Monday, August 20, 2012

What Would You Do If You Were In Charge Of The World?

Beautiful Disney World at Sunset
Beautiful Disney World at Sunset (Photo credit: Stuck in Customs)

When I teach a lesson on responsibility, even in kindergarten, children know immediately what they are responsible for.  Here are some of the many things they suggest: pets, younger brothers and sisters, their toys, their behavior, their homework, making their bed, cleaning up their room, brushing their teeth, taking out the trash and eating healthy food.  Sometimes fulfilling responsibilities can follow the Law of Pinocchio.  In other words, just as Pinocchio’s nose grew longer immediately each time he lied, sometimes children receive a positive response or affirmation or reward immediately upon completing the task.  More likely though, responsibilities follow the Law of the Harvest.  In other words, the results of responsible behavior or decisions are not immediately obvious.  Eating a healthy snack when we could have eaten a candy bar doesn’t often have an immediate reward.  Completing homework when we could have watched television isn’t always immediately satisfying.  When I ask young children, why they do the things they do that are responsible, they usually respond with something like, “So I don’t get into trouble.”  or “So I can play afterwards”.  Older children begin to understand consequences that occur much later than the original event.

Here’s a fun way to talk about responsibility, consequences while tapping into children’s imagination as well.  Judith Viorst has written a delightful book of poems entitled:  If I Were in Charge of the World.  The title is taken from a poem in the book that begins like this:
If I were in charge of the world
I’d cancel oatmeal,
Monday mornings,
Allergy shots and also
Sara Steinberg

I like to read the poem to students and then have them write their own poem about what the world would be like if they were in charge of the world.  What would they cancel or what would they make sure there was more of?  What would they change and what would they do away with? 

We follow up with a discussion about what would be the consequences of the changes they’d like to see.  Would it be a better world?  Is it something they really could and should change?  Would it make a difference? What are they in charge of ?  Are we all in some ways in charge of our own piece of the world?  It makes for a fun and lively discussion.

It’s also a good question for adults don’t you think?  What would you do if you were in charge of the world?

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  1. I would require everyone to be trained on the concepts of personal responsibility and consequences -- no whining, no blaming your stuff on others. And yes, there would be a test!

  2. This post reminds me of a paper I wrote in 6th grade. My teacher read it in front of the whole class. He said it was the best-written paper and the most irresponsible idea turned in by any of the students.

    The subject of my paper was "Why The World Would Be Better If Kids Were Not Legally Required to Attend School".

    When I grew up I carried out my plot and home-schooled my offspring ;-)

    Just curious, Lynne, have you ever read any of David Elkind's books, such as The Hurried Child? I'd be interested in your opinion about such work, as a public school professional. Thanks!

  3. @Linda--I read that book so long ago that I hesitate to comment on it because I'm not sure if I remember much about it other than that we live in a hurried society where we are hurrying our children through childhood by expecting too much too soon. As a school counselor, I see a bit of everything so I don't like to make great generalizations. Yes, I see some parents who push children too hard. Yes, I see systems and programs that expect too much of children and consequently expect teachers to work miracles with children and focus on test scores and curriculum rather than the little people that we are here for. No doubt there are also unreasonable teachers and children that are challenging. I also see the opposite. Parents who have no boundaries and no expectations for their children. Parents who are neglectful. Luckily, all of these negatives are in the minority. I work in a school with amazing teachers who have the best interests of the children at heart. They strive to meet the demands of the curriculum and make learning enjoyable, creative and fun at the same time. We have terrific parents who have the best interest of their children in mind and who are incredibly involved and supportive of the school.