Children in knead

"He's in a bad mood this morning," says Donovan's mum. "Our bloody Jak kept him awake all night, didn't he?" She detaches Donovan from her arm, deposits him just inside the doorway and leaves without further elaboration. I suspect she might need to go back to bed to catch up on missed sleep.

Just in case I'm in any doubt about Donovan's negative emotional state, he proceeds to demonstrate it. This begins with an outright refusal to take part in our learning activities and rapidly moves on to discouraging everybody else from taking part in them, too. When he declares that anybody unhappy with this should go perform an act not only morally outrageous but physically impossible, I am forced to take action.

I try circle time but we end up going round in them; our entire thesaurus of emotional literacy falls on Donovan's deaf ears. Despite all their training, my students discover that empathy can be a challenge. It's not easy to feel for someone who is threatening to punch your lights out for looking at him funny.

I decide this is one of those times when I have children in need (or maybe knead) of a hands-on activity guaranteed to bring peace and harmony to the classroom. Now is the moment to turn off the lights, put on that CD of rainforest music and light one of the aromatherapy candles my wife no longer uses since the novelty wore off.

"Let's begin with Eye Glasses," I whisper in tones as soft as the music, and after a brief kerfuffle half the children begin making gentle circle motions with their hands on the backs of the other half. Donovan is the only one who refuses to join in. "That's all right, Donovan. And now let's do the Baker," I whisper, and the children switch to kneading their partners' shoulders.

A few years ago some of our staff received training through the Massage in Schools Programme and cascaded it down to the rest of us. The purpose was to reduce stress, aggression and bullying in class by pairing children up and teaching them to massage each other on the head, back, arms and hands.

In no time at all the children relax into the activity. Where five minutes earlier all hell threatened, there is now a sense of calm. By the time the children swap over, Donovan has ceased voicing his opinions on the activity and is simply silent. When Leticia shuffles over with her partner and offers to massage him at the same time as being massaged herself, he doesn't resist.

I fade out the music, the children thank each other and we prepare to start literacy by moving into our groups as silently as possible. The only one who doesn't move is Donovan. He is lying in the carpet area fast asleep. His angry little expression has been replaced by one of angelic calm.

"Shall I wake him up and tell him we need to start our work?" asks Leticia. "Actually, I think we'll leave him where he is," I reply.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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