Keeping School Normal When Disaster Strikes

The Question:
As a kindergarten teacher from Harrisburg IL, I’d like some opinions. When we return to school after the devastating tornado that hit this week, do I try to keep the routine and provide some normalcy to the kinders, or do I let them spend time sharing and grieving?
The Answers:
Amy Pahlen 
They will need some sort of normalcy but they will also need time to share and build understanding of what happened.
Elizabeth Sauerwein 
I think both. The only way most kids know how to cope with things is to share and talk about them. Let them know it’s ok to feel nervous and scared. Keeping your routines will help them forget the scary stuff outside of the classroom for a little while.
Lyndsey Lykes Gates 
I would love to hear some suggestions because a neighborhood that supplies about 50% of our school’s population was hit very hard Friday afternoon and most lost their homes and everything in them. I’m not sure what to do whenever we go back to school….
Beth Jameson
 I always say, keep your morning routine. The calendar/greeting time will help them feel like things are still “okay”. I think allowing them time doing a quiet writing and art activity where they draw how they felt/feel about what happened, then draw how they know things will get better would be really helpful. That way you are acknowledging what happened as they experienced it and can share their messages of hope with the rest of class and acknowledge the fact that they all are experiencing this together. I can imagine that they are incredibly anxious to get back to school.
Morgan Forester 
After going through hurricane Katrina with my k students I tried to find a balance of both. We journaled our feelings and thought. I made a class book for them to look at. I still have it and I tear up every time I read it. Prayers are with you and your students.
Charyse Hill
We had a flood in January and I didn’t know who had been affected and who had not, so what I did was to run regular reading rotations, but when students came to work at my table they drew pictures from their long weekends and I asked questions about all the rain. That way I knew who needed to be monitored in case they were still struggling, but they had a sense of routine they needed as well.
Marilee Wade 
Give normalcy & make time for sharing their feelings & fears. I had to do this for about 6 months after a tramatic car accident with my kids.
Charri Nicole 
Certain routines should remain the same but you should allow time for sharing. Whenever there have been environmental tragedies such as the earthquake in Haiti, tsunami in Japan, and even hurricane in FL, I take the time to have discussions with my kids. The kids become mesmerized and their interest is definitely piqued, but we also discuss the dangers of these natural occurrences.
Kristin Murray 
Both. Give them time to grieve, but they can do it through writing/drawing. Allow for them to continue to have a routine as close to normal as possible. They’ll need it.
Jolene Dambeck Sosnowski
Misha Bartolomei 
I think you’ve been given some great advice here to start off with your routines to give them a sense of normalcy, and let them guide you from there. My heart and prayers are with you and your community. I’m originally from Mt. Vernon, and I still have family all over Southern IL. Please message me if there’s anything we can do to help.
Jennifer Thompson
 Both… After the tornados of last April, our community was hit hard: Apison, TN. So I let them share as often as they wanted…talk about what was bothering them…it helped. Just be there and reassure.. Even next year, your new kindergarteners will have stories and memories..
Nadine Inglis Berger
 Folllow the kid’s lead….aim for normalcy…there is healing and comfort in that alone..but if they ask..answer…as honestly as you can, in as simple, kid friendly, language as you can. Keep the conversations as short as possible. Put some extra art center material out, let them create what they wish. I was teaching kindergarten on 9/11…I had a parent who wanted her child not to be told about what happened…I told her she had a choice, she could tell him, or let the kids tell him, it was going to be unavoidable. Be flexible, be extra caring, extra loving…
Marybeth Simpson-Steeber
After going through similar experiences through the years with devastating flooding from Hurricane Floyd, Hurricane Irene, and also with the losses and fear many of our kids experienced with 9/11 (we’re in NJ, right over the NY border), I can tell you that kids are DESPERATE for their classroom to be a retreat from the confusion that seems to take over their lives during such disasters. I heartily agree with everyone above . . . . . keep morning routines the same, but make sure you first say something to the effect of “We are going to take some time after morning meeting to talk about some of the things that have happened to our neighborhood, but first let’s get started the way we usually do.” This lets them know that there WILL be sharing time, but also lets them know that some aspects of their safe, predictable lives have remained untouched. That also allows the kids that are desperate to talk about it to know that there will be time for them to do so, and lets the kids who are desperate to NOT talk about it get a few minutes reprieve into the normalcy comfort zone that they need.
Carol Welte Spillman
 Laurie, the above comments are excellent and right on target. Good luck to you and your students as you heal and begin to move on. I’m teaching K in Evansville, IN, let me know if there is something that you need. Did your school building have damage?
Stacy Meisch Sampson
 Go for normalcy but be open for when they share. Maybe you can send a note home asking the parents how they are doing and get a sense of what they have seen. Be ready for kids that are happy to be there and might not want to leave because they feel safe at school. Get ready for lots of hugs!
Linda Lind 
Yes! Keep their classroom an oasis of security and normalcy and routine, however be prepared for role playing. After a tornado hit our town I can’t believe how many times our kitchen area and farm sets were “destroyed” by their make believe storms. I always tried to put a positive spin by talking about how we help each other to bounce back!
Emily Ray
Elaine Stewart Hardaway
 Let them talk a bit, but keep it as normal as possible. I have gone through many hurricanes and believe me the children want a return to normality.
Amber Monson Schaefer 
Yes! Our community was hit hard about 10 years ago. I was in college. Nothing at anyone’s house was normal, but the kids still needed to know school was a safe place and their teacher was ok. Lots of drawing and lots of talking, along with the regular routine. Be prepared for tears at the drop of a hat and to throw whatever normal stuff you had planned out the window. I will be praying for you and your kinders.
Ginger Dominy
 God bless you, friend. Prayers coming your way. You will probably be a huge anchor of stability for those kiddos!
Diana Forte
 So sorry to hear that! After September 11th, we did all routines like usual. We just extended our morning meeting circle to talk about it…The children were very graphic (after seeing the news). But we just kept saying how we are a family here and will be here for each other. Maybe allow some parents to come in and read a story?
Melea Fields Kercheval
 My class experienced a death of a classmate from a fire several years ago. We did talk about it and wrote about it as a large group and individually. I would allow time for them to do both whenever the topic comes up. Keeping the routine will be helpful with allowing time to be flexible veer off from the routine when necessary. Prayers and hugs to you and all of your little ones.
Cecilia Doyle 
A balane of both…seek out the adjustment counselors as well. My thoughts are with all the communities devasted by those tornados and other disasters….
Chris Goodman
Sadly, I had the same experience as Melea 3 years ago. Try to find a gentle balance between the two. They’ll need some “normalcy,” but will also need to have their fears and grief acknowledged and dealt with. Good luck to you.
Jodine Brown
 I’d let them lead the way. Give them time to air their thoughts and feelings but also realize that routine can be very comforting. Perhaps break out the playdough, finger paint, things that can help them work out their emotions.
Amy Coyle Kane
 I agree with both. They will need to share what they have gone through and what better group than their own age group, but they are going to need that one place where things are “normal.”
Karin Oehlwein
 Great advice from lots of teachers with similar experiences. My advice is to teach from the heart. Give them this safe place to express feelings while keeping some sort of routine. My prayers are with your town that things might begin to improve better very soon.
Melinda Bachman 
Lots of drawing time. Pictures from children are a great way of releasing the fear. Acknowledge what happened and reinforce that daily life does return. Activate a service project like a food drive or clothing needs to donate to those in the community harder hit to give them a sense of purpose.
Peggy Vaughan Grier
 Agree with everyone…you need both. I had a student die several years ago and I tried to keep to the routine but let talk whenever it came up. We did lots of drawing…Hospice came and talked with students and parents. We made a paper quilt to hang in the hallway. They could draw anything about the little girl. Many of them would ask to go stand by it during the day. I think it really helped then deal with the loss…your class could draw about whatever they experienced. Good luck to you and your class. My prayers are with all of you. You will have a very special bond with this class. You will heal together.
Lisa Marie Combs-Presley
 Let them share and grieve…then return to what will be the new normal.
Missy Gannon Kacy
 There is nothing new I can add to this great advice…but I want to share a hug with you, and thank you. These are the hardest and probably MOST rewarding days. Let teacher-bashers try to step into your shoes this week and say we don’t matter. How are YOU? I hope your home is ok…
Kelly Wilner Callahan 
I agree with what everyone else has said…give them time to share their thoughts and grieve in a safe environment, then get back to as close to normal as you can. Children, especially young children, thrive on routine and predictability. They (and you) probably need some of that right now!! I wish you, your students and your entire community the best of luck as you rebuild your lives!

One thought on “Keeping School Normal When Disaster Strikes

  1. I say do both. Keep the routine of the day but give them time to express themselves and concerns in the morning circle or something like that. I would also express my own fears so that they feel it’s normal, which it totally is to have fears and be scared of something that happens. Good luck!

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