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Dear Parents of School Age Children

searchIt’s back to school time. During my 25 years as a teacher, I was thankful for parents who were partners. Parents who worked with me to help their children learn and be successful and happy. Now, as a retired teacher and a grandmother, I remember how those parents helped and I’m 99% sure your children’s teachers would appreciate your help in these same ways.

  1. Get children to school on time. School begins at 8:00. Those students who walk into their classrooms by 7:55 have a few minutes to greet their friends and teacher, empty their backpacks, and get ready for the day. Students who walk into the school building at 8:00 are late. Their day begins with them trying to catch up.
  2. Read and respond to communication from school. Especially school work and field trip notices. Teachers send home student work for parents to see. Take five minutes, sit with your children, and listen as they explain the math problems that were easy and the spelling words that were difficult. If you have concerns, notify the teacher, before you call the school principal or your best friend. Return field trip notices ASAP. I always felt sorry for the children who hung their heads and said, “Mom saw the note, but she didn’t sign it.”
  3. Tell teachers what’s happening at your house. Any event that changes the home routine affects children’s feelings and attitudes and they bring those to school. Did Mom start a new job and she leaves home before everyone else gets out of bed? Is Grandma coming to stay while the parents take a vacation? Did a pet – a goldfish, a dog – die? Is there going to be a new baby in the family? Send a brief email or note. Help teachers understand why students are upset or sad or excited.
  4. Let your children fail and make mistakes. Yes, fail. Not a major failure, like 3rd grade. Small failures. If children hide homework and don’t do it, let them suffer the consequences: a bad grade or missing a fun activity to complete the assignment. Let them learn how failure feels. If they forget to take lunches to school and eat a school lunch that isn’t their favorite pizza, they’ll learn to be responsible and carry their lunch bags. (Yes, I’ve taken the first forgotten lunch to school. Second time, no.)

It’s okay to not master a task immediately. Long division isn’t easy. Neither is borrowing to subtract. Nor latitude and longitude. Let children learn that it’s okay to make mistakes and to fail and try again.

Don’t we learn perseverance from failures and mistakes? Isn’t determination built on failure and eventual success?

  1. Ask questions at the end of a school day. Questions that begin with what or who. What did you learn in Math? What did you do in music or physical education class? What book or story did you hear or read? What was the best thing that happened today? What did you bring home for me to see? Who sat beside you during lunchtime?

Don’t ask, “How was your day?” You’ll hear, “Fine.” End. Of. Conversation.

6 -10.    Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. To your children and listen to them read. School work, books, poems, comics, sport pages, backs of cereal boxes. Anything. Everything. There’s no need to expound on reading. Just read.

Both you and your children’s teachers want your children to learn and be happy. May this be the best school year ever!

Learning to Swim

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 8.42.55 AMLast week I took two of my Grands for a swim lesson. I watched them splash and kick and laugh and thought of my childhood days in a much different pool. It wasn’t a huge pool and didn’t have a big area of ankle-to-shoulder-deep water, like the one my Grands were in.

In Pickett County, during the 1950s, the only public swimming pool was at Star Point Dock, now Star Point Resort, on Dale Hollow Lake. And no one had a backyard pool. At that time, Ted and Gwen Mochow, good friends of my parents, owned Star Point.

I contacted the Mochows’ son, Mike, to confirm a few details. During the week, guests who stayed in Star Point cabins and the motel used the pool. On weekends, it was available to the public and admission was 50 cents. We swimmers walked through a footbath, about two by four feet in size, to sanitize our feet with a disinfectant before getting in the pool.

The concrete pool was divided into two sections: one for non-swimmers, one for swimmers. The non-swimmer side, where the water was about four feet deep, I knew well. I clung to the side and walked around the edge of that 10 x 40 foot pool (my best guess of the size) and I never wore a life jacket or water wings or any flotation device. I gripped the concrete, hand over hand, all the time watching my older brother and friends in the huge deep pool, on the other side of a concrete divider. My goal was to jump off the diving board (no aspiration to dive) and swim in the ten-foot deep water, to the steps. I could imagine myself climbing up those metal steps, onto the narrow concrete deck.

My family wasn’t a water recreation family. Occasionally, on a Saturday afternoon after we’d finished weekly chores – cleaning house, burning trash, mowing the yard – Dad took my brother and me to the pool, but he never got in the water. Mom didn’t swim, and she was happy to stay home and watch a baseball game on TV.

The only times both Mom and Dad were within the metal fence pool enclosure at Star Point pool were when the Mochows invited us for family cookouts and swim parties. Ted and Gwen were skilled swimmers, and they organized water games and contests. Even Dad swam and played. Gwen finally convinced Mom that for safety she should learn to swim, and so when I was about 10 years old, Mom and I took swimming lessons together.

Side by side we lay prone in the water, held to the pool’s edge, and kicked. We blew bubbles. We bobbed our heads in the water. And eventually, I swam. No fancy stokes. No side breathing. I kicked and used an arm stoke well enough to accomplish my goal. Swimming in the deep swimmer’s pool was just as big a deal as I thought it’d be. And Mom’s backstroke qualified her as a swimmer.

Now, my young Grands are overcoming the discomfort of water up their noses and learning to enjoy the water, with confidence. Elaine, age 5, told me, “You know what, Gran? I flapped my arms like this (she flapped like a bird) and moved all by myself. And I can touch bottom a long way.”

Pools and teaching techniques have changed. But my Grands will soon know the same success I felt the first time I climbed up the metal steps out of the swimmer’s pool. And I’ll celebrate with them.

Fingers and Noses

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 8.11.19 AMWhat is it about a kid’s finger and his nose? Evidently, an invisible magnet on the end of a child’s pointer finger attracts metal hidden deep inside that child’s nose. If this vision is repulsive, stop reading now. I understand. I don’t like it either. But not so long ago, Husband and I and two of our Grands laughed hard about fingers in noses, and then I thought of all the nose-pickers I’ve known.

My Grand looked downright cute wearing Husband’s TTU baseball cap. The cap bill slung low to one side and my Grand cocked his head. A perfectly innocent pose to capture on my camera phone. Click. I held the phone in front of Husband, “Look at this cute guy. I’m sending it to his mom.”

“With his finger up his nose?” Husband said and burst out laughing. My Grand’s finger was really close to – not up – his nose. But Husband’s comment gave my Grand and his younger sister, who stood beside him, an idea.

“Take another one!” my Grand said and he stuck his pointer finger second-knuckle deep inside his nose. “Me, too!” his sister said. She matched his pose. Their heads bumped against each other as they laughed. Husband’s laugh was a snort.

My two cute Grands. Wide open eyes. Mouths open. Laughing. With their fingers up their noses. I laughed so hard I could barely steady my phone for a picture. And yes, I sent it to their mother. Thankfully, she saw the humor in her children’s exaggerated poses.

As an elementary school teacher, I had at least one student in most every class who was a nose-picker, and I was always sure I could teach that child to stop. And it wasn’t just boys. Princess-like little girls dig for nasal treasures, too. I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve told a kid to take his finger out of his nose.

At the beginning of the school year, I’d whisper in the child’s ear, “Take your finger out of your nose, please.” He (again, he could be a she) would duck his head and scrunch his exploring finger with his other fingers into a fist. By December, I’d stand in front of my entire class and say silly things such as, “So let’s review the steps of division, finger–nose. Divide, multiply, subtract, finger-nose, bring down.” The nose digger would slide his nose-picking finger over his lips, down his chin, along his neck, across his shirt, and rest it on his math paper.

By springtime, I’d give the culprit a wide-eyed stare and point my finger high in the air as I continued reading aloud about the adventures of Charlotte the spider trying to save Wilbur the pig. By then, nose digger simply rested his finger on his neck for a few seconds and then the metal inside his nose claimed the magnet on his finger.

Thinking back over my decades of teaching, I didn’t convince a single child to keep his finger out of his nose. I should’ve announced on the first day of each school year, “Give me a nickel every day you want to put your finger up your nose, and I won’t try to make you stop.”

I could’ve retired years earlier. And laughed all the way to the bank.

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Clean off the Bookshelf

imagesWhich ones to keep? Which to give away? It’s springtime and time to unclutter. My bookshelf is overflowing and some books – adult books – need to go. Children’s books stay on my shelves. I just read a Facebook post entitled About Books written by John Acuff, who calls himself Old Country Lawyer.

For many years now I have read many books

At times reading up to three a week

After I have read them they stack up 

I decided this morning to begin to pass on some of the books

John’s post encourages me to share my books. I naively think that I’ll pull all the books that I’ve read and don’t plan to read again. I’ll give some to the Putnam County Library for their monthly book sale. Take others to the Little Library on Whitson Avenue that’s available for anyone take a book, leave a book, or do both.

The very first paperback includes language that I hope to never hear or read again. Trash it. But it’s made of paper. Should I recycle it? What if it gets in the hands of young person? Should I burn this book?

A hardback book is signed by the author with a personal inscription to me. Not a best seller, but I enjoyed it because I know the author. Should I tear out that page and give the book away?

I have a huge collection of inspirational books, mostly gifts. Books to inspire me as a teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a woman. It takes all the self-control I can muster not to sit down, pour a glass of iced tea, and read. How can I discard books that were given when my first child was born or many years later when Mom passed away? Personal notes written on the inside covers make all worth keeping.

Travel guidebooks. I can certainly get rid of books about places I’ve been. But there are pages turned down in Fodor’s, Exploring London. And I wrote notes. Where I ate lunch. What I ate. And notes about Big Ben. It’s like a journal.

Ah, finally some books to cull. Paperbacks bought to read while sitting on the beach or travelling on a long trip. One, two, three. I’m on a roll. Wait. That’s not my book. JoAnn’s name is on the front cover and the copyright date is 10 years ago. So did I borrow it then and never return it? I don’t even remember that book. Maybe she’s forgotten it too or maybe she has a record of books she’s loaned and knows I never returned it.

As Old Country Lawyer delved into his book collection he noted some of the same dilemmas. And he ended his writing with these lines.

Sacking up the secular for Good Will 
And a select few will be disposed of for fear they may lead someone astray
What are you doing with the stuff you know you need to be rid of?
Pray for me as I sort through my stuff
My prayer is that we all unclutter our lives and concentrate on what really matters.

 

My task isn’t going as planned. All the books fit on the shelf. I’ll dust and straighten and move on to things that really matter. Like returning JoAnn’s book and hope she has time for a glass of tea.

What Kids Said

14764892-illustration-of-girl-and-boy-holding-callout-picture-on-a-whiteMy folder labeled “Kids Said” is overflowing. And the children aren’t just my Grands. Friends share what their children and grandchildren say. So many snippets not long enough for a column and too good to remain hidden in a folder.

From the mouths of three-year-old kids…

Mother walked into the dining room and saw Robin holding her fingers pointed down over her half full glass of milk. Robin likes to dip her fingers into her milk and she’s been told, more than once, not to do it. Robin looked at her mother and said, “May you turn around?”

Granny asked Chuck to ride with her to the cemetery. She explained that her parents and grandparents were buried there. Chuck asked, “Will God be there?” Granny answered, “Yes,” and didn’t give an explanation. Chuck said, “Then I probably won’t get out of the car.”

As Grandma buckled Madison in her car seat, Madison asked a question that Grandma didn’t understand except she heard the words ‘poka dots.’ Grandma didn’t see any polka dots, or any kind of dots, in the car or on their clothes. So Grandma asked Madison where she saw dots. Madison answered quickly, “Your hands, Grandma.”

One November day, Grandmother told Elaine that her grandfather was blowing leaves off their yard and into the woods. Elaine immediately shouted, “With his mouth?”

When Jack’s parents asked him what gifts he wanted for Christmas, he looked into space for a few seconds, and then shouted, “I know! A choking hazard!” Just like other kids, he’d been told many times that he couldn’t have something because it was a choking hazard.

According to five year olds…

When baby brother was born, big sister told Mother, “I really wish you’d had your umbilical cords tied after you had me so I would be the only child!”

Mother looked at Andrew, tousled his hair, hugged him, and said, “You are changing.” Andrew pulled away from Mother, looked down at his legs and then at his arms. “No, I’m not!” he shouted.

When little Mary was asked to pray before the family meal, she looked at the food on the table and then said, “Not for this!”

 

Grandmother: I’m going to Yoga.

Caroline: What’s a yoga?

Grandmother: It’s exercise to make muscles and joints feel better.

Caroline: Does it get rid of soft, fat tummies?

Grandmother: No. Probably not.

Caroline: Good. Cause I like yours.

 

The perspective of a seven year old…

Gran dropped her iPhone onto the kitchen floor. Lou put her hand on her hip, cocked her head, and said, “So, now do you have a DUMB phone?”

Lou rode in the backseat of Gran’s van and when they stopped at a traffic light, Lou silently read an inscription close to the top of the Putnam County Courthouse.

 

Lou: Hmm. That sounds like something Yoda would say.

Gran: What?

Lou: In God, we trust. That’s the way Yoda talks. Not like normal people talk.

Gran: What would normal people say?

Lou: We trust in God.

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Wanna’ Play?

images “Gran, come on. Wanna’ play balloon?” my 3 ½ year old Grand said. Play balloon? “I don’t know how to play balloon,” I said. Dean grabbed his blown-up orange balloon and ran into his family’s living room, turned playroom.

“Come on. I’ll show you,” Dean said. He stood, with stiff legs spread far apart, in the middle of the room and held the balloon tightly between both hands. “You stand over there.” He nodded his head toward an empty floor space just a few feet away. “I start!” my Grand said as he tossed the balloon above his head and when it floated down to his arm reach, he smacked it toward me. “Hit it, Gran! Hit it!” he shouted. I did. He swatted it again and it landed on the floor behind a chair. Dean crawled under the chair, retrieved the balloon, and hit it into the air.

We swatted and smacked and hit and we laughed when the balloon landed out of our reach or onto the floor. Dean held the balloon out to me, “Gran, you want a start turn?” A treasured turn when you are three years old. I accepted Dean’s gift. “Next start is mine,” he said.

The following day Dean and I played with orange yarn, my Grand’s favorite color. We wrapped yarn around a napkin holder and around our fingers. Then Dean’s mother said that she’d bought the yarn to make pompoms to play with but hadn’t gotten around it. I cut a strip of cardboard, about 4” x 8”, from a gift box and began to wrap the yarn around the cardboard. “Dean, would you please pull the yarn out of the skein?” I asked. He did. Yards and yards. I couldn’t possibly wrap as fast as he pulled so I asked Dean to hold the yarn so it would be straight and easier for me to wrap. That lasted about 15 seconds. “Gran, your turn to hold!” my Grand said.

Wrapping yarn around cardboard wasn’t easy for Dean so he discovered that he could flip the cardboard over and over and over and over. Finally we had enough yarn to make a pompom and I tied the strands together with a tight knot and started to cut the yarn. “My turn to cut!” Dean said. A quick chore for me, but his is little short fingers didn’t fit the finger grips well. He twisted his body. Cocked his head. Moved the scissors from his left hand to his right hand. And after many tries, he snipped every strand and the pompom fell to the floor.

Dean grabbed the yarn pompom and ran toward the playroom. “Come on, Gran. Wanna’ play yarn?” he shouted. He tossed the yarn ball above his head and laughed when it smacked his face before falling onto the floor. “Stand over there, Gran.” I stood a few feet from him. “Are you ready? Hold your hands.” Then Dean tossed the pompom toward me and we played a game of catch. Then we took turns throwing the pompom toward a big empty cardboard box and high fived each other every time the ball landed inside the box.

Dean is all boy. Play balloon. Play yarn. My Grand’s versions of play ball.

It’s a Bittersweet Time

Screen Shot 2014-08-28 at 8.20.12 AMIt’s a bittersweet time when children pack up their belongings and go away to college. Parents wave goodbye and wish they hadn’t done such a good job. They raise their children to be independent and take wings and when the kids happily leave the nests, parents cry. Tears of sadness. Tears of joy. Tears for no reason. Well, maybe only mothers cry, and not all mothers. I did.

When Husband and I took our firstborn to college, I was happy that she was going to the school that she chose. Sad that it was a four hours away. Happy that she felt confident. Sad that my little girl had grown up. As we drove home, I replayed every birthday she’d celebrated and cried that those years were gone. And then two years later, Son moved across town to go to Tennessee Tech.

I tell parents to give themselves two weeks to adjust and they’ll like the empty nest stage. It took that long for me to sleep through the night. No more 3:00 a.m. awakenings to check beds and be sure that all were home and safe and sound. When I wrapped a gift, the scissors and tape were right where I’d left them. And there were no gym bags or backpacks to stumble over in the hallway.

When my children lived at home, they did their own laundry. To me, that meant wash and dry and take the clothes to their rooms. To them, doing laundry meant put clothes in the washer and turn it on. Or dry clothes and leave them in the dryer. In my empty nest home when I opened the washer and dryer, they were empty. And the leftovers that I’d stored in the refrigerator to eat for supper were still there. The only dirty dishes in the sink were my cereal bowl and coffee cup. And there was enough milk for my cereal the next morning.

I admit that learning to parent from afar wasn’t an easy learning curve for me. For 18 years when our children walked out of the house, they told me where they were going and with whom. It took time for me to learn that no news was truly good news and to trust that I’d get a phone call when someone needed me or had something to tell me. I tried to follow my own mother’s advice: tell them you love them and don’t ask too many questions. There are some things we parents don’t want or need to know.

Finally, I discovered empty nest freedoms. Husband and I took spur-of-the-moment overnight trips. We ate only at the restaurants that that we liked. I went clothes shopping for myself. The whole house stayed cleaner and neater.

Just when I began to really like Husband’s and my new lifestyle, Daughter and Son came home for a weekend visit. Somehow, I didn’t mind finishing the laundry they started, and I cooked their favorite meals. I carefully maneuvered around their shoes and backpacks and duffle bags, knowing they wouldn’t be there for long.

And on Sunday afternoon as they left, I gave them all the food leftovers, plus the bags of groceries I’d bought just for them, kissed them good-bye, and swore that I had some allergy problems. Why else would my eyes by red and watering? Tears of sadness. Tears of joy.

 

My Grands Said

15741917-five-kids  We’ve just celebrated Grandparents’ Day so it’s perfect time to share some notes that I’ve written recently in a little notebook entitled, “My Grands Said.” When my oldest Grand was two and screamed “ ’Cuse you!” because he wanted everyone out of his way, I grabbed a pen and a blank notebook. Kids truly say the funniest things.

While grocery shopping with his mother, three-year-old Dean saw a carton of brown eggs. “Look, there’s chocolate eggs!” he said. “Get those!”

Elaine, also age 3, sat in my lap and held a small wooden Pinocchio in her hand. “Gran, do you know who this is?”   She cut her eyes to look up at me. “It’s Mr. Pokey Nose!” she said and raised her shoulders and giggled. I imitated her giggle and said, “Oh, I think his name is Pinocchio.” Elaine closed her eyes and whispered, “But Mr. Pokey Nose is funnier.”

I told Elaine about a little girl named Maddie. “Is she mad all the time?” my Grand asked. I explained that her name is really Madelyn and Maddie is a nickname. “Well, she must be mad that they call her that,” Elaine said.

This spring, Husband and I took two of our Grands, Ruth, age 5, and Elaine to the Monterey Easter Egg Hunt. On the way up the mountain I said, “The town we’re going to is Monterey.” Ruth asked, “Is that where the butterflies are?” “I don’t know. Why?” I said.

“Well, there’s monterey butterflies, you know,” my Grand said. “Are you thinking of monarch butterflies?” I asked. My Grand was silent for a minute. “Maybe. But, you know what, Gran? I still think there’ll be butterflies in Monterey.”

Six-week-old Micah was crying as he sat in his bouncy seat so I picked him up and held him in my arms. He continued to cry, just as loudly as before. Big Sisters Ruth and Elaine stood close by.   Elaine said, “Gran, are….?” I didn’t understand the rest of her question, even though she shouted it two times. I asked older sister Ruth what Elaine said. “She said, ‘Are you going to take him home with you?’ ” I told her I wasn’t. In a loud, clear voice, Elaine said, “I wish you would!”

Lou is a second grader and was working on math while she and I sat at my kitchen table. The task was to write word numbers and the question asked how many colors on a traffic light. Looking off into space, Lou said, “It’s mostly black and there’s white around the circles and there’s… ” She hesitated and I explained that the question probably meant how many colors light up in the circles, like red for stop. “Why didn’t it just say that?” my Grand exclaimed. The next question asked how many pages in the reading book. “Which reading book? Surely not all of those!” She pointed to the large collection of children’s books on my bookshelf.

While his mother drove the car, Dean rode in the backseat and announced, “We’re racing that police car, Mommy! We’re winning!”  Mother explained that the police officer was simply driving his car in the lane beside their car.

Elaine held a magic wand over my head and asked, “Gran, what do you want to be? A doll or a stuffie?” I’m happy just being a Gran.

 

I Know the Feeling

 

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 6.58.02 AMLast summer Robbie invited me to bring my Grands, ages 8 and 6, to swim at her house while her 9 ½ year old grandson Noah was visiting. The children splashed and played along beside each other, just as children do when they meet someone new. At lunchtime, we all dried off and spread our towels to sit around the pool. Noah started inside the house, turned, and asked my Grands, “Do you’ll want a Luncheable?”

 

David and Lou frowned. I answered for them. “No, but thank you, Noah. We brought our lunches.” I handed my Grands the small cooler in which Daughter had packed their food. Rollup sandwiches, made with flour tortillas filled with thin sliced turkey and shredded mozzarella cheese. Hunks of watermelon. Clusters of grapes. Homemade cookies.

 

Noah settled himself beside David.   He ripped the thin cellophane covering off a square plastic package. Lou tilted her head and looked at the package. David eyed it and said, “What’s that?”

 

“What’s what?” Noah said.

 

“Your lunch?” David asked. Inside the six-inch square plastic package were three small round tortillas, 5 slices of pepperoni, some white shredded cheese, and a take-out ketchup sized packet of pizza sauce.  Lou furrowed her eyebrows as if memorizing the package’s contents.

 

“It’s like little pizzas,” Noah said. Using his teeth, he ripped open the packet and he squirted red sauce on a tortilla.

 

“Where’d you get it?” David asked.

 

“Nana gets them at the grocery or somewhere,” Noah said. David held his roll up sandwich close to his mouth but he didn’t bite it, instead he watched as Noah covered the tortilla with a pepperoni slice and cheese.

 

“That looks really good,” David said and he laid his sandwich back in the cooler. “Does every grocery store have them?” Noah shrugged his shoulders. “I wonder if Mama could find them.”

 

“I think they’re by the milk and stuff,” Noah said and bit into his miniature pizza. David and Lou watched as red sauce dribbled down Noah’s chin. I knew exactly how my Grands felt. I remember being envious when I was young and spent the night at a friend’s house and for breakfast her mother spread Blue Bonnet margarine on toast. At my house, we spread home-churned butter on Mom’s homemade biscuits.

 

Now, watching Noah and David and Lou, I restrained myself from raiding Robbie’s refrigerator for two more packaged lunches. “Noah, would you like some watermelon?” I said. He bit into the watermelon and somehow that reminded David and Lou that they, too, had food to eat.

 

But that’s not quite the end of the story. Last week Robbie again invited us to her house. “We’ll eat lunch and swim, just like last year,” I told my Grands. “Noah is there. And on the way, we’ll stop at the grocery store to buy your lunch, maybe Lunchables.” They chose exactly what they’d watched Noah eat a year ago.

 

My Grands and Noah pulled the cellophane covering off their lunches and each ate every morsel packed in those small plastic boxes. I knew exactly how my Grands felt. The way I felt decades ago when I carefully unwrapped a stick of yellow margarine, put it on a serving plate, and told my friend, “Mom is making toast for breakfast.”

 

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Children’s Rules

I recently asked a group of 7 and 8 year-old children a question. “If you could make one rule that everyone in the world had to follow, what would be your rule?” Most sat silently for a few seconds. “One rule that everybody follows at school and home and wherever they are,” I said.

Maddy* said, “Never do anything without permission.”

Katie, a girl of few words, didn’t hesitate to say, “Obey.” When I prodded her to explain she shook her head and said, “Just obey.”

Kylie needed only two words. “Follow directions.”

“Don’t be bad,” said Isaiah and then he elaborated. “Like don’t punch or say mean words or anything.”

Ellie said, “Don’t hit anyone and don’t say bad words.” She looked off into space. “Well, it’s okay for Mommas to say a bad word. Like if two parents got mad at each other, they could cuss. But not to kids.” I nodded. Ellie took a deep breath and then said, “But there’s another rule. If a kid sees a bully, she can tell a parent.”

“To not fight. If someone is nice, don’t be mean back to them. Momma says don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. Be brave. That’s what I’d do,” Annie said.

Lannie said, “Always be nice.” I asked what nice meant. “You know, like help each other and say nice things.”

No doubt, these children’s rules come from their experiences. I can hear their teachers telling them to follow directions and their mothers saying they must obey. For those children who immediately thought of not fighting, I wondered if they’d recently made a fist and punched someone. And it’s interesting that two children put hitting someone and saying mean or bad words together.

I wondered what Maddy had done without permission, and I wondered if Ellie’s Momma had just explained to her that it’s okay for grown- ups to say bad words. I remember a time I dropped and spilled a gallon of milk on the kitchen floor and screamed a word that can’t be printed here. Then, like Ellie’s Mom, I tried to explain that sometimes adults say words, but it’s not okay for children.

What does the word nice mean? Certainly helping each other. Kind. Pleasant.  We adults often tell children, “Now be nice,” and we assume they know what it means.

These children’s rules can be grouped into a short list.

1. Obey

2. Follow directions

3. Don’t hit

4. Don’t say bad or mean words

5. Be nice

The most unique rule was William’s. He didn’t think about behavior, but instead had a whole different idea. “Everyday, everybody would get gold. Lots of gold. And they could spend it on whatever they want.” I asked how he’d spend his gold. “I’d buy 100 toys!” He raised both his fists high above his head three times to emphasize the toys he’d buy. “ Books! Blocks! Legos! Yeah, that’ll be great!” he said.

Yes, William, that would be great. I silently congratulated him on his choice of toys. And wouldn’t it be great if we adults followed children’s rules?

 

*Names changed

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