Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Bet You Didn't Know! Kind Words Make A Rainbow

This post comes from Heidi Echternacht, a Kindergarten Teacher in New Jersey.

Fresh on the heels of Monday night’s Kinderchat discussion on schools, teachers, students and guns- (Sorry! It still sounds to me like a “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” song from Sesame Street!) led by the brave and fabulous “Team Indigo”, here is a post on fostering the process of Peace in the Classroom Community.

The Problem Solving Center:
One of my favorite moments in the Early Childhood Classroom- or any classroom for that matter- is the inevitable argument. “That’s mine!”, “I had it first!”, “It isn’t fair!”, “She always gets it!” Yes, young children and governments alike are well versed in these discrepancies.

As soon as Free Play starts, it’s Prime Time for these issues to appear. Wonderful! Yes, wonderful! Each and every argument is opportunity. A gold mine of opportunity to practice solving problems, dialoguing, self-control, friendship and creativity. In my classroom community, dealing with arguments are not catch-as-catch-can but highly focused and driven by predictable procedures.

Official Procedure for Dialogue:

1. Both parties of the argument (or all) are immediately asked to remove themselves   from the Play area and retreat to the “Problem Solving Center”

2. If there is crying, there is absolutely no talking until all parties have calmed down

3. I ask “Do you need my help?” to both parties. If they agree “no” I remove myself with the understanding that they conclude the conversation (see number 5)

4. If my assistance is needed, I listen to each side of the story, feeding dialogue as needed.

  • Student A: “I was angry when you said I was a kitkando* and I hit and I made a bad mistake.”
  • Student B: “I was angry when you took my toy and so I called you a kitkando”
  • Student A: “I got that toy first, though”
  • Teacher: “We only have one (truck) what can you do?” Or in extra heated discussions, I will claim the truck. “That truck is my truck and I am sharing it with the class. I don’t like it when kids fight over my toys. I don’t want my truck hurt. I’m putting it up here until you two can figure this out”
  • This usually freaks out both parties just enough for them to quickly dig up a solution to share or take turns or whatever they need to do in order to have the privilege of using my toys.
  • Student A: “Here, you can go first. Can I use it after you?”
  • Teacher: makes a big deal- “WOW! Thank you for those kind words! You are a problem solver!”
  • Student B: “How about we share it?”
  • Teacher: “Wow! I see rainbows everywhere! This is amazing!” (I bet you didn’t know kind words make rainbows, did you?!)

original photo by Heidi Echternacht

5. All conversations are concluded by shaking hands, “Friends again”, smiles or hugs. If the party is still angry, they are asked to stay in problem solving and the other party is asked to go back to playing ie:

  • Student A: “I’m still angry and I don’t’ feel like talking now” (facilitated dialogue)
  • Student B: “I’ll come back later to talk when you are ready” (facilitated dialogue)

The Center:
The design of the problem solving area is important. It must be a quiet and somewhat removed area of the classroom. There are “Feelings Books” and photos of children expressing various feelings posted around the area. The puppets live here and there are two chairs that sit facing each other to indicate that this is an area for dialogue. For fun, there is an “Easy” button from Staples they can push at the end of the discussion. I have also added a good stick from outside the Peacemaker is allowed to sand with sandpaper.

Peacemaker? Yes! A new job this year, one child is designated “Peacemaker” and is called on to solve (minor) issues. I am there for the major ones of course, but it has worked really well to give added responsibility to the peer group. I probably need to ring a bell when the peacemaker ends up in an argument too! Who said Early Childhood isn’t a microcosm of the world’s problems?!

Once this structure is firmly in place, it helps the day go incredibly smoothly. There are no interruptions to the play and the children’s problems and arguments are taken seriously and addressed by both the teacher and community. Students emerge stronger leaders with the tools of dialogue and ability to creatively look for solutions. Make one in your room and see what happens! 

*no one actually knows what a kitkando is, other than it’s bad. Nonsense name calling upsets are my favorite!

Heidi Echternacht CoFounded Kinderchat with Amy Murray in the summer of 2010. You can check out her website here.


  1. Hi Heidi! Love the post!
    I work in a PYP school and we come up with a unit of inquiry called "Peacekeepers" with my Pre-Kindergarten team. We inquired into reasons of conflict, actions to resolve conflict and personal input in the immediate environment. In the class we looked for problems, we brainstormed, we observed them (kids were asked to go to the playground/cafeteria and notice/draw a problem), we discuss them, we dramatized them. Secondly, we look for solutions. We also have a job of a peacekeeper in classrooms that kids really loved first and then started to really feel responsible and being proud of helping others and solving problems independently. My students even created a tag for "PEACEKEEPER" job:)
    This unit looked and sounded very hard for new teachers of our team, but I personally think this inquiry really help my students recognize a problem and take actions to solve BIG problems of their little world...

  2. One of the benefits of seeing all these guest posts is seeing how many of us are using similar approaches successfully. We love rainbows here for many reasons, so think I'll find a way to be adding rainbow from kind words idea into our program.
    Think your approach with a "Peacekeeper" job is wonderful. What a strong way to really set positive life lesson into place.

  3. Thank you for sharing this post!