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)


“Get Your Gifts Unwrapped:” Why Connections Matter for Kids with Disabilities

This afternoon, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Edward Hallowell. Dr. Hallowell is one of the nation’s experts on attention deficit disorders. His book, Driven to Distraction, co-authored with John Ratey, and its companion book, Answers to Distraction, provide easy-to-read information and guidance about ADHD.

Dr. Edward Hallowell

Hallowell’s positive attitude inspires a different way of thinking about ADHD and other diagnoses. “Almost invariably,” Hallowell said today, “talents are wrapped in disability…and we need to be in the business of unwrapping gifts rather than treating disabilities.”

In order to do this, Hallowell said, children must feel connected. He cited his book The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, stating that in his research, the level of connection in childhood is a primary predictor of future contentment and success. (Not SAT scores, grade point averages, starring roles or varsity letters!!) In addition to feeling connected to their parents, Hallowell said that children must also feel connected in their neighborhoods and at school. Connection and community is so important, he said, that the lack of it can cause serious health problems. In his research, he found studies that show that social isolation is as dangerous a risk factor for early death as smoking cigarettes.

To explain the importance of connection, Dr. Hallowell related an experience from his own childhood. As a first grader, he struggled with reading fluency and was, in time, diagnosed with both dyslexia and ADHD. In the 1950’s, services and supports were scarce, and children were often labeled “lazy” or “slow.” Thanks to a special teacher, however, Dr. Hallowell persevered. He told about his first grade teacher, Mrs. Eldridge…every time he was asked to read aloud, Mrs. Eldridge sat right next to him and put her chubby arm around him. No one in the class dared to laugh or ridicule him, so protective was she. At the end of the year, Dr. Hallowell recalled, he was STILL the slowest and least accurate reader in the class. However, he felt a sense of pride and belonging because of his connection to this special teacher: “Mrs. Eldridge’s arm was my IEP.”

Despite his difficulties with language, Dr. Hallowell (still a slow reader) has made a career that is largely based on language…all because a teacher took the time to give him a sense that “it’s safe to be who you are.”

Dr. Hallowell said that when parents comes into his office, very often, they’ll say, “My child has a disability.” His response? “Great! Now, let’s work together.This is a place to get your gifts unwrapped.”

What a lesson for the Church.


Want to read more about this topic? Check out Dr. Steve Grcevich’s series…excellent insight from a doctor who cares.