Monday, August 21, 2017

Calm, Alert and Learning on the Beach

My husband knows me too well.

I asked my daughter to take this photo of me with this book and he exclaimed "That's for your blog, isn't it? You're planning a post!"

I've finally gotten around to reading Stuart Shanker's book, Calm, Alert and Learning, about self-regulation in school. Aviva Dunsiger recommended I read it and I'm glad she did. There were many posts I've written where Aviva has pointed out that it's partly about self-regulation - and this even happened to Aviva herself thanks to another friend of mine, Lisa Noble (see

I appreciated how Dr. Shanker backs up all his positions with references to current and classic research (the reference list goes on for 14 pages), yet the points made aren't complex or hard to understand. In this book, self-regulation can be understood through five domains: biological, emotional, cognitive, social, and prosocial. The most poignant portion of the book for me is the case study of RJ beginning on page 146 - it resonates strongly and rings true. I also like the connections made to special education, mental health, and self-regulation for teachers.

I found it interesting that I read this book mostly while at the beach and on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. I saw a link on Facebook (which I've subsequently lost, but Brenda Sherry or Jennifer Apgar might know about, since they refer to something similar to it) about how hearing the sand and the waves on a beach is very relaxing and soothing - perfect for attaining a calm and alert state, right?

It's not so simple. At first, reading the book on the beach was a pleasure and I was taking in the information with ease. Then, a family came and set up near our chairs on the beach. They had a dog (and dogs aren't allowed on the beach during the summer season) so I was distracted by that; then they started to play loud music on speakers they had brought. I couldn't concentrate anymore. I was hyper-aroused and needed to down-regulate (if I have the terminology correct). I gave up reading and took it up later while on the porch of our apartment, by myself, a block away from the boardwalk. The change in the environment worked and I was able to finish my chapters. I liked reading on the beach but it wasn't the only way to be and stay calm and alert.

I spoke to others with me on my holiday who said they actually have a hard time reading on the beach and find it too overwhelming with the various stimuli (the texture of the sand, the sound of the waves, the heat of the sun, the amount of people, etc.) - or, even the opposite, too "boring" and so hypnotic that it made it hard to be energized enough to read and think. This reinforced the message from the book that it takes quite a bit of experimentation to discover what strategies work for different individuals.

This is just another step on my self-regulation learning journey. While away on vacation, I also read The Zones of Regulation: A Curriculum Designed to Foster Self-Regulation and Emotional Control  by Leah Kuypers. I haven't finished it yet but it makes for a great complementary read. These books got me thinking, even when I was "just chilling".
We were on a Disney movie re-watch binge and it was obvious that Lilo was struggling to make friends and play in appropriate ways. Her stressful home situation caused her to "move to the red zone" quickly and at the slightest provocation. During the opening scene when we first see her, Lilo was too up-regulated (because she was late to her dance class and was upset with her sister for not having peanut butter) so when another dancer said Lilo was weird, Lilo pounced on the other child, hitting, kicking and biting her. It took meeting someone even more dys-regulated than her (Stitch, an alien designed only for destruction) for Lilo to try and change. If you haven't seen the movie, Lilo tries to teach Stitch some skills - unfortunately, they weren't from the Kuypers or Shanker books, so they didn't work as well. Sorry for any spoilers, but Lilo shows Stitch how to model his behaviour on Elvis Presley; this was a decent start but Stitch missed the nuances required and just when it looked like he got the hang of "being good", the flashing camera bulbs set him off and he caused a riot on the beach. The lesson? Even if we teach these coping mechanisms, something might make it difficult for those struggling to use the skills. There will be set-backs. We won't be able to practice these skills on a beach, but we must persevere, all year long.


  1. I'm so glad that you got a chance to read Shanker's book, and it looks as though you continue to see Self-Reg in the world around you. One of the things I love most about Shanker's work is that he emphasizes that Self-Reg is not a program. You can understand the Five Domains and the Five Steps (on his TMC site), but each child and adult is different. It's about being a "stress detective." You did this as you worked through the problems at the beach and in LILO AND STITCH. Now I'm curious to hear more about how this book will impact on your 'school life.' Any thoughts so far?


  2. So fascinating Diana! I'm really interested in self-regulation inside digital environments. Did either of your books cover this topic?

  3. Oh, Alanna, that's a fascinating place to go. I see behaviour in my own kiddo when gaming that is not at all what I see in "real time".and he would say that his gaming time is a regulating space that helps him deal with the stress of face-to-face time. Now you've got me thinking.

    1. Sorry about the delay in answering Alanna and Lisa - I checked the index and there were a few sections that mentioned video games (page 48 - that a 2006 study suggested "the more time one spends playing certain video games, the more time-playing will be required to subsequent sessions to reach the same level of enjoyment. This in turn might reduce the pleasure experienced in less stimulus-rich activities such as reading" - but I'm not sure how much I agree. For instance, in the other section describing a case study, it implied that a boy's online gaming community friends weren't real friends because they only interacted in the digital environment (page 147). All the people that have responded to this post would be classified as my "online friends" as I don't see them F2F almost at all. Lisa, your son has made an excellent point and I wonder what Dr. Shanker would say!

    2. And not just video games either....for example after completely disconnecting for 5 weeks I have really struggled to focus to stay productive at the computer over the last 48 hours. I keep getting distracted by my notifications in the 25 tabs I have open (that's the real number). Imagine what I go through with my online grade 12 English students!! This is why apps like exist. When I was doing my M.Ed. I read digitally all the time and I was very social about my reading. Now that I don't have to, I'm choosing paper for reading again and again. Of course this is generational, but how do make time for reflection on self-regulation in digital environments where we don't really exist to the user (except for as a muffled nagging voice off in the distance)?