When They Don’t Want to Talk…

I walked out of the reading lab to find a student sitting on the picnic bench outside my room.  Everyone else from 3rd grade was gone, but here he sat.  Serious, silent and visually distraught.  One of the instructional assistants sat next to him, looking lost.  I mouthed, “do you need help?” and she shook her head.

I walked over and crouched down to be at his eye level.  He avoided my eye contact but didn’t shy away.  I asked him what was wrong and he didn’t respond.  I told him that I would let the aide go to her next class and that I would sit with him for a little while.  I dismissed the other teacher and sat next to the 8 year old boy.  I asked him once more what was wrong.  Again, I was met with silence.  My mind raced, trying to figure out what might be bothering this little guy.  I decided that if he wasn’t up for talking to answer that maybe he could nod ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  I started in with a series of questions that could be answered with the movement of his head.  “Are you upset?” he shook his head.  “Are you hurt?”  He nodded.  I learned that he wasn’t upset but he was hurt.  It seemed like he was warming up to me ever so slightly so I tried to get a voiced answer.  “It it your feelings that are hurt?  Or it is your body?”  When the question elicited no verbal response I reverted back to the yes and no questions.  “Are you feelings hurt?” Head shake.  “Is your body hurt?” Nod.  “Did it happen on purpose?” Negative.  “Was it an accident?”  It was.  I felt relieved.  “It is your head?”  It wasn’t, so I tried again. “Is it your stomach?” Nope.  “Your back?”  Bingo.  We were getting somewhere–ever so slowly.  I kept asking and found out that it had happened that morning at home.  I repeated back what I had learned, so he knew I was paying attention and trying to help.  “So you hurt your back this morning at home and it was an accident?”  He nodded as his eyes filled with tears.

I wanted to get him to talk and tried to think about what might be holding him back.  I let him know that I wanted to help him.  I assured him that it was okay if he cried when he answered–I didn’t mind at all.  I continued and told him that I could tell he was having a hard time and I wouldn’t make him go back to class until he was ready.  That seemed to do it.  He slowly started talking and crying.  As we talked he opened up and told me more about what had happened.  I reassured him that it would be okay and I knew that being hurt was no fun.  I told him that we would walk to the nurse’s office together and she would know what to do to help with the pain.  I assured him that everything would be alright and I was glad he let me know what was going on.  As we walked he was able to tell me him name and who his teacher was.

When we got to the nurse’s office I passed along the information I’d gleaned.  The school counselor walked in and I relayed the information to her as well.  I left, knowing that he was in good hands.

The next couple hours I thought about this experience and tried to figure out what I had learned.  Here are a few things that can help when talking to a child who is having a hard time communicating.  (And many of these can work with adults as well.)

– Get on their level.  Crouch, kneel or sit so you are as close to eye level as possible.

–  Be patient. Don’t give up quickly.  Give them time to think, process your questions, and be ready to answer.

–  Ask ‘yes’ and ‘no’ questions as needed.

–  Try to think of other factors that might be hindering their communication (in this case feeling anxious about crying or having to go back to class before they are ready) and try to ease those worries.

–  Let them know you care and you are sorry they are having a hard time.

–  Reassure them that it will be okay.

–  Acknowledge that you realize that it was difficult for them to share.  Let them know that you appreciate them opening up and sharing.


Growing up my mom used to say, “feelings are not right or wrong, they just are.”

I think that it’s easy to see how others respond emotionally to a situation and think, “they shouldn’t be feeling that way.” But you know what? Their feelings are not wrong.  Many times we can’t help how we feel.

I talk to my students a LOT about feelings.  We talk about how our actions might make others feel.  We talk about how good choices make us feel good inside and bad ones make us feel bad inside.  We also talk about how it’s okay to feel mad, or sad, or hurt.

I remember one day a few months ago our lesson talked about getting mad and how we deal with those feelings.  As I told the kids that it’s OKAY to get mad every child became perfectly still and all eyes were on me.  There are times when kids are listening completely and absorbing every.single.thing you are saying.  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does if feels almost magical! I told them that feeling upset, mad and angry was normal.  I told them that even I feel that way sometimes.  I told them that feeling that was is okay.  They took it all in.

I took the opportunity to take it further.  I then proceeded to talk about what we do with those feelings.  I told them that while it is okay to get mad it’s not okay to react certain ways.  They listened as I told them that it’s not okay to hurt someone, or break something, or yell at other people.  We proceded to talk about some acceptable ways to deal with anger.  The kids shared how they cope with those types of feelings.  One student said he liked to hug someone.  Another student said he likes to go to his room and be away from everybody.  Another student talked about how it helps relieve his anger if he can run or move his body.  I let them know that those were all great ways to deal with anger.  I told them that there have been 3 or 4 times in my life when I felt so angry that I couldn’t take it.  I told them that I liked being alone, just the way that one of them had talked about.  I also told them that those few times I put my face in my pillow and I screamed!  I screamed as loud and as long as I could.  The kids chuckled, but I knew they were really thinking about it.

It’s healthy for kids to hear that adults have feelings just like them.  It’s good for them to know that they aren’t alone in the way that they feel.  It’s also really good for them to hear the right way to deal with those feelings.

I read this article the other day.  I thought it was really good.  That’s actually what got me thinking about all this.

Talk to your children and students about their feelings and reactions.  Just remember that the heat of the moment is not the best time to talk about it.  Talk about it afterwards or when you have time in the car.  It’s hard to think and take in new ideas when you are feeling emotionally charged.  Let your kids know that their feelings are normal and brainstorm good ways to deal with them.  Hey!  You could even talk to your peers or spouse about it since everyone has feelings–they are a part of life and aren’t going anywhere.

Classroom Jobs

It’s good and healthy for people of all ages to work! Many of you readers work full time (in or out of the home). Today I want to talk about helping kids learn to work. I don’t have any kids of my own yet, but I do work with lots of children every day and I am helping them learn to work.

In my classroom we have class jobs. Obviously my job is to teach, but I want to help my students learn to be responsible and learn to help.

Most kids naturally love to help. I will often say, “Who wants to help me…” and before I can finish my sentence lots of tiny hands shoot into the air. Kids want to help and feel useful and jobs can fulfill that need. (It also makes my life easier, so that’s a benefit too!)

I have seen many different job charts in people’s homes and classrooms. There are lots of places you can buy classroom job charts, but I just like to make my own. In my classroom I have found a system that works best for me. I make a big pocket chart. Each pocket has a job written on it. Then I write my student’s names on popsicle sticks. I slide a stick into each pocket and I am done! I choose to rotate my jobs weekly, so when class is done on Friday I just shift each stick over one slot.

My students can hardly wait to see their new jobs on Monday. They rush into the room and huddle around the chart. They look to see what job they have, what job their friends have and who has their favorite job!

Not only does giving my students jobs help them have a chance to work, but it also helps me have less to do at the end of each class and day. I no longer have to go find stray pencils around the classroom or straighten the books on the bookshelf. I don’t have to pick up trash or erase the whiteboard. My kids love doing their assigned job and helping remind their friends to do theirs as well. They enjoy it and I have less to do. It’s a win-win situation!

Sharing – An Argument Free Method

Have your kids ever fought over sharing something to eat? “He got more than me”, “His piece is bigger than mine”, or “That’s not fair”. Sound familiar? If so, here’s an idea to try. Assign one kid to cut and the other one gets to be the first to choose which piece he wants. This method assures the one doing the dividing tries to be exact and the one choosing first feels the power of getting just what he wants. Using this method we almost always came out with two satisfied children.


Grades for a new student

Judy sent us a question a few days ago.  She asked, “Can you give a child a grade if they have only been your class for two weeks?”

That’s a great question!  When a new child comes into your class it can take a while to really get to know them. It certainly takes time to understand their learning style, personality and abilities.  Two weeks isn’t long enough to learn all of that, but it is enough time to start assessing what they know.

When I was teaching in the United States my school district required us to produce a report card if the student had been there more that 13 days.  So if the student had been in my class 2 calendar weeks, but only 10 school days I didn’t have to complete a report card.  With that being said, here are a few of my thoughts:

I would always give my standard reading and phonics assessments right away (within the first 2-3 days of receiving a new student.)  I would test their phonics (with a basic phonics screener), sight word knowledge, and fluency.  That would give me a good basic reading score.  Will it be as thorough and detailed as the grade given to a student who has been in your class all year?  Certainly not!  Is it a good, accurate starting point? Yes!

Math.  I would go back and give the end of the quarter assessment from the last quarter to get a basic idea of what they could do.  So if they came in the middle of the second quarter I would give them the quarter one assessment.  I would also give a timed math facts test to see how fluent they were with their math facts.  Once again it’s not ideal and it’s not going to give a perfect representation of their knowledge, but it’s a good start.

Writing.  If you are working on a writing piece in class those two weeks have them complete the assignment and give a score based on the one assignment.  If not, dictate a few sentences and have them write them down.  Then give them a simple assignment that they can complete and grade that.  It could be as simple as having them write about their family.  (Then you get a writing sample and get to know them a little bit.  Win-win!)

Social studies and science.  As far as these topics were concerned I would give a grade based on the assignments completed during those first two weeks.  If we didn’t complete anything in those 14 days I wouldn’t give them a grade for those subjects.

I think the bottom line is yes, you can give a grade to a student who has been in your class two weeks.  Just remember that it isn’t as in depth and as thorough as your grades for the rest of your students.  With those extra assessments it will feel a little hectic for you and the new student.  Just remember to encourage the student to do their best and you do the same!  I hope that’s helpful!

Any other teachers out there that have any input?  What have you done when you get a brand new student and have to generate a grade for the student?

Making Mistakes


making-mistakesIn my classroom we use a huge e-vap fan.  It’s my job to empty it every Friday so it can dry out over the weekend.  On Monday I am supposed to fill it back up.  It holds close to 30 gallons of water and takes a good 5 or 6 minutes to fill up.  Last week I rolled my fan down to the shared bathrooms as usual, attached the hose as usual,  turned on the water as usual, went back to my room to do something as usual, and went to check on the progress a few minutes later as usual.  It was only about 40% full so I decided to do something else in my room as it filled the rest of the way.  Well, I forgot… A few minutes later I heard one of the Thai teachers yell, “Ooooooooo!”  As soon as I heard her and saw her run by I remembered that I had left the water on.  My heart dropped.  I followed her and sure enough there was water running all the way down the hall.

“Oh no! I’m so sorry!!”  I called lamely as I met her at the terrible mess.  She could have been upset.  She could have called me irresponsible (which I had been), she could have yelled at me to clean up my mess.  But you know what?  She immediately reassured me that it was okay and ran to get cleaning materials.  Together we cleaned it up in about 10 minutes: me using a sponge mop and her using a straw broom and dustpan (typical Thai).

This made me realize how important our responses to mistakes are.  When we make  mistakes, other’s reactions can greatly affect our overall experience.  I already knew that I had done something stupid, but my friend’s response made me feel like it was going to be okay.  She worked with me positively to fix the problem.

When your student or child makes a mistake, please react as gently and kindly as possible!  Help them recognize the problem.  Kids who are older may be able to identify the problem themselves, but younger kids will need help with this step.

1)   Let them know that things will be okay and you will help.

2)   Work through the solution together. 

3)   Talk about what should be done differently the next time.  (My students suggested that I stay by the fan as it fills in the future J).

4)   Remind them that everyone makes mistakes.  I feel like this is really healthy for kids to understand.

Now I realize that for some situations there will need to be an additional consequence (say they broke a neighbors window—they would need to pay for a new window), but overall these steps are universal.  We all make mistakes—that’s just part of life.  A part of life you can help your kids understand and work through.


There is a student here at this school and he LOVES to ask “Why?”  The teachers joke that he could ask that all day long.


I remember my mom telling me about when my oldest brother was little.  They were driving down the road and there was a man carrying his bicycle.  In one hand he had one of the tires, in the other hand he had the other tire connected to the rest of the bike.   My brother saw the man and the following conversation ensued:

Brother:  What is that man doing?

Mom: I think he’s carrying his bike to be fixed.

Brother: Why?

Mom: It looks like one of his tires is flat.

Brother: Why?

Mom: Maybe he rode over something sharp.

Brother: Why?

Mom: Maybe it was something so small and he couldn’t see it, or maybe he ran over something sharp because he wasn’t paying attention.

Brother: Why?

Mom:  He could have been looking ahead to see if the light was green or red instead of looking at the ground.

Brother: Why?

Mom:  He would have been looking at the streetlight so he could tell if he could go through the light or if he needed to stop.

Brother: Why?

And so forth.


I’m sure many of you have had similar conversations.  While it may feel frustrating to you, children are just trying to figure out the world and how it works.

As an extension of this idea I find that kids like to know the reasons for doing things.  In my experience as a teacher I have had greater success when asking students to do something when I tell then the reason behind the request.  When I walk my classes down the school halls they sometimes get noisier than I like.  If I say, “Our line is too loud, please turn your voices down/off” the line would get slightly quieter.  I would have greater success when I would say, “Our line is getting noisy.  I see that some of the classroom doors are open.  If we keep talking we are going to disturb other classes who are learning.  Please stop talking in line.”

There are countless examples I could give from the view of a teacher, but this also works at home with your kiddos.  Instead of saying, “Get out of the street!”  you might try, “the street is for cars and bikes and the side walk is for people. If you stay in the street you could get hit by a car or bike and it could hurt you really bad.  That would make me fell so sad. Please walk on the sidewalk where you will be more safe”.

I feel like it is easy to assume that kids can draw conclusions about why we are asking things, but that is rarely the case.  Until about 8 years old kids brains are not yet wired to think abstractly.

So next time a child asks you “why?” over and over and over…. Remember that they aren’t intentionally driving you crazy—they’re figuring out the way the world works.  And who knows, maybe as we think about why people are doing things more consciously we may be a little more understanding and patient with others who think differently than we do.

Positive Discipline

Positive discipline

I once heard of a teacher who had a student with serious behavior issues.  She was asked to keep track of the good things he did throughout the day.  Her response was, “It’s zero.  He doesn’t do ANYTHING good.”  I have thought back to this many times.  I have especially thought about it when I had especially challenging students.  You know what?  I have discovered that you can always find a way to praise a child.  It may be something as small as, “Wow!  You are holding your pencil so well while writing!”  or “your body is facing the right direction in line!” (even if they are talking and touching the person in front of them).

Kids love attention!  It helps them feel noticed, important and valued.  The best attention a student can receive is positive attention.  It’s the healthiest and most beneficial.  When a child doesn’t feel like they are getting enough positive attention they will take any attention.  They start to act out—they try to get you to focus on them, even if it’s unhappily.

I heard in a class that people feel happy and satisfied in a relationship when the positive to negative encounter ratio is 5:1.  That really rang true to me!  This should be the case when we are interacting with children.

I try really hard to focus on the positive, desired behavior in my classroom.

If half of the class is noisy and out of their seats I say,” Wow!  I love the way Jim is sitting so quietly!  I can tell that he’s ready to learn.  Jessica, you too!  You look fabulous.”  After I have mentioned 2 or 3 positive examples the class is usually on track and ready to go.  The other (less productive) method sounds something like,  “Bill I said sit down!  Betsy you need to stop talking!”  That method never seems to work as well and doesn’t leave me, or the kids feeling as good.  I have even tried positive discipline when only one out of 20 kids is behaving appropriately.  Guess what—it worked!

This works in SO many situations. It helps kids feel validated and noticed in a positive way.  It leaves both of you feeling better and helps your children try to behave positively.

Model Appropriate Behavior

Should I bite back?

When I was a young mom, I was standing in the foyer of the church building talking with an experienced mom, who had raised several great kids. In the middle of our conversation her youngest son (who was the age of my oldest son) come to talk to her. I don’t remember why he was not happy but it appeared he was feeling like he was not getting the attention he needed. He kicked his mom in the shin. I remember thinking what a spoiled little boy he was and that I would never let my child kick me and get away with it. She looked down at him with a sad expression and said nicely, “Please don’t kick me, that hurts and it’s not kind”. Her response perplexed me and the experience stayed in my mind for years.

What should you do when your child kicks, or slaps or bites you? Instinct makes me want to lash out and hit them back.

Or, I use to wonder if I should do the same thing back, like bite, so he would know how it felt.

Now that I’m older I realize that adults should not imitate kids poor behavior, instead they should Model correct behavior. Rather than do the same thing back to them to show how it felt, kindly tell them what they did was not kind or acceptable. Express how it made you feel and what the consequences of doing it again will be.

The situation could go something like this:

Young child is stroking your cheek and suddenly slaps you.

 Make a sad face and say,

Ouch, that hurt me. It makes me sad when you hit. Let’s just love each other like this” stroke their face, or give a hug or kiss.

If they change their actions and are kind for a little while but then repeat the same negative behavior (often they will to test you to see what you’ll do the next time) tell them again that you’re sad when they hurt you and that if they choose to hurt you, they will need to be away from you (put them down if you are holding them, put some space between you and them etc).  Tell them,

“I like it better when you act sweet so we can be close to each other”.

             I don’t believe any learning happens when you scream at your noisy children, “Be quiet”. Or when you say, “Stop hitting each other” as you spank your child. That type of behavior is sending mixed messages. It’s like the old adage, “What you’re doing is yelling so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying”.

I know it’s hard to keep your cool when your child hits you, or kicks you or spits on you. But when it happens, say over and over in your mind, “I love this little person, I love this little person… Be kind… “ and try to remember to Model appropriate behavior.

Summer’s coming … Are You Ready?


What’s your idea of a good summer with the kids home from school?

Do you like everyone to get up early with kids heading off to swim team practice, going to summer school or getting work done first so they can play.

Or is your ideal summer day everyone sleeping in late and having lazy laid back days?

I think kids function better when there is structure. That does NOT mean you have to do it like me, your neighbor, your sister’s family or anyone else. But I do suggest everyone under the same roof have the same idea of what summer vacation from school will be like. It will make life better if kids know what mom would like to have happen and mom knows what the kids want to do.

So moms, ask your selves, “What do I expect the summer break to be like”?

After all, how can your kids know what you want them to do if you aren’t sure what you want?

When I was a young mom an experienced mom suggested that on Mother’s Day I should tell my family what I would like them to do to make my day enjoyable. She said if you have a lot of expectations in your mind and don’t tell anyone you’re setting yourself up for disappointed when no one does the things you want. She said, “Your family can’t read your mind”. Wow, that was insightful to me. I think it’s similar to summer vacation. We may be thinking it’s finally a time we can get some much needed projects done around the house while the kids might be thinking it’s time to watch TV and be on the computer all day. Since we can’t read each others minds we need to do some planning to keep our days from being filled with complaining, nagging, and ultimatums.

When my children were young they thought they didn’t want to have any responsibilities during the summer break from school. But I quickly learned they felt better about themselves and did not fight as much if they did some productive things each day.

Here are some things we did in our family during the summer:

For lots of summers we had a wooden chart with daily activities listed:

30 minutes of music
30 minutes exercise or a sport
15 minutes math
30 minutes reading
2 hours max. Computer/TV/video games

The board had columns for “to do” and “done” and the kids moved the pegs from one column to the other each day. A paper chart with stickers would work just as well.

I also wanted to make music a part of our summer. We didn’t take weekly music lessons in the summer. Instead we had a “piano jar”. I took some of the money I would usually spend on the lessons and bought items to fill the jar. I assigned each item a price in points. Anyone could earn 1 point for 1 minute practicing an instrument, or other musical activities such as musical flashcards. My daughter had a neighborhood friend who played the piano beautifully and she would sometimes come over just to play some songs, eat a candy bar then go home. I loved it; I got to hear beautiful piano music and I believe it helped motivate my kids to practice more so they could play so well.


Our piano jar was an old pickle jar.

Below is a copy of one of our piano points chart.

IMG_1059 - Version 3

Some other ideas that were successful in our home were:

Allowing my kids to earn more TV or computer time by reading – one minute of TV for every minute of reading. Double points could be earned if they read to someone younger.

We went to the library each week

We did field trip Fridays. We’d go to a museum, to a splash area at a park, a community event we had seen advertised, etc.

We watch old movies or musicals on Wednesday afternoons; The unsinkable Molly Brown, My Fair Lady, and old versions of shows like Absent Minded Professor, Love Bug, Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, etc.

There are certainly no shortages of sites on the Internet to give you ideas. Here are a few suggestions:

101 things to do

Kids Summer To Do List

25 Cool Places For Kids

100 Things to do With Kids This Summer

When school gets out make a Family Summer Calendar (ours was pages from a big desk calendar, decorated and hung on the store room door) and fill it up with big and small activities for your kids to look forward to. Even something as simple as making popsicles in the morning, and eating them in the afternoon could be written in for a day’s activity to look forward to.

Enjoy having your kids home this summer. Plan, discuss, involve the whole family, and write down your plan. This summer make pleasant memories rather than just trying to survive.