Fifth grade. I had a huge perm, glasses with blue and pink tinted lenses, and a chronic runny nose from allergies. There were two classes per grade, and most of us had been together since kindergarten.
We were ten. We were awkward. And we were really, really mean.
Two incidents stand out. In the first, I was the victim. I walked to the trashcan to toss out a tissue. Sitting face up in the bin was an unflattering highlighter and looseleaf caricature of me (big hair, pink and blue glasses, neon green runny nose). My cheeks flushed; tears pricked my eyelids.
I would not let them see me cry.
Weeks later, the second incident. Her name was Alice. She was the new girl, slightly on the heavy side. I was the outcast and desperate for an in. There were probably ten of us on the playground, leering over her in a tight circle. We taunted and teased. We refused to let her out. I have no memory of how it ended.
All I remember are Alice’s tear stained cheeks.
This was a Catholic school. We learned about virtue and grace and sin and works of mercy both corporal and spiritual. And yet bullying persisted, an undercurrent of cool kids against outcasts the administration and teachers ignored. Since then, I’ve come to the realization that environment doesn’t matter. Mean girl/boy behavior happens everywhere, from parochial schools to neighborhood sandlots.
And it is up to us to teach our children better.
This is why I decided to run my homeschool group’s 8-10 year old girls’ group with the goal of teaching girls how to recognize and celebrate God’s gifts in their lives and the lives of their friends. I want my daughters and their peers to develop a positive self-image and relationship skills. Hopefully, through an understanding of themselves as God’s magnificent creation, they will learn to see the same in their friends and treat them accordingly.
During our first meeting, I led the girls through exercises and craft activities designed to highlight their own unique qualities. For our second meeting, we revisited Psalm 139 and turned the focus outward.
A getting to know you ice breaker
The girls are still getting to know one another, so we started with an ice-breaker activity. I gave each girl an index card and asked her to list five things about herself without adding a name. When everyone was finished, I read the cards out loud and gave the girls a chance to guess who had written the card.
Adapting Psalm 139
I wanted to make Psalm 139 more personal. It’s such a beautiful passage! To do this, I replaced all of the personal pronouns in the text with blank lines, then asked the girls to put in their own names. The original verse:
LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand;
you understand my thoughts from afar.
You sift through my travels and my rest;
with all my ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
LORD, you know it all.
LORD, you have probed Ginny, you know her: you know when she sits and stands;
you understand her thoughts from afar.
You sift through her travels and her rest;
with all Ginny’s ways you are familiar.
Even before a word is on her tongue,
LORD, you know it all.
I printed it on heavy weight cardstock so the girls could frame them and hang them on their walls.
Building paper plate houses
To add an element of team building and the opportunity to recognize good qualities in their peers, I asked the girls to make houses out of paper plates. I laid out paper plates, paper clips, glue, tape, stickers, and a stapler and let them create. The activity had a “Big Bad Wolf” theme: I told the girls we would try to blow each house over to determine which house was the strongest.
Reflecting on our partners
To wrap up, we had a group discussion about the good qualities the girls saw in their partners. It was nice to see their faces light up when they heard compliments on their problem solving skills, creativity, and perseverance.
Extending the lesson
We ran out of time, but my final objective for the day was to write a letter to a friend telling her how appreciated she is and listing the qualities that make her special. I’ll probably try to fit that in with our next meeting because of its potential value.
I mentioned to a friend of mine the other day that being a mom to girls is like reliving your own childhood pains, only magnified by 5000. I know I can’t protect my girls from every hurt and slight, but I can teach them how to be kind, loving, and graceful in their everyday interactions. When the girls left my house today, I started wondering if maybe I’m not doing enough, or that perhaps the girls aren’t having a good time. But the Holy Spirit encourages me, whispering reminders that every little bit helps. I’m looking forward to seeing where the Holy Spirit takes this.