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Little Things to Know About Little Beings by Niousha Kiarashi



Little Things to Know About Little Beings by Niousha Kiarashi

Creating a More Inclusive and Creative Classroom

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by Niousha Kiarashi 

Artist in Residence 2023-24

Children’s Museum of the Arts

in collaboration with Pre-K—2nd Graders 

P396K Sid Miller Academy 

Crown Heights, Brooklyn

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This is a small pamphlet, made with love and care, by Niousha Kiarashi, CMA Artist Educator in Residence at P396K Sid Miller Academy, after experiencing a full year teaching art at an elementary school dedicated to children with special needs in Brooklyn, New York. 

Throughout the school year, my students and I created a web of connections together and developed an experimental teaching and learning method for making art in the easiest and most pleasant way possible. With the precious help of teachers and paraprofessionals, along with the terrific administrators at P396K Sid Miller Academy and the staff at Children’s Museum of the Arts, we created a loving and creative environment for children to become the best version of themselves.

After spending hours in the classroom, I gathered my observations in hopes that – together! – we can improve the educational environment and make the students’ experience as impactful as possible. We were all children once, and we have enough intuition of what worked best for us when we were in school, and in which environment we got those educations best. 

We all knew what things did not work when we were children – what was boring, hurt our feelings, made us tired or angry – during the moments when we needed to be understood and cared for the most. This pamphlet serves as a reminder to everyone working in the children’s education field that we should reflect on our past memories, and the resources that helped us most, to reimagine what we want our children to learn and become.

Before entering and while in the classroom, there are things for us as teachers and paraprofessionals to strictly consider as rules and be aware of until they become default.

+ Remind yourself that we are gathered here to teach children and, most importantly, to learn from each other. Avoid a top-down approach and refrain from using your “adultness” to overcome difficult situations. 

+ It’s best not to talk in front of the students about one’s behavior or about a subject that’s irrelevant to the class. 

+ Remind yourself that this is an art class and students are here to explore, express their emotions, and experiment as freely as possible. We must guide them with our knowledge to add to their experiences – not limit their curiosities.

+ We pay full attention to our children and dedicate our time to them and their needs. Refrain from letting personal feelings and moods interfere with the children and the classroom environment.

+ Everyone should follow the classroom rules — stay in our chairs while completing assignments, no running, no playtime until finishing the assignments, no touching other’s works without asking the teachers first, clean up after finishing an assignment, share with friends sitting beside them. 

+ Keep in mind that students in these classes have strong sensory sensitivities, and in order to have a fruitful class, we should not trigger any of those sensitivities.

+ No shouting is a must for everyone, including paraprofessionals, teachers, and students. Build a stressless classroom environment by encouraging everyone to conduct calm conversations instead of demanding rules or shouting.

+ Recognize the rules for nonverbal students. Check to see what their special needs and sensitivities are and plan their classroom experience accordingly.

+ Visualize rules for nonverbal students. 

+ Organized learning is essential for children with special needs. Not only does it improve their classroom experience, but it builds essential skills for their future.

+ We don’t want students to get in the habit of responding to demands – no one likes them! We want our students to grow into their strong personalities and contribute to a brighter future without dictatorship in their mindset.

+ Getting to the students’ height when teaching or asking them to follow any rules is essential. It makes them feel safe and shows that we are not using our “adultness” to force them to do anything.

+ Remind yourself of the language you use when teaching, asking questions, or conducting conversations. Many special needs students have echolalia [repetition of speech], and it is important to demonstrate how you want to be heard by others in the classroom environment. 

+ Do not make negative comments about the students to teachers or paraprofessionals in front of them. 

+ Don’t answer students with laughs when they express something from their point of view. Instead, simply listen and interact with them — you can even ask them follow-up questions or make useful observations about their comments. Try to turn the conversation into a learning experience. Don’t immediately assess whether their observation is right or wrong. Converse with them until they get to the correct answer or solution by themselves. 

+ Children can sense excitement and loooove to listen to exciting conversations. It makes learning easier, better, and more fun. So, be excited when you talk with them! 

+ Simplifying instructions and breaking down tasks into smaller portions makes assignments easier to understand. 

+ Always think ahead. Have multiple alternatives for each assignment and be ready for unpredictable events that might happen in the classroom.

+ Encourage students to ask for future instructions or share new ideas while completing assignments. 

+ Art class is all about activating creativity and is most successful when everyone has their own style and method — that includes students, teachers, and paraprofessionals. It’s important for everyone to participate in even the smallest tasks so we can all learn and create together. It also helps us recognize our individual skills and levels of creativity. 

+ Fear should never be used as a tool to make students obey classroom rules.

+ Physical force is never allowed in the classroom.

+ In order for students to understand the rules of physical contact (keep your hands to yourself, respect other’s personal space, etc), they must see adults demonstrating it first. They will learn by simply observing what adults are doing. 

General Recommendations:

Our relationship with students is very important. We may provoke a student's anger unknowingly. It’s important to take responsibility for our shortcomings and change our opinion depending on the situation.

+ It’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Some students will be triggered not from the limitations themselves, but the way we implement those limits. The energy that we put into this relationship is very important. If we want calmer children, then we must be calmer educators.

+ Questioning a student’s ability to do something may trigger them to refuse to do it altogether. Avoid this behavior by politely asking a student to complete a task. 

+ Guide students through situations with their classmates together instead of making it look like a competition. Children’s brains are still developing at this stage, so they haven’t learned how to control strong emotions yet. 

+ We must model to students that aggression is not the answer. They haven’t learned alternative ways to control their emotions yet, so they are looking to us to model these behaviors. 

+ Never answer their aggression with more aggression. It worsens the situation and creates an unpleasant scene for everyone. Instead, teach students problem-solving skills with a calmer attitude. You can tell students that it’s okay to be mad, but they cannot hit themselves or others because our bodies are not meant to be hurt. Show students that you understand their extreme emotions, while also setting boundaries to prevent them from getting physical. Ask students to try another way to solve their problem and encourage them to think of their own ideas on how to do it. 

+ When a child is angry, suggest that they:

puff their cheeks and take a deep breath

start dancing — it releases sudden extreme emotions!

play with sensory toys

+ Kids don’t need to be tamed. They just need to feel understood and accepted; guided and loved.

+ What we consider to be a child’s bad attitude or behavior is likely due to their own discovery of their internal feelings — they may feel disappointed in their inability to make connections between what they feel and think. The best we can do is set kind yet strict boundaries and constantly follow up with them. 

+ We are all human — teachers, paraprofessionals, and students! “Taming” children with punishments for simply being human is far from the best way to overcome challenging behaviors. 

+ Focus on satisfying students’ individual needs and not forcing them to do the “right” or “complete” thing. 

+ Respect each student’s age and state of mind. 

+ Encourage students to follow their own interests while completing different tasks.

+ Children tend to copy what they see, and not necessarily what they are told to do. Be mindful of your attitude in front of them. They may not remember when you tell them, but they will vividly remember how you said it. In order to teach respect, you must model respect. Children are visual learners and they are hyper-aware of what is happening in their surroundings. 

+ Constantly remind children that they are capable of doing whatever they want!

+ Celebrate each of their victories, no matter how big or small.

+ If they show perseverance, support it, as encouragement means a lot to them.

+ Connection is key to a good relationship.

+ If the child is constantly anxious, try to reduce the tension of the situation by speaking in a calm voice and showing empathy. 

+ When you see that a student is interested in a specific hobby, ask them about it and have them teach you how to participate. 

+ Try to analyze the situation together instead of simply resorting to phrases such as “stop,” “be quiet,” or “don’t cry.” Make sure that students are aware of your efforts to help them reach their goals. Accidents happen; that is normal. Encourage students to talk about things that give them anxiety. This helps them analyze the stressful situation and gives them credit for trying to feel understood. It doesn’t mean that we are necessarily agreeing with their feelings, but we are simply observing their stress and trying to connect to their feelings, while also keeping our boundaries.  

+ Special needs students often use their own body to soothe themselves. When you notice students displaying self-soothing behaviors (such as nail biting or hair pulling), ask them how they are feeling: “I  noticed that your hands are in your mouth. Did you notice that your hands are in your mouth?” Gently call attention to these behaviors, but don’t harp on them. Knowing that you are not judging them is huge for children. These behaviors are complex and do not benefit from a top-down approach. 

Simple Techniques to Boost Creativity:

1. Use games to teach students about new concepts and expand their ability to innovate and create.

2. Encourage them to explore their surroundings at all times.

3. Promote group participation and working in pairs help children share their ideas and cooperate with others in order to accomplish tasks. It also helps students gain important social skills.

4. Plant seeds of confidence every day. Encourage students to examine new ideas and express their thoughts in a creative way.

5. Utilize storytelling to allow their minds to see the world in a new light and help them depict a world of their own.

6. Give students the courage and confidence to bloom into their best version of themselves.

It's always the smallest details that make the biggest changes. It’s a wonderful feeling when you see the results of your efforts. 

Let’s make it wonderful for everybody.

With Love, 

Niousha Kiarashi



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