When Kids Need a Break: Hall passes with a purpose


“What’s that?” I asked my teaching assistant.

I glanced over her shoulder to see a two-columned chart with students’ names on the side.

“Oh…I’m making a bathroom chart to help us curb all of these bathroom breaks. I think the kids should go once in the morning and once in the afternoon…and that’s ALL.”

“But why?” I asked, knowing what the answer would be.

“Because of Donald*, of course! That kid goes to the bathroom more than any kid I’ve ever seen. And I’ve watched him as he walks down the hall. Sometimes he doesn’t even go INTO the bathroom. He just looks at bulletin boards or gets a drink. We need to put a stop to this,” she said indignantly.

Her intentions were good. She wanted Donald in the classroom so he wouldn’t miss instruction…which made my words even harder for her to swallow…

“Yes, I realize he’s not actually going to the bathroom,” I told her, “but we’re not going to limit his requests.”

“WHAT?” she asked, incredulous.

“Donald needs those breaks. Between his ADHD and his anxiety, sitting for a whole reading group is just too hard for him. He’s figured out that he can regulate himself by taking these short breaks…this prevents him from having meltdowns, and helps him focus better.”

My assistant rolled her eyes and sighed, obviously irritated with my decision.

But I didn’t mind…because these breaks were just what Donald needed!


We’ve all had situations like these…in classrooms, Sunday School or youth group.  Be sure to consider the function of kids’ behavior as you manage the students in your care. Some kids might need an opportunity to stretch their muscles because of a physical condition; others may experience mental fatigue and need a moment of quiet. In Donald’s case, the “bathroom breaks” provided an opportunity to calm down and refocus; limiting breaks to once every three hours would have exacerbated his difficulty.

While breaks might be completely necessary, sometimes it is necessary to add some structure, especially if students’ progress or participation suffers because of the frequency or duration. However, this structure needs to be flexible and reasonable. My well-meaning assistant’s suggestion of one break would not have worked for Donald! One way to assist them is to offer a pre-set number of hall passes (tickets, post-it notes or index cards can work well for this purpose!) Allow them to use those passes as necessary…but when they’re gone, they’re gone! This can help kids to think through their need for a break, and help them to use those breaks wisely, and only when truly necessary.

When offering this kind of support, continue monitoring the student’s behavior and participation ensure that the strategy is working.

For Donald, this worked like a charm. He continued taking breaks during class…and he continued to make both academic and social progress.

And every once in a while, he’d come back into my classroom and give me a wink and a grin…and then settle right back into his work.

See you in the hallway!

Photos: Medaviesmallsteps.com; YoungTeacherLove.blogspot.com
*Name has been changed.

5 Ways To Help Kids Pay Attention


“1-2-3- all eyes on me…”
“I’m only going to say this ONE TIME…”
“I like how Joe and Cindy are paying attention…”
“Everyone who is seated and ready is getting a sticker…”

Sound familiar?

Whether we are teaching or parenting, we all want kids to pay attention! However, sometimes, their ability to focus is elusive. It’s important to recognize that improving kids’ attention to task often has more to do with our behavior than with theirs. As we interact with children and teens, we can improve the likelihood that they’ll absorb what we’re saying by offering a preview so they know what to expect.

Consider the title of this blog, for example. “Five Ways to Get Kids to Pay Attention.” Articles with numbered lists are ALL over the blogosphere these days…just scroll through twitter or Facebook and you’ll easily find several at first glance…from “10 Things Your Doctor Wishes You Knew” to “Four Steps to a Happy Family.” We like information to be organized for us, and when we see titles like these, we know that the information will likely be listed in an easy-to-read format.

When you read the title of this blog, for example, you likely anticipated a rather succinct article with five key strategies. You might have asked yourself, “I wonder if I use any of those strategies?” or thought, “I could use a few new tricks for helping kids…” You also had the number 5 in your mind…this gave you an idea of how long this article would be so you could gauge how much time you might need. Finally, you drew on your past experience, knowing that you would likely be able to remember a list of 5 things, and you could also relate new information to what you already know.

So…this article ISN’T really going to give you “5 Ways To Get Kids To Pay Attention.” It’s going to give you just one…when you are giving directions or teaching, considering using a number to get kids’ attention and help them anticipate instruction:

“Today we are going to learn about the THREE branches of government”
“You need TWO things for group work: your pencil and your workbook.”
“This morning, we’re going to learn FOUR ways to obey God.”
” TWO things: brush your teeth and put your laundry in the hamper.”

Wishing you infinite success in your teaching and parenting today!

(Image courtesy freeimageslive.co.uk)


What’s in a Name? {Why greeting students matters in a BIG way}

This summer, I’ve been working with a church staff on their inclusion efforts. It has been a joy to watch the staff and volunteers in action. They plan carefully, arrange the classrooms effectively, and redirect the students in positive ways. As their programs grow, I know they will be ready to include learners with diverse strengths and needs.

As I observed on my first Sunday there, I enjoyed watching the kids bound into their rooms enthusiastically. The hallways were full, and, as is often the case with Sunday mornings, the pace was quick between services. Nevertheless, the Director of Children’s Ministry remained placid. She checked in with each volunteer, helped with administrative tasks, prepared for her large group lesson, and communicated with other staff. However, none of this interfered with what was obviously the most important: Greeting the children.

I watched in amazement as she greeted every single child by name. “Good morning, Michael! It’s great to see you today, Tiara! I’m so glad you’re here, Kieran!” Every greeting–just like every child–was unique. As the students passed, she was able to tell me a bit about them. She knew their likes and dislikes, strengths and needs. She shared information about their families, her fondness for all of them evident in her warm smile. She spoke about their faith development and their progress.

This reminded me of Responsive Classroom’s Morning Meeting. One of the basic components is a greeting. Several schools in which I work use this program, which is designed to create a strong classroom culture. One colleague reflected, “By the end of morning meeting, every single child has heard his or her name spoken aloud. That sends a powerful message that each individual matters to the group.” Clearly, this Children’s Ministry Director understands the importance of this.

In addition, she is modeling something even greater for the students in her program. In Isaiah 43, we hear the Lord say,

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are mine…
you are precious and honored in my sight…because I love you…

By calling her students by name, she models for them the Father’s love.

As I got ready to leave, one of the students with multiple special needs smiled at me, and said, “Goodbye, Katie!”

The Children’s Ministry Director looked surprised. As we walked away, she said, “I can’t believe she remembered  your name! That is really hard for her!”

I wasn’t all that surprised, though. I smiled at the Director, thinking,
This child learned it from her…
who learned it from Him.

He knows our names!