While I’ve shared before about using The Kid Trapper for my personal safety lessons with 4th grade, I forgot to ever write about what I finally landed on (and felt good about using) with my 3rd graders. The winning book for this Erin’s Law lesson: Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept (affiliate link).
Before I begin any of my sexual abuse lessons, I give a spiel. It goes something like this:
What are some things you already know about safety and keeping yourself safe? (listen to answers) Today we are talking about keeping yourself safe in a different way. The story that we’re going to read together has some really serious parts in it. There are some things that happen to the boy that might make you uncomfortable to think about or that you might be surprised to hear me read about. That’s ok. Sometimes when that happens, a giggle starts to come up. I need you to keep your mind and heart focused during the story and our lesson together today. If you start to feel uncomfortable or feel a giggle coming up, swallow and take a slow deep breath.
And then we read the story together. I love this book and by “I love” I mean “I hate there is a need for this book but I am so thankful there is such a great one.” It tells the story of a young knight named Sir Alfred who lives with his single mother Lady Susan in poverty. Lady Susan works for Lord Henry Voltnar in his castle each day, and Sir Alfred often tags along. Sir Alfred liked and trusted Lord Henry who gave him lots of special attention. Lord Henry then begins abusing Lord Alfred. The book says “and sometimes Lord Henry tickled and touched Sir Alfred’s private parts.” And then it happens again.
I’ll be honest – I was initially nervous about reading this aloud. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how important it was and that while uncomfortable, it really was written in a clear and developmentally appropriate way. Lord Henry goes on to threaten Sir Alfred and Sir Alfred finds the bravery to tell his mom who calms his worries and keeps him safe.
Some questions I ask during:
- (In the maze) How do you think Alfred is feeling about Lordy Henry? Why? (he’s happy, he likes him, he’s getting special attention)
- (After Lord Henry touches Alfred’s private parts) How is Alfred feeling now?
- (When Alfred said it’s all his fault) What do you think about what Alfred said? Is it all his fault?
- (After Alfred discloses to his mom) What do you think about how Alfred’s mom responded when he told her?
Then it’s time for an honest discussion with the students about the fact that, despite how sad and angry it makes me, sexual abuse like what happened in the story does sometimes happen in real life. Most third graders can’t “sit and get” or even participate in a whole group traditional discussion for a huge chunk of time, so I added a twist to the main topics to cover here.
- I made cards with a question on the outside and the answer on the inside. I folded them, taped them closed, and fanned them out.
- Student volunteers took turns taking one and reading the question out loud.
- The students then got to call on/point to peers to share their answers.
- The student opens it, hands it back to me, and I read and further discuss the answer.
Here were the discussion Qs:
- Was Lord Henry a stranger? (we talk about how these kind of “bad guys” are usually people we know)
- What did Lord Henry do to get Alfred to like him and trust him? (we talk about grooming)
- What did Lord Henry do to try and make Alfred keep it secret? (we talk about the threats and lies that abusers might use)
- How do you know whether or not a secret is ok to keep? (focused on how they make us feel)
After that, I put students into small groups and gave them each a set of scenario cards. Together as a group, they sorted them into “okay to keep” or “tell someone.” Some of the secrets were things like:
- You don’t know how to swim but you don’t want your friends to know.
- Your friend’s mom is going to have a baby but she doesn’t want everyone to know yet.
- Your big brother sneaks out of the house at night without your parents knowing.
- Someone showed you their private parts at a big neighborhood party.
For many of my third grade classes, just those three parts of the lesson (story, discussion, sorting cards) took up the whole time. A couple of my groups were a little quieter though and I had a processing/reflection worksheet for them to complete in our leftover time.
Is this a lesson I have fun doing? Nope. But it is one of the most important lessons I do and I’m so glad to have finally landed on a third grade sexual abuse lesson that I feel good about. Side note: I do also love the book My Body is Private for third (and second) grade but it is only available in sepia/black and white which for some cohorts is a block to their engagement.
If you love the sound of this lesson and want the whole thing ready-made for you, I have it in my shop here: Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept Sexual Abuse Lesson
Would you be willing to share parent letters that you have used to let parents/guardians know that you will be presenting personal safety lessons? I am asked, by my administration, to provide notice and time for parents to opt their child out of personal safety lessons. I appreciate your insight!
Hi! I don’t have my most recent letter but I found an old one:
“An important part of the school counseling program at XYZ Elementary as well as at other schools throughout the state is providing a lesson on personal safety. Each year we teach one lesson to our students geared towards preventing sexual abuse and encouraging students to report inappropriate touching.
Next week, your 3rd grader will learn about personal safety in Life Skills. We will read a book titled Some Secrets Are Not for Keeping about a boy whose uncle touches him inappropriately and how the boy gets the strength and courage to tell his mom. The story is non-threatening and is age appropriate. Our discussion afterward will focus on identifying some of the behaviors of the uncle in his effort to keep the boy silent, and in identifying safe vs. unsafe secrets through various examples.”