In the landscape of education, few challenges are as complex as anti-social behavior and bullying. It's an ugly life lesson for children and an emotional storm that many weather each day. Preventing bullying in schools is a huge task but there are lots of practical things teachers can do to help.
Developing emotional intelligence (EQ) by teaching children empathy and kindness is an important part of tackling this problem. So is building understanding in kids to improve relationships and for dealing with friendship problems at school.
To stop bullying before it takes root, we must prioritize social emotional learning to build EQ. Instilling good values in children is another part of the equation for building a positive school environment where everyone can thrive.
Step by step, each activity, lesson, and positive interaction makes a difference.
I want to share a very simple but engaging way for teachers to impart an important lesson in friendship and the impact of unkind words.
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Let me introduce you to the Toothpaste life lesson for children. It's been around for a while but if you've not used it yet, your students are missing out!
This is a memorable back to school activity to head bad behavior off before it starts, but it's also great for Friendship Day or Kindness Day. In fact, you can use it any time there are friendship issues in your classroom.
It's not a magic fix, but an effective way of understanding the weight of our words and actions. Kids love it because it’s hands-on, diving into the nitty-gritty, and getting a bit messy. Teachers love it because it's easy to do and it packs a punch!
The Toothpaste Lesson - An Impactful Life Lesson for Children
Each student or team receives a tube of toothpaste and a paper plate or heart. What comes next isn't an oral care tutorial but a unique demonstration of the power of words. Students are instructed to squeeze some toothpaste onto their plates or hearts. Then they're challenged to put it back into the tube.
As you can imagine, it's almost impossible. The toothpaste oozes and spreads, leaving a mess on the plate or heart. The visual impact of this activity is a powerful metaphor for the permanence of how we speak. You can clean some of the mess up, but you can never really leave things the way they were.
Here are some reasons you should consider using this activity:
How We Speak Matters
In a world filled with constant communication, it's easy to underestimate the impact the things we say can have. This fabulous life lesson for kids reinforces that once hurtful words are spoken, they can't be retracted. They leave a lasting impression, much like toothpaste that’s almost impossible to return to the tube.
Children, with their natural curiosity, quickly grasp the analogy. It sparks a conversation about the importance of thinking before speaking to ensure they don't hurt someone's feelings.
The Connection to Kindness
At the heart of the Toothpaste Lesson is a profound message about the importance of kindness. The activity links the toothpaste squeezed from the tube to the permanence of hurtful words. It shows students that being kind and thoughtful creates a supportive and inclusive environment.
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Discussing the emotions of others becomes a crucial aspect of the conversation. Students learn to empathize with those who may have been affected by unkind words. The activity helps them understand the impact of their actions on their classmates.
Promote Positive Communication
The Toothpaste Lesson isn't just about avoiding negative or hurtful words. It's also about actively promoting positive communication, another important life lesson. Encouraging compliments, support, and expressions of kindness becomes a natural extension of this lesson.
Create a Safe Environment
The activity fosters an environment where students feel safe and respected. It's a reminder that, just as they desire kindness, their peers have the same need.
Build a Foundation for Lifelong Values
The values instilled through this life lesson for children become part of their moral compass. As they grow, they carry the understanding of kindness and the awareness of the impact what they say can have well into their adult lives.
How to Teach the Toothpaste Lesson
The Toothpaste Lesson is an interactive activity that delivers a powerful message while students are having fun. It's not easy to do, but it should leave students considering their actions and making an effort to show kindness.
You Will Need:
Step 1: Setting the Stage
Start by introducing the lesson with a brief discussion on the power of words. Talk about how our what we say can have a lasting impact, much like toothpaste that can't be put back into the tube. Emphasize the importance of kindness and understanding in creating a positive classroom environment.
Step 2: Distribute Materials
Hand out a tube of toothpaste and a paper plate or red paper heart to each student. Make sure the tubes are small to avoid excessive waste or use larger tubes with groups. Explain that the toothpaste represents what we say, and the paper plate or heart is like the surface on which our words land.
Step 3: The Squeeze
Ask students to squeeze some of the toothpaste onto their plate or heart. This part of the activity symbolizes the act of speaking without thinking about the impact of their words.
Step 4: Cleaning Up the Mess
Once everyone has squeezed out their toothpaste, explain that the mess they see represents unkind words and action.
Now ask students to use a toothpick or another implement you've supplied to try and put the toothpaste back into the tube. This part of the activity illustrates the difficulty of taking back hurtful words once they've been spoken. Even though they may be able to return some of the toothpaste, they are unable to fully fix the mess they made, and the paper is left smeared and soggy.
Step 5: Group Reflection
Gather your students in a circle and discuss how they felt trying to put the toothpaste back into the tube. Talk about the parallels between the toothpaste and how we speak. Highlight how just like the toothpaste, unkind words can make a mess of someone's heart and once they're out, they can be taken back.
Talk about the importance of thinking before speaking and that those few seconds of thought could save someone from being hurt. Talk about taking some deep breaths to calm down if they feel they're too angry to be kind. This is a great self-regulation technique students should learn.
Ask students if they have ever hurt someone's feelings because they blurted something out without giving it any thought.
Step 6: Accountability Activity
To enhance the lesson, introduce the concept of "Apology Notes." Provide pencils and paper or sticky notes and ask each student to write an apology to someone they have been unkind to. If there's no-one in class they need to make amends with, ask them to write a compliment for someone instead. Students can leave their notes in someone's bag, on their desk, or hand it to them in person.
Later, ask students how receiving an apology note made them feel. Discuss the transformative effect of speaking kindly on a negative situation. Though they can't reverse the damage, being accountable and apologizing helps to build understanding and rebuild trust.
Homework or Extension Activity
Encourage students to take the concept of Apology Notes beyond the classroom. As homework or an extension activity, ask them to write a positive note to a friend or family member, emphasizing the ongoing practice of using positive words to spread kindness.
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This amazing life lesson for children is a practical and engaging activity that's sure to leave a lasting impression on their hearts and minds. I believe it should be on every teachers' to do list at the start of every year to foster a culture of kindness, empathy, and understanding.
I'd love to know if you've used this activity in your classroom and how your students reacted. Please email me here!