The Wolf and the Baby Dragon (Finding Calm) is actually my favorite of all the books since learning to self-regulate and to be OK with self is central to healthy living. No one lives a stress-free life, so it is critical to learn these skills. The story demonstrates how to calm oneself and to identify feelings. The idea that Wolfgang is not able to carry his backpack is one a young person can readily relate to. The spider gives good advice in learning to breathe and the magical spell can easily be memorized and used by parents or teachers as a reminder. I especially like that Wolfgang's friends actually return for him, something that shows their kindness and their willingness to be good friends and share his burden. In return, he shares his magical spell with them so everyone is able to address their stress. Cool!
The teaching guide is great in this chapter and gives hands-on, developmentally appropriate, exercises to do with children as individuals or as a class. The questions at the end would serve as excellent starting points to see how children react to the story and what they can learn from it. I enjoyed reading the excerpt on how our brains work and how this might encourage adults to share their own worries with children. My favorite exercise is changing the channel, something most children can relate to along with specific behaviors that can help a person to calm themselves. The teaching guide is also very helpful in not only giving ideas for activities to address this concept, but is extremely thorough by including recipes and addresses to obtain resources.
The Wolf is Not Invited (Self-confidence) helps children to build resilience and to develop a positive voice about themselves and others. Positive self-talk is critical to mental wellness and leads to independence. What makes this story so valued comes from the fact that it is commonplace in children at this age, children who are mean to friends or shut them out to be with another friend. The words are powerful: “Don't let your heart break though Catreen has left you”. Children get stuck and don't know what to do (adults too!) when they experience such hurt. The message is that you can move ahead, make new friends or even be alone for a while. Again, the kindness factor is there; when Catreen returns she is sorry for what she did and Wolfgang lets her back into his life. The element of forgiveness is also strong.
In the teaching guide is a wonderful poem that helps a child learn yoga moves to accompany the poem. This can be repeated daily to become a natural way to address stress and anxiety. Here is where the emotion cards are introduced. As a classroom teacher or as a counselor these would be used extensively to help children both identify and to talk about their feelings. The fact that they can be manipulated, held, touched, and moved is important at this age. Helping children identify all the feelings that are projected in this story is also a safe way to help them learn this. It teaches children that having a feeling is OK and that we should be able to share these openly. The self-confidence activities can be used with an individual or in a classroom. The specificity of the activities is very helpful and would assist a teacher or a parent in accomplishing them.
The Wolf's Colourful Coat (Making relationships) is important to understanding the difference between being kind and being mean. Children are often mean to one another and it is hard to fathom why this is happening. The reaction of Wolfgang is very realistic as he runs inside and hides. He becomes afraid to come out and to engage with others. He personalizes what happened to him and is hurt by the action of others. This experience can be so strong that a child may never engage with another person again. The story helps children realize there are better actions they can take - sharing your feelings, rejoining with your friends who miss you, and playing where the child feels safe. But the heart of the learning comes when Wolfgang is again confronted by the bully and, in spite of the first encounter, is able to do the -˜kind' thing and to reach out to the dog. Mighty powerful lesson. Lots of transformation in this story for all the characters.
The teaching guide suggests some excellent story questions at the end of each story that allows children to explore their own thoughts about the characters and what has happened. This is a critical follow-up to each of the stories so that many options of kindness can be considered. Each child can strategize how they might react to such a situation when they are faced with it. Again, some good uses for the emotion cards with this story. One of my favorites here is to encourage children to do -˜random acts of kindness' especially if they know they will get nothing in return, but are doing it because it is the right thing to do. I also think the tree house game can help remove the child from his or her direct involvement in the situation in order to consider alternatives or different perspectives. Great activity.
The Wolf and the Shadow Monster (handling anxiety and fears) demonstrates how to handle fright and fear that looms under the bed for children. I like how the other characters first poke fun at Wolfgang, which covers up their own fears, but when they are faced with the unknown they also experience their own fear. It is Spider to the rescue who teaches Wolfgang and all of his friends how to cope with their fear in that moment. Of course this response also needs to be presented with the facts that there may be times when fear should not be addressed but when a child should get an adult or even run away if safety is at risk.
In the teaching guide, the activities continue to offer new ideas, or the teacher or parent can go back to earlier exercises to address emotions, what to do when feeling anxious, and how to calm oneself in order to know what to do. The use of creativity including movement, art, music, poetry, play to the developmental level of children, who are much more likely to express themselves in these ways than in writing or even talking. I like -˜draw your brave' as an example of this. Also, I especially like the section for adult care givers on -˜managing anxiety or an anxiety attack'. This offers suggestions on what adults can do if they recognize that a child in experiencing anxiety at that time. Good resource. Also referring the child to someone appropriately trained to handle anxiety may also be recommended in case a stronger intervention is needed.
The Grand Wolf (Change, loss and grief) accentuates a topic that is very difficult to present to a 4-7 year old child. Learning to deal with loss and grief is a composite of many of the emotions already discussed in the previous books including strong feelings, loss, anger, need to calm, etc. Since the child has had the opportunity to master exercises and activities that they already know and acknowledge, these exercises can be reworked around this concept. I like the idea expressed at the start of the lesson that states, “If we make grief less of a taboo subject, we can help children to become more open about feelings around loss”. Bravo to this idea. Parents, teachers, and others can present this topic in a caring and sensitive way to help children develop the social and emotional tools they need for mental wellness. I like how spider gives Wolfgang permission to cry, which is sometimes discouraged in small children. The characters in the story also continue on after learning of the loss to show what they can do next such as put up photos, tell stories, hold the person close in their hearts.
In the teaching guide, the exercises around how things change and helping others are excellent in operationalizing the concept of loss. The life of a caterpillar is often used as an example since its stages can easily be observed. Even more, the activity that promotes building compassion and empathy is critical to developing a sense of wellness. All children can develop these skills and the list of -˜how to do this' such as giving a hug, listening, etc. are important skills children can freely learn to give. Adults can benefit as well.