Rules for Life
I believe the most important thing we can do in school is help kids navigate their own lives. That includes helping them be smart enough to do so, and that includes learning facts and how to maneuver in this world, but most of all it involves understanding oneself and others. Teachers have an amazing amount of power over how a child thinks, especially when they are young, and we absolutely can impact how a child approaches learning and life to at least some extent.
There’s been a lot of buzz in social media recently about Matt B. Gomez’ rule for his Kindergarten class, making his one classroom rule, “Be Brave!” I like that and would definitely add it to the three I used with Kindergarten. In fact, as Betsy (my collab teacher) and I were talking to our fifth graders the other day, I cited those three from my K class to them.
My first rule–Be Safe. When you come to school, you should be safe–no one wants anyone to get hurt–so as you work and play, do it in a way that you won’t get hurt. (This negates me having to constantly say the “Don’ts”…don’t run in the hall, don’t hang off the slide, don’t run with scissors, etc.) Instead of saying, “Don’t” all the time, and fussing at kids for being careless, when they do something that is not safe, I help them become conscious of their actions through questioning and helping them think through the options. “Were you just being safe? What could happen if you continue? What can you do instead? What are other options you have?” AND, if the behavior happens multiple times, then I add, “What can you do to help you remember what you’re saying right now and act on it? Do you need my help? If so, what can I do to help you remember?”
Second rule–Be considerate. The main thing little kids (and honestly, some big ones, too) need to understand is that they are part of a group and with that comes a different mindset than when you are alone. I say to kids–you are NOT the only person in this room and we all have to help one another for it to be a great place to be. With my K kids, we talked about how when you are by yourself at home or in your own space (bedroom, playhouse, outside, etc.) you can do things you can’t necessarily do in a group. For example, if you are watching a movie at home, you might get your cars or dolls or legos and play with them as you are watching the movie. But if you try to do that at school, you’ll be distracting other people and keeping them from learning, because people will be watching you. If you’re sharing scissors at the table, you can’t keep the scissors by your seat all the time, because others need to use them–use them when you need them and then put them back in the center of the table. If you’re at home, sometimes you can leave your toys out and come back to them later–but when in a classroom of 20 kids, you need to clean up after yourself so others don’t have to walk around or over whatever you take out. The more explicit the examples are, the better kids understand what being considerate means. Again, when a child does something that is more egocentric, you can simply ask about the rule: “Are you being considerate? Does that show you are thinking of other people in here? How does that support everyone else in here? What can you do differently?”
Third rule: Be a Thinker. School is a place you come to learn, so be a thinker. Think about what you know, what you have learned, what you already know and questions you have. We do a lot of talking about “smart kids.” Smart kids ask questions. Smart kids listen carefully to instructions, and ask clarifying questions if they don’t understand. Smart kids pick out a variety of books from the library–ones that will be fun, ones that will challenge them, ones that will help them learn,. etc. Smart kids keep trying , even when something is hard, but when they get frustrated , they may take a break or ask for help, or walk away from the problem for a bit, etc. The idea is to help kids develop strategies for being a thinker all the time. We especially talk about play as thinking. Even during play, you are thinking–you are making choices and decisions, using your imagination and exercising your brain as you relax and/or increase the blood flowing to it.
These are reinforced over and over as we live our year together…not spouted as rules all at once the first days of school. These are rules that if everyone followed for their lives, we could all live very differently, don’t you think?