Don’t Throw the “Bully” out with the Bathwater

It was anti-bullying week. We read ONE by Kathryn Otoshi,

about a group of colours who stand against a ‘hot head.’Image

The Five Finger Retell approach is an excellent way to engage children in discussion. We use it a lot. And so I asked:

  1. Who was in the story?
  2. Where did the story take place?
  3. What was the problem?
  4. How was the problem solved?
  5. This story reminds me of…..

The children accepted readily that the colours were the characters, and that it took place ‘just in a space.’ We talked about the problem of Red treating Blue meanly, and how 1 helped him out.

The next day we read the story again. My question to the children was, “Is Red a bully?” and “Was Red a bully in the end.”

I love this book because we aren’t casting Red as the eternal evil villain never to be trusted, but as someone who has made a mistake, and who is given the tools to try again.

And so the next day I read my book WILLOW FINDS A WAY.Image


The children are familiar with the story and so I asked them to compare the story ONE with WILLOW FINDS A WAY.  The children made the connection that Kristabelle is like Red, because they both act in a mean way. They made the connection that Willow is like 1 because both characters found a way to stick up for their friends and say, “no” to the mean behavior.

And in both stories, the ‘mean character’ is given a chance to redeem themselves.

We do need to stand up to bullying. But there needs to be education and empathy for all children. (Especially in early childhood!!)As much energy needs to go into coaching a child to act with kindness, to help them find the right words, to redirect anger and disappointment in an appropriate way, and consider how their actions affect others, as we put into teaching children to stand up to bullying.

I say to my class all the time, “In kindergarten we learn. We learn about letters. We learn about numbers. And we learn to be kind to each other. And while we learn, we make mistakes.”

Children are terrified to be labeled the bully. They are often as devastated by their mean behavior as the child they’ve been inappropriate with. Often I’m consoling both the ‘victim’ and the ‘villain’ at the same time. If our conversations go beyond, “Say you’re sorry” to finding out why there was upset feelings, what are some words we can say to express that, what can we do next time… then the child who was ‘hurt’ often feels like they’ve been heard in a more valid way. And we’ve given the ‘villain’ an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and some tools for trying again next time.

It’s my hope that conversation around how we treat each other continues well after this week! It will, in my class. And I’ll be using picture books to help me along the way.

“Dear Mrs. Spotswood,”

Mrs. Spotswood (the kindergarten teacher and my partner) was away this week. We are a pretty tight group and as the children dealt with the change in the room you could feel Mrs. Spotswood’s absence in the air. You could see it on some faces, feel it through some very tight hugs, and witness it through some behaviors. We all miss her.

So at story time I brought out one of my favorites. DEAR MR. BLUEBERRY by Simon James.Image

Emily writes to her teacher asking for advice on how to care for a whale that she’s discovered in her pond. I’m proud to say the children in my class know it well. It’s brought up discussions regarding imagination and whale facts etc. But this time, after reading the story, I pointed out to the children that it takes place in the summer.

“Would Emily see Mr. Blueberry in the summer?”



“Because there’s no school.”

“Why do you think she might be writing to him?”

“Because she misses him.”

So on a large piece of paper I wrote, “Dear Mrs. Spotswood” and I put it on our word wall.

The letters and the pictures started streaming in. “Dear Mrs. Spotswood, I miss you.”

“Dear Mrs. Spotswood, I love you.

P.S. When are you coming back?”

The next day we read the very funny DEAR MRS. LARUE by Mark Teague.Image about a dog who writes persuasive letters home to his owner trying to get her to spring him from obedience school. Again I drew the children’s attention to “Dear Mrs. Spotswood” still on the word wall. Some children tried their hand at letter writing for the first time. Others were working on their second or third letter or picture.

And the day after that we read the very silly CLICK, CLACK, MOO, COWS THAT TYPE by Doreen Cronin.Image


I’ve seen some terrific evidence of literacy throughout the week. The children understand the format of letter writing and have had lots of practice creating their own letters. But more importantly, they’ve learned that when you express your feelings through written words and with pictures, it can help you deal with those feelings.

“Dear Mrs. Spotswood. We miss you and we love you!”



Age appropriate Remembrance Day activities for young children


Remembrance Day is a tricky topic that can be difficult to broach with young children.  Throughout my 20 years working in early childhood education, I’ve been in centers where worksheet poppies were completed by children, but conversation about what and why never took place, because ‘They won’t understand.” And at other times I’ve seen children scared and brought to tears with way too many details. How do you help children develop an understanding of this very important day, in a way that’s developmentally appropriate and within their realm of proximity?

I rely heavily on picture books (what a shocker!) to guide us through.


This year the conversation of Remembrance Day came up in my full day kindergarten class when a 4 year-old girl said, “Why do you have a red flower on your coat? My mommy has one too.”


We opened the conversation up to the class and the children offered up information they knew.  “It’s because people fought in a war.”


I introduced the cover of A Poppy is to Remember by Heather Patterson, illustrated by Ron Lightburn.


We compared the poppy on my jacket to the real poppies that grew in the field where soldiers fought a long time ago. And we talked about how poppies help us remember how brave those soldiers were, and how thankful we are that they protected us.


Red and black paint, a few poppies, and the cover of this book and Linda Granfield’s Where Poppies Grow, are added to the creative table.


 And children began painting their own poppies.

 We added the words poppy, poppies, remember and Remembrance Day to our word wall bank, and children began writing about the poppies.

The books are available to the children to look through, but I don’t read all the details to the whole group. I know the books well, so there are no ‘surprise pictures’ of inappropriate photos or details.

A few boys were very interested in the pictures, so they spent a great deal of time looking through the book, asking questions about some of the topics, and making their own book, (which they later shared with the class) while other children were comfortable with the idea of painting a poppy to help them remember the bravery.

I did manage to redirect a couple of very active 5 year-old boys (who are ‘in to’ super hero play) by pointing out that the soldiers on the cover of Where Poppies Grow were real live super heroes. That peaked their interest and they abandoned their rough-house play to spend some time at the creative table. (For a few minutes anyway 🙂 )

 Later that day I introduced this poem to the class, sung to the tune of Bingo

 There is a flower red and black that helps me to remember

P-O-P-P-Y,      P-O-P-P-Y,      P-O-P-P-Y

It helps me to remember

The poem was written out on ledger paper, and by the end of the day some of the girls were printing their own copies of the poem.


I use these great books as a reference and a point of discussion for the children, but I use my hands-down favorite Remembrance Day picture book Proud as a Peacock, Brave as a Lion, by Jane Barcley, illustrated by Renne Benoit as a way to help the children make a safe but emotional connection to Remembrance Day.


 A young child asks his grandpa questions about his experiences in the war. Grandpa explains that when he first wore a uniform he was ‘as proud as a peacock.’ He spent most of his days on the ship ‘as busy as a beaver’ and when he was in a dangerous situation he pretended to be ‘as brave as a lion.’ The illustrations are a perfect match to the story.

The very scary and very sad aspects of war are touched upon in this beautiful story, in a safe manner that young children can absorb.

As the young child watches his grandpa lay down a wreath in memory of his wartime friend, the child suggests that he and his grandpa be elephants, ‘because elephants never forget’.


Pumpkin Baking Success!

It was the day after Halloween, it was a Friday, and it was raining. I’ll be honest, I was dreading today’s activity in my kindergarten class. We were baking with pumpkin. And not just one recipe, but we were making two pumpkin recipes.

But I’m pleased to report that the experience was terrific! The halls of our school were filled with the aroma of pumpkin muffins, (and I managed to get the toaster oven back in the staff room before anyone needed to warm up their lunch!)

Our pumpkin baking inquiry started earlier this week when we read “Too Many Pumpkins” by Linda White. With countless unwelcome pumpkins to deal with, Rebecca Estelle turns disaster into celebration when she invites the entire town over to enjoy a whole array of pumpkin treats, from pumpkin pie to pumpkin pudding.


My crew of 24 kindergarteners (in attendance that day) was eager to try their hand at baking with pumpkin. So we set up a survey graph, “Would you like to make pumpkin muffins or no-bake pumpkin cookies?”

My vote was definitely on the no-bake cookies, but the joke was on me when the survey results were tallied; 12 orange circle stickers placed on the ‘cookies’ side, 12 orange squares on the ‘muffins’ side.

I invited the children to tally the results and wrote underneath the survey,

“What will we bake?”

The response was-


Don’t get me wrong; I was happy with the math words used to back up their answers. “It is equal”, “It is a tie”, “They are the same”.

And although I considered ways to wiggle out of it, the only fair thing to do was to make both the muffins and the cookies.


There’s nothing better than baking with children! We had a great time reading the recipe, discussing measurement as we took turns adding ingredients, and stirring. From smelling the vanilla to comparing the textures of flour and sugar, this math, science, language activity encompasses all of the senses!


And in the end, we set up a new graph-

“I prefer the muffins” or “I prefer the cookies”

This time, it wasn’t even close! The winner, by a vote of 15 to 5, was the muffins.


Just another day in Kindergarten!