I really like Julia Cook’s The Kid Trapper for personal safety lessons with 4th grade and this year, I finally made a complete lesson plan to go with it, pushing beyond just the content and message of the story. The school counselors at the middle school many of my students attend are awesome, but middle school is full of sticky situations and I needed to talk through some of them with my students before I let them leave me.
I start off with a little spiel prepping them for the book. I’m honest with them that some of the situations I read about in the book might make them feel a little uncomfortable because they are inappropriate and scary for him. This spiel has the added benefit of piquing their interest – my students are more engaged with this book than with any other. Whereas I usually stop to make comments or ask questions during my read alouds, this one I read straight through with the exception of, in some rooms, letting them know that when the author wrote about Frank and the boy hugging, she may have been really trying to talk about inappropriate touching.
After the book’s over, I open it up to questions and comments (letting them know that comments about actual people or situations need to happen one on one with me and not whole group). Then I debrief with them, asking them to tell me what Frank did to earn the boy’s trust (and then I add in some other grooming behaviors of predators), why the boy didn’t speak up (with my adding in some other tactics sometimes used), and then fully processing the outcome and the fact that his parents still loved him after. Some of my students point out that parents might not always believe you, so then we talk about how (if something like this really does happen to you) it’s important to keep telling safe adults.
Then I introduce them to the idea of sticky situations; situations where you feel stuck and don’t know what to do, and where someone might be in danger. I have three student volunteers pull and read these questions that I teach them can help you make a good decision: What would your role model do? What are all of the consequences? and What does your gut say? And I quickly realized that many of my students didn’t know about their “gut” or “gut instincts” – and realized that’s really tricky to explain! If you have any ideas about how to explain that, especially to students who aren’t 100% fluent in English, please let me know! (During the pandemic, this activity got a reboot – a digital one. Scroll to the end to see the digital version.)
Next up, the students were put in small groups to examine some sticky situations examples. Each gave a scenario and a response, and they needed to be sorted into “safe” vs. “unsafe”. Some notes about the scenarios:
- Most were pretty clear/obvious whether or not the response was safe or unsafe. There were about three that students had to go back and forth on, but I tried to write them more as examples to expose them to than for them to have to think critically/dissect them.
- I reached out to my middle school friend to make sure I was hitting some of the key 5th grade sticky situations as well, since this wasn’t just a personal safety lesson for me but also a transition lesson.
- I “went for it” with some of the situations, which is always scary. I included vaping, cutting, a potentially inappropriate uncle, and a discipline vs. physical abuse issue. At the end of the day, I decided I would rather risk an angry parent than risk not preparing my students for what are real issues they are likely to face within the next year or two. I also get to decide each year, based on the needs of the cohort and the climate of the school and community, which scenarios to use.
- While my students are/will be exposed to some of these sticky situations, my emphasis was less on how to navigate them and more on the need to tell a safe adult when they happen.