Just when you think we’ve reached peak absurdity when it comes to how schools handle “behavior problems,” along comes another story to demonstrate just how out of whack our expectations for kindergartners have become.
The latest reminder comes courtesy of a 5-year-old little girl, who was handed a “naughty note” by her teacher in front of the whole class because she had the audacity to play with her shoelaces during circle time—gasp!
The note set off a storm after the girl's parents posted it on Facebook. It quickly went viral, with everyone from Aha Parenting to author Heather Shumaker sharing the post. (They’ve asked the media to keep their daughter’s name anonymous.)
It’s easy to see why the behavior chart is so infuriating: The teacher says the little girl “was asked not to play with her shoelaces during rug time. Today she repeatedly refuses to participate, turns back to others, pouts and stomps feet.”
Sooo, in other words, she’s a 5-year-old acting like a 5-year-old? And this is the behavior that merited a scolding in front of the entire class?
What’s more, the little girl was made to miss recess and snack as punishment, says Shumaker, who shared the note on Facebook. In other words, a restless and possibly hungry 5-year-old was prevented from doing the very things that would have probably solved the “lack of self-control” she was taken to task for.
Shumaker, the author of It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids, says this incident is emblematic of why these types of behavior charts should be banned from the classroom.
“A lot of times tools like this are applied by adults who don’t understand normal childhood development,” she says. “If the need of a 5-year-old is to move, then we need to provide that movement.”
“Really the whole agenda for early childhood is coping with big emotions and learning how to accept limits, and it’s much more complex than a behavior chart,” she continues.
Of course, it's not easy for teachers to educate 25 unruly 5-year-olds at once, and many schools aren't set up to encourage a more movement- and play-based approach to learning (and a more positive approach to discipline). But there has to be a better way to handle fidgeting and pouting—a way that doesn't shame children and potentially sour them on school altogether.
People who spoke up on Facebook overwhelmingly agreed with Shumaker’s assessment. “This is so unbelievably inappropriate. As a retired school principal, I can tell you that this teacher and I would’ve had words,” said a commenter named Sandy Robertson. “Then I would buy her books and send her back to school to learn about children’s development, the importance of play and movement and children’s self esteem. As well as about communication with parents! This makes my blood boil a bit.”
Another mom chimed in to add, “I have received many of these—'played with shoelaces,' 'was chewing his sleeve,' 'chewed up his pen cap,' etc.,” said Krissie Harrigan. “And they always came home in his agenda, so he always came home thinking he was in trouble. I finally told his teacher that if she needed to send home complaints like this, to do so in a sealed envelope and that he was not to know she was sending it. Never got another one.”
It’s nice to see that one parent was successfully able to fight back against these kid-shaming naughty notes. We just hope this 5-year-old little girl will have similar success.