The "Essential" Cues

At our parent cooperative school, we have "boiled down" a handful of essentials for helping children navigate social situations. We believe that by making these cues a pervasive part of our conversation, conflict resolution can be "owned" by the child. So instead of simply saying, "use your words," we supply a set of words children and parents can pull out of their own bag of tricks to use as needed. Over the years, I have collected a handful of cues from brilliant friends, from wonderful books, and by sheer lightning strike luck after years of working with the most fabulous children. As a school, we have also had the benefit of visits and direction from special educators, play therapists, occupational therapists, and educational psychologists. Parents have told us that these cues have been invaluable at home as well. My favorite thing is hearing children use a phrase independently, or, even better, when a parent tells me an older sibling, once "graduated" from our program, teaches the cues to his or her younger siblings.

A parent in our "Leaves" class sent along some reflections after a recent "intranet blog" posted to the class shared the week's highlights along with our "essential" cues...It's helpful for us to have these cues to use at home so that we can remain consistent and continue to use language that's familiar to our children.

We have 12 cues to "get us on the same page." These are posted in our classroom. The top four listed below are my favorites and we could not get through our day without them!

Before we introduce the cues, we teach the children and the parents about how to use them: When you see it, say it. When you need it, ask for it. This reminds adults to let children know -- out loud -- when we have observed examples of positive behaviors and exchanges. Teachers and parents will use masking tape as a sticker to let a kid, and others, know that we have all agreed that this behavior was observed. What fun it is to go to the local farmers market on a Sunday and see children walking around with "flexibility" and "kindness" written in marker on masking tape. The children treasure these so. It also reminds us to ask for the cue when we need it. "I need you to be flexible now" might be just the thing you need at the end of a long and hectic day!

Naming things or making actions/reactions part of our conversation is so very important. Again, our Leaves parent steps in to describe two instances in which she observed teachers doing just that, "My very first interaction with the Purple School instance where I saw this in action was watching Andrea on the playground.  One of the Bugs threw a rock and hit someone (maybe)?  But instead of reprimand, Andrea got eye level with the child and asked him/her to feel the rock and describe its properties, hard and rough.  Then asked the child to imagine how it would feel to be hit with something hard and rough...I was impressed!"

She then told me another instance that occurred during the school day. A child arrived a little late to school and while taking his jacket off in the cubby room, a friend left the classroom and seemingly out of nowhere, kicked him in the shin (-sigh-, it is so hard being 3-turning 4). "This time, it was you (Lesley) that intervened.  You asked the kicker if they thought the kick-ee was hurt.  Kicker checked-in with kick-ee who was crying and nodded yes, the child (kick-ee) was hurt.  You asked the kicker if he was trying to say, 'hello, I have really missed you and have been waiting for you all morning.' Point being you had kicker acknowledge feelings of the kick-ee, provided language options for the kicker to use, AND gave the kicker an OK to be "stuck" but made a plan to re-visit and find words."

So here, are my "top 4".

Time and Place. This is both a cue and a really "essential" concept. There is a time and place for everything, but it may not be now and it may not be here, we teach the children. This is something that teachers instinctively do. Advance notice, auditory and visual cues for time, and creating windows of time to make sure that each kind of activity or pursuit has a space and a time. This concept opens up the possibility for the all the rest of the cues!

Flexibility. When a child/adult changes his/her approach or needs upon request or independently

Kindness. When a child/adult extends kindness or exhibits empathy towards others

Egg. Yours, mine, and ours.  We must ask permission before we enter another’s egg.  Please note that backpacks, mailboxes, teacher’s materials, symbols, block structures, paintings, etc. are “still in an egg.”

Within a few weeks, the children are using these cues themselves and parents follow suit. It makes "living on the planet" with other people so much easier.