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“Sticks and Stones may Break My Bones, But Words Can Never Hurt Me!” November 18, 2017

How many of us learned the above rhyme as a child, and how many of us still believe it is true?  For many of us, it is the names we were called that have caused us long-lasting hurt.

In the Children’s House, we focus on simple lessons of grace and courtesy and a safe place to practice these skills~ how to say please, thank you, sorry, accept an apology, accept or decline an invitation, offer to help, accept or decline help, how to invite a friend to play, how to ask to join a game, how to introduce yourself, introduce someone else, shake hands, greet someone, welcome someone . . ..

While the above lessons are still important in the elementary community, the focus of grace and courtesy extends to include the elementary child’s mission to discover for himself what is right or wrong, what are the rules of society, and how to develop a just and caring community, and find his or her place within it.  The children are developing their moral compass.

At the school where I work, the teachers and I are planning a series of lessons to help children develop their own inner moral compass.  The lessons offer opportunities to contribute to the well being of others, such as sewing and stuffing stockings for the local foodbank, to be distributed to other children in need.  The lessons will offer opportunities to participate in a Martin Luther King Junior project.  Students will be invited to participate individually or in groups to write or design a poster that shows how we can welcome someone into our classroom community.  The lessons will celebrate friendship, with a focus during February on celebrating random acts of kindness.  Lessons will include classroom meetings which offer opportunities to group problem solve, without blaming or shaming.  Other opportunities will include sorting actions into different categories, such as rude behavior, mean behavior and bullying behavior.

We introduced this focus on grace and courtesy with a discussion of the common saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.”  At first the discussion was around who had broken a bone and how the bone was fixed, until someone in the group said, “Well, I’ve never broken a bone, or been hit with a stick or a stone, but I’ve had my feelings hurt with words.”

Another child added that hearing very mean words left her feeling damaged.

This was the perfect opportunity to introduce our activity – bullying an apple!  I demonstrated then invited children to take turns coming up to an apple and saying something mean to the apple.  Here are some of the words used:

“I don’t like your color.”

“I just don’t like apples.”

“I don’t like your shape.”

“You are too small.”

“You are a wimp.”

“Grapes are better than apples.”

“Apples are no good.”

“I hate apples.”

There were a few giggles, but then the conversation turned serious as we realized everything that we had said to the apple, we had heard said to people.

Next we turned our attention to another apple, and this time said something nice about the apple.

“You are beautiful.”

“Apples are so good for you.”

“You are just right.”

“I like apples.”

We all agreed that we felt better ourselves saying nice things, so we talked about how when we say mean things it can make us feel mean inside, but when we use friendly words, we feel kind inside.

Lastly, we cut the apples in half.  I had secretly dropped the apple we bullied several times on a hard wood floor, so when we cut the apple in half, it looked bruised on the inside.  The other apple was unharmed.  Of course, after the kids response of, “WOW!”, I explained what I had done, and that this was a demonstration, to make a point, not an experiment to see if we could damage an apple with our words.  The kids were still impressed and got the point.  Words can hurt someone inside, even if they don’t leave an obvious bruise on the outside.

There were immediate requests to “Do it again, please,” but it was time for lunch!

This lesson, to me, is similar to toddlers practicing gentle touches on a flower.  It is a reminder, and an experience we can refer back to.  In the future, when children use mean words to one another, we can ask, “Do you remember when we bullied the apple with our words, and how we discussed how words can hurt us inside?”

I would love to hear from others on ideas they have used to help elementary children develop these important social skills.

I got this idea from a facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/newsnercom/videos/924570201043625/

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