The Wrinkled Heart activity and other important language choices.

Kindness matters not only among students but without realizing it, many of the word choices we make as educators and parents impact our audience! In fact, we can unintentionally wrinkle the hearts of our students, family, and friends. Use the Wrinkled Heart Activity to set the tone for positive language choices, then change some of YOUR word choices as an educator too!

What is a wrinkled heart you ask? Well, they happen when unkind, or inconsiderate language choices are made by kids and adults. You may not even recognize they slip out, or that the words cause wrinkles, like drying your clothes on the wrong setting!

To start to raise awareness, let’s start with the first week of school activity I never missed.

The Wrinkled Heart Activity

Have you ever done the “Wrinkled Heart Activity”? It’s a kindness lesson. You begin by reading read the story Chrysanthemum, by Kevin Henkes. You can do this at any Grade level – even High School. Don’t let the picture book level limit your audience. After the story is complete, give, or have each person in your family or classroom a cutout heart.

The next step is to have them wad the heart up into a ball and unroll it. Ask your participants to take a good look at the hear and notice it’s all wrinkled. Challenge them to see who can smooth it out again…

Ultimately the discussion should lead to the fact that the heart they now hold will never look like the fresh crisp heart they were handed. This illustrates that words are powerful.

Before you speak, think and be smart, it’s hard to fix a wrinkled heart.

The Wrinkled Heart Activity is not my original idea – it has been around for quite some time, but it is very powerful.

Why the Wrinkled Heart Activity Matters

In our homes and classrooms, we have a CAPTIVE audience. They listen to our every word. Every year I was so and so’s favorite teacher…until they went to 5th grade, and then he or she was their “favorite teacher”. But during my 180 days as a favorite, it was vitally important that each and every student feel successful, safe, and loved. I did not want to wrinkle any hearts, nor have them wrinkling each other’s hearts. We did this lesson the first week of school!

The overall purpose of the educator is to guide learners. You can’t teach anyone anything honestly. You can only present the information, and the learner must absorb and apply the information. Everyone self educates. Everyone. So if you are a parent or a classroom teacher, your job is to simply guide the day and keep kids safe. They have to do the learning. Here are the ways I guided my children and the students I encountered as a classroom teacher, always hoping to reinforce the Wrinkled Heart Activity along the way!

Each Child is a Genius

When I was in High School my freshman year, Mrs. Harris told me I was a Genius. I can’t even spell it (trust me the red squiggle came and I just had to fix it for this post) She had a magical way of teaching and relating to students that made me BELIEVE her. I liked Science for the first time in my life, because of the words she used. Funny thing, she called ANY student that went and asked her questions GENIUS. All of us. I wasn’t special, but it didn’t matter – she communicated that she BELIEVED in me.

Try it. Start calling your kids Genius. (Don’t forget to look them in the eye and if possible touch them on the head or shoulder for personal connection.) I bet you will see a difference immediately in the quality of work you get.

Nice work Genius, next time remember to put your name on the paper.

Only a Genius like you would turn in this quality of work, thank you.

I’m impressed Genius.

And the magic of Genius is in this: Ask them who they think is a Genius. Likely they will say someone like Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton or even someone like Elon Musk. Then research their FAILURES. YUP even a GENIUS’ makes mistakes – so it is a believable statement that you call a child Genius.

Praise Work, Not People

Another easy language choice you can make is to adjust any praise onto the WORK, not the child. Think about “Good Dog” – “Bad Dog” – it’s not REALLY the dog that was good or bad, it is the behavior, the dog is actually clueless without the proper training. Children are the same. (Sorry if comparing kids to dogs is a bit much for you!)

Their ACTIONS and the WORK they produce are where our focus should lie.

I’m impressed with how that turned out vs You did great on that project.

The big question: what happens when they don’t do so great? There will be a reason, and nothing is likely WRONG with the child, but instead, the mistake is a further opportunity for growth. Mistakes are the ONLY way to learn, but we as adults know this. Children fear mistakes. The language we use can help guide them past the fear and into their comfort zone. That’s where true genius awaits.

You Can Do Hard Things

If I could have been paid by the number of times I heard a child say “I can’t” or “It’s too hard”, I would have made up the salary difference between my private school salary and my public school equivalents!

Where does the idea of “can’t” come from? Those words are banned in my home and my classroom. Seriously. I do not allow them to pass over the lips of any child within my care.

To help re-train their thoughts, I say: You can do hard things. Whenever a child says: I can’t or any equivalent statement, I tell them to try phrasing it another way (what is the REAL problem). I encourage them by saying: You can do hard things. They may not understand or be able to reach the glass on the counter. But with the proper tools, THEY CAN! It is up to us to help identify the underlying PROBLEM and give them or show them those tools to accomplish great things!

Understanding When and How to Help

What do we do when a child needs help? When the “can’t” wants so badly to be uttered… or the tears of frustration are falling…

Think of it this way: when a child was learning to walk we held hands, removed obstacles, etc. We certainly did NOT walk FOR them. We watched and guided.

Now as they continue to navigate through these hard things it is important to understand help vs doing. Simply blurting: Do you need help? Isn’t actually helping πŸ™‚

Instead try: I’ll be at my desk if you need help. (I’ll be in the kitchen if you need help)

I always added the phrase, It is okay to interrupt whatever I am doing. I discovered sometimes learners were not asking for help even though I was always available because they didn’t want to bother me. Sweet things.

I’ll be walking the room if you need help, just call my name if I don’t notice you.

I do look like I’m getting some serious work done here. This picture was taken by a student who was in charge of taking pictures as her class job!

I Don’t Understand…

Another common issue that would have increased my riches was “not understanding the instructions”. As a teacher in the trenches, this is a tough one.

First, there is a genuine lack of understanding, and then there is avoidance of hard things. Saying “I don’t understand” can simply be a workaround for “I can’t”, very closely related to “I have to go the bathroom”. Navigating this can be tricky.

Here is what I do to wade through the mud:

  • You don’t know if you understand or know if you haven’t tried any of the tasks. Do 3 problems, and then I will check them.

  • Let me show you another way

Sometimes, when there is a lack of understanding, I rely on peers, or I have gotten other teachers because I have run out of ways to explain. I always find the solution to the underlying trigger for avoidance or genuine misunderstanding.

Houston, We Have a PROBLEM

Let’s think about the word PROBLEM. What is the first thing that comes to mind… something along the lines of a situation that needs to be worked out or solved… Does the word PROBLEM have a positive vibe or a negative vibe to it? Do you want to have a lot of problems to solve? I sure don’t! When it comes to Math, however – that’s what we have – we have Math PROBLEMS – things that need to be worked out, Finding the solutions is a GOOD thing! Yet so many of our learners struggle with Math. They have a preconceived mindset battling all those PROBLEMS!

What if we change the LANGUAGE we use surrounding Math?

Math is a subject I watched countless students struggle with by the time they arrived in my 4th-grade classroom. They already saw Math as a “problem” and defined themselves as not good at it. (The I can’t syndrome!) Changing the language we use regarding math is critical! Just being a cheerleader and telling a learner they can do it, or to “keep trying” is not enough. They have PROBLEMS and we are helping them solve the wrong one!

Try assigning things like Math Calculations (any of the traditional math operations). This creates a whole different ball game! The official term is MATH OPERATIONS. Use the surgery play on words, to your advantage. We dig into math and like a surgeon, we operate and get to the solution… WHAT A DIFFERENCE!

Some Math history to help our Language Choices

Historically Math was called ciphering. The mathematical definition of ciphering is: to use figures in a mathematical process. (Miriam-Webster) It’s also related to writing and solving code – like a secret agent. Imagine your home or classroom filled with secret agents solving ciphers! What an exciting place…or you can get out your Math and work the problems.

It’s always been a MYSTERY to me why anyone would need that many watermelons, but hey – critical thinking skills are important. When learners are faced with what we know as “word problems” the YUCK-meter goes off the charts. Good strong readers turn into jello when faced with words and math mixed together. Just change the language – Give your learners a Sherlock Holmes hat and off they go to solve the Math Mystery of the day!

I have a set of Math Mysteries to get you started. They can be used with students as young as 2nd grade and as high as needed for training purposes.

cover image for Homeschool Holiday Product - Math Mysteries. This set of 6 math worksheets focuses on word problems at 3 levels in which students focus on solving math operations like a detective. The goal is to take the pressure off math "Problems".
Visit the Homeschool Holiday Shop or your Favorite Teaching platform to Purchase

Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

A final thought on the language choices we make. In my classroom, I stopped giving tests. Yup – you read that right, zero tests were given, I simply had students complete an activity called: Show What You Know. “Tomorrow we will have a {Show What You Know} over Chapters 5-7 in Charlotte’s Web.”

We did them in every subject! I saw a dynamic change in my classroom. As a homeschooling mom, I NEVER gave tests (or even show-what-you-knows). Working with my children one on one I had the feedback I needed to evaluate learning and make decisions as to curriculum adaptations, etc. But if you do use tests or a charter school that requires tests, change the language surrounding the activity.

As adults, you and I both know that I was able to clearly determine if Chapters 5-7 were comprehended based on the “Show What You Know Activity”. Goodbye test anxiety, at least for the 180 days they were in my class.

Free Wrinkled Heart Activity for YOU!

As I said before I used the Wrinkled Heart Activity the first week of school, but it is a great activity anytime. Be Kind to Humankind week is in August, you can easily use it then as well!

Cover image for free wrinkled heart printable activity. Shows a red heart that has been wrinkled with a mini poster that reads: Before you speak thin and be smart It's hard to fix a wrinkled heart.
Visit the Homeschool Holiday Shop for the FREE Printable Activity!

Changing your language is intentional, and it takes TIME. Start slow, and stick with it. Remember you can do hard things. If you need any support for your schooling or have other great ideas for the language we use with children, please feel free to reach out. I would love to know your tips and tricks!

May your educational Journey Be Blessed!

Mrs. Crabtree

If you would like to see the video that accompanies this blog post I have included it below. It is not a word-for-word transcript of the post but mentions the same or similar language to use.

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