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Outside the Classroom: Positive Discipline, SEL and the Power of Play

By: Chauncey Burnett, Mei-Lin Ha Byers
As a school, we focus a great deal on what happens inside the classroom, which is to be expected. However, what happens outside of the classroom can be equally important for our students’ development. 
Recess is a valuable part of our children’s educational experience—they get to move their bodies, take a “brain break” (a critical part of learning!), and explore social interactions every day. In this way, we sometimes refer to our playground as an “outside classroom” where our students can connect with one another. As with any kind of learning process, conflicts may arise, giving us the opportunity to teach our students about healthy and positive responses to altercations and tapping into their social-emotional experience. 

Social-Emotional Learning
As part of our social-emotional learning (SEL) curriculum, we seek to help our students acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
We use the framework of Restorative Justice for our SEL program, which:
  • Fosters self-awareness and the awareness of how one’s actions impact others
  • Develops effective listening and communication skills
  • Encourages children to think how they are going to repair harm
  • Builds community in the classroom
  • Our goal is to have the students understand their emotions, empathize with others, and have the tools they need to attempt to resolve conflicts themselves. Of course, adults are always available to step in as needed!
An important step to supporting our children is to establish good rules and expectations for them to follow. Having standardized rules keeps everyone safe while our children enjoy their well-deserved break. You can see a full list of playground rules, including our anti-bullying statement here—it can be a good practice to go over these with your child or ask them about these!

Positive Discipline: White Slips System
We want our children to feel safe and heard, and that includes implementing disciplinary actions when an issue arises, in a progressive manner. Depending on the severity of the situation, these actions will range from a verbal reminder of the rules by an adult at the time of the infraction for very minor incidents, to a written warning (white slip). If your child receives a white slip, they will be sent to talk to the Enrichment Director Chauncey Burnett or the Head of Primary Magali Noth. In this meeting, the student and Director or Head will review the issue at hand, and co-create tangible strategies on how the child will handle themselves in the future, and make sure to review methods/tactics to avoid these sorts of conflicts. Parents will also be notified via call or email if a white slip is given to their child. If necessary, the Director or Head will ask our SEL teacher to step in and host a restorative justice circle with all parties involved. Students who receive numerous slips will report to the Head of Primary’s office. Depending on the seriousness of the issue, we may use the following range of disciplinary responses: notification, loss of privileges, detention, suspension, behavioral probation, re-enrollment hold, re-enrollment denial, dismissal from school.
Anti-Bullying Policy
It is quite normal for children and adolescents to engage in discussions, arguments and disagreements as they learn social skills that enable them to interact appropriately with their peers. However, our children are still developing these soft skills, so they need their parents and teachers to guide them in resolving these conflicts in a healthy way. This is an ongoing and intentional process that takes place both in and outside of the classroom.

EB is committed to promoting a safe and welcoming environment for all of our students, families and teachers. As a result, bullying shall not be tolerated and is not acceptable in any form, be it physical or verbal. All students at EB have a right to always be safe and secure, no matter where they are on our campus. Students and parents are encouraged to report bullying immediately in order to maximize EB’s ability to respond promptly and equitably. Please read our full anti-bullying statement here.

EB is continuously reviewing its program and policies. This year, the Pedagogical Team is exploring a new anti-bullying program that could be adopted school-wide and benefit all our students.

The Power of Play
In this day and age, much of our days are planned and organized, activities carefully selected and scheduled, always working on ensuring our time is well spent. And so too, do our children end up following this same path. 

While there are numerous benefits to enriching classes and activities, we believe that an important part of our students’ day comes from free play. By giving less structure and fewer guided activities, children have the opportunity to engage in real world learning, problem solving on their own, creating their own agendas, and learning how to navigate the complex world of friendship and the broader community. Whether quietly digging in the dirt with a stick, talking with friends, wandering across a grassy field, building a fort in the bushes, creating a haunted house from scratch, doodling on paper or building a magical castle with Legos, all of these moments add value.

Adult supervisors act as guides during recess and afterschool. They organize the environment, provide the resources and are on-hand to respond to the needs of the child using techniques such as offering help, modeling, and prompting.  Not only do our supervisors undergo basic safety workshops like first aid and CPR, but they also complete  courses on conflict resolution and on understanding basic children rights, as well as attend workshops on recess and group game organization. These training sessions allow our supervisors to better connect with our students, especially during moments of tension, anxiety, or antagonism. They also learn to engage with the children in a more supportive role as a playmate. Adults who take part in child-led play, teach the child that they are important to the adult, that their ideas are valued, and the adult becomes a role model of good values and fairness.

Here are some simple steps you can take to engage in the power of play:
  • Most importantly, let your child have free time!
  • Try not to over-enroll your children in activities (1 or 2 per week is probably best)
  • Don’t solve everything for your child; let them work to solve and resolve on their own
  • Let go of control sometimes
  • Don’t panic when you see them doing—what appears to be—nothing (it is something!)
  • Let them be “bored” sometimes
Learn more:

All Are Welcome! (Anti-Discriminatory Policy)

Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley does not exclude from participation in, deny the benefits of, or subject any individual to discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin. This policy applies to all programs, services, and facilities, including applications, admissions, and employment.