How a Bucket Might Stop School Shootings

He wanted something, but having lived for other people for so long, he lacked the lexicon to vocalize his own needs.  – Jin. From “Genie of the Cabernet” by Joan Reginaldo

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A couple of weeks into Grimlock’s kindergarten year, I started volunteering as an Asset-Building Champion Reader for the school’s branch of Project Cornerstone.

That’s a lot of corporate- and busines-model-speak for teaching kids social skills by visiting their classrooms once a month, reading them a book with some kind of social-skill lesson, and leading an age-appropriate discussion and activity afterwards.

The website is a train wreck of information, but I agree with the goal, and the methods seem sound. Most importantly, the program aims to create a feeling of community and belonging among the kids, which has been proposed as a possible way to diminish school violence, bullying, and school shootings. (Google “How to stop school shootings” and it’s discussed on almost every list.)

The first book we did is called HAVE YOU FILLED A BUCKET TODAY by Carol McCloud.

The premise is that everyone carries an invisible bucket inside them. I’m not in love with that analogy, and I think there could be a better one if we really sat down and thought about it. Some of the kids looked gobsmacked when we tried to explain this concept.

Anyway, back to this invisible bucket. Here are the 3 key concepts we had to cover in the class 1. Each person has an invisible bucket that needs to be filled by other people’s kindness or acknowledgements. 2. But some people can be “bucket dippers”. This means they are unkind, or they say mean things. 3. To protect your personal bucket of good feelings, you can “use your lid”. Which is a cutesy way of saying that you can cover your good feelings by ignoring the bucket dipper or something.

Bonus lesson: Dipping into someone else’s bucket also empties your own. I don’t know the physics behind that, so I’ll just explain it with “magic”.

I have a couple of reservations about these messages:
“You need other people to fill your bucket”. To an extent. But the word “need” is an unnecessary absolute. It ignores the fact that a person can have and foster a sense of self-worth that doesn’t need constant affirmation. A person can take pride in accomplishing personal goals, and therefore fill their own bucket without needing to have that goal graded or acknowledged in a public way.

“Use your lid”. This is a great idea but I’ve heard it misconstrued a few times, explained to mean that a person can choose their feelings. I don’t agree with this, and I believe it perpetuates the idea that people who are clinically depressed or anxious can somehow shut it off like a switch. It also implies that having certain feelings are bad. It’s fine and appropriate to be sad or angry or frustrated, but to set up the idea that it’s always a conscious choice can lead to ignoring or repressing emotions that are vital to grieving or stressful situations.

An appropriate way to employ “use your lid” would be to explain that it means you have some choice in how you react, starting with recognizing that what’s being said or done might be an intentionally mean or hurtful thing, or it could be accidental, or something falling in between. It’s a complex idea which I’ll get into in a future post. For now, the takeaway would be thinking about what it means to tell somebody, anybody, that they can always control how they feel vs. telling them they have control over how they react to something.

Here are the pros to this book and the discussion it opens.

Every class having this book read to them (there’s a more sophisticated version for older grades) results in almost every student being exposed to the idea of kindness. That’s the point of the book, after all: being kind means “filling someone’s bucket” with warm and fuzzy feelings.

If the child gets constant and consistent reinforcement of the key concepts (Fill a bucket! Don’t be a bucket-dipper! Use your lid!) then an entire school will have a common “language” of communicating emotions. That’s a HUGE if and, unfortunately, difficult to enforce.

A good way to passively remind kids of the lessons from the book is to have posters up. Even if it’s a simple poster, a visual cue might be enough to spark memories of the book, which might lead to a little more kindness on the playground.

Here’s the poster I made for Grimlock’s class, along with a bit of how-to in case anyone would like to do it too.

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Initially, I wanted to have a silhouette of a kid with a bucket “inside” him or her. Then I got caught up in thinking “Well, if I choose one of those sexes, the other sex might have a more difficult time relating to the silhouette and internalizing the idea of this imaginary feelings-bucket.”
So then I thought of doing silhouettes of both sexes with buckets inside them. But I couldn’t fit them into a portrait orientation poster (I didn’t want to do a landscape orientation because it would take up too much classroom space).

Then I came up with the idea of buckets tipping warm fuzzies into each other. It would reinforce the idea of community, that filling buckets would fill more buckets, etc.

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I like to reuse materials. These buckets are made of cake mix boxes. Remember to cut out the Box Tops for your school. Under the cake boxes is the pack of poster paper I got from Walmart for about $3 at the time of this posting.

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Use a stapler to fasten straps behind the “bucket” to make a 3-D effect. I found tape to be a little difficult to work with and glue didn’t dry fast enough to hold the shape.

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I covered the cake box form with craft foam I had leftover from a costume project. I chose specific bucket colors because the school principal has a blue “bucket” costume, and I wanted to have consistency with the images to have them reinforce the values. Hot glue everything. Tape and gluesticks are not strong enough to hold things up when the poster is hung. Use a bit of jewelry wire or pipe cleaner for the handles.

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Lastly, I put Address Labels on the poster, to show the kids where to write their names. Otherwise, it would’ve been chaos.

During the Activity period after the reading the book and the discussion, we gave each child a little hand-made bucket (they were coffee cups from Costco, with pipe-cleaner handles), and two fuzz balls. They were to turn to their right neighbors and say a bucket-filling statement like “Thank you for sharing with me” or “You play tag really well.”

I tried to steer the statements towards actions that could be reinforced, not physical attributes like “you have nice hair”.

After saying the statement, they would put one fuzzball in their classmate’s bucket and put the other fuzzball in their own bucket. Going around the table, each child should end up with two fuzzballs in their buckets.

Kindness can be a difficult intangible thing. The first thing we can do to illustrate it is after the act happens. The book is a good way of illustrating what kindness can look like. More importantly, the book gives language to the feelings that we feel when we experience kindness or unkindness, and a visual representation of the emotional consequences of our actions.

On girls and women – The good thing about this book is it DOES NOT use kindness as a man-earning attribute. Kindness does not lead to the reward of a Happily Ever After. In the book, kindness does incentivize actions with the reward that one’s own bucket will also get full, but main focus is literally “Have you filled a bucket today”. It shifts the perspective to being kind to others as the end goal.

On people and children of color – It could be more representative of different backgrounds.

On the program goals – So far, this book seems to be a solid foundation that will scaffold and support the books and lessons following. If you don’t have a Project Cornerstone in your area, I encourage you to order this book or check it out of your local library and ask your child’s teacher if you can read it to the class. Maybe get some of the other moms involved. It’s a good way to think globally, act locally. The book, discussion, and activity involve the children in kinesthetic learning and role play. Tangible, easy ways to address and hopefully dimish such an unsettling trend in our time.


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