Courtney Arseneault, MS Ed
Making Things Feel Less Hard After School On The Farm
As an educator for many years I have always noticed some children struggle more than others when things feel challenging and hard. It wasn't until I began teaching high school in the late 90's that I realized in so many ways young adults are similar to small children. They struggle with many of the same issues; labeling and identifying their feelings, developing and using coping strategies, and asking for help when things feel too hard.
We often assume since when standing, we can look older children in the eyes that we can expect them to be able to reason and understand our logic. This often leads to a tantrum or meltdown similar to those we experienced during their toddler and preschool years. These outbursts feel harder for us to handle because they are bigger and should in our opinion know better, but to them it feels the same. Their world feels out of control, they are desperately fighting to feel in control.
Kids are resilient, we say, yes they are, but they are resilient when and only when they feel that at least one adult in their world truly sees them and is in control (in control not has control). This pandemic has shown that things can change in an instant, and the ability to shift gears in an uncertain world is hard, too hard sometimes. How we label our feelings, cope with our emotions, and model asking for help is key to helping our children to feel they can handle things when things feel hard.
In the past year and a half, I have seen students arrive on the farm looking exhausted, stressed, anxious, and sad. Time with the animals helps to erase some of this at least for the time they are here, but the power of play and just being a kid also lifts them up and makes the pressures feel less. Recently, I watched a group of students 7-12 years of age, some who struggle with social anxiety work together to build a fort and then move to the sandbox or on this day ice box to pretend they were ice fishing. After chipping away at the ice, one noticed the rhythm and beat it made and began to bang to a set beat. The other children joined in, and for several minutes they used shovels on ice, buckets, and wood to create music. Those with extreme social anxiety who are unable to interact verbally with their peers interacted with the sounds they created. Creating and following the beat was a form of communicating, and although no words were spoken, they were speaking to each other.
Childhood is fleeting, and let's be honest, how long do kids really get to be children? After school on the farm offers numerous opportunities for students to escape the daily pressures, and find ways verbally or non to connect with their animal and human friends. We all deserve a break, a place where things feel less hard.