.
Ask students one after the other to hold up their invisible string and, as they think about the connection they share with their peers, invite them to say something to the rest of the class that they look forward to when they’re back together again.
In the meantime, remind them that you have invisible strings to connect your hearts.
Extension Drawing Assignment for The Invisible String
In their dreams, at the end of the book, the twins dreamed of all the strings they had, and the strings their friends had, and their friends’ strings, etc. until everyone in the world was connected by invisible strings.
Ask students to think about their invisible strings and where they go. Have them work on an image that represents their invisible strings with illustrations and words.
Consider showing them an example that you created (ahead of time) that includes you and your students, class pets, plants, and anyone else in your life that students are aware of, connected by “invisible” strings.
Next time you get together, ask students to share out their artwork. Ask them to show it for all to see as they talk about their invisible strings.
- Who do they feel most connected to?
- Whose heart is the farthest from them right now?
- Whose heart is the closest to them right now?
- How does it feel to have hearts that are close or far away?
- Is there someone in their life they’d like to be more connected to? How does that feel?
When everyone has shared their artwork, ask students to think about how they know their heart is connected. Invite students to share out.