Almost everyday in kindergarten someone tells a fib. Sometimes it is me – “I will come over to see you swing on the monkey bars in just a minute.” More frequently, however, the most talented fibbers are from amongst my class of 26 five year olds. Occasionally, the fibs are small, like, “No, I didn’t bring my library book,” or “Yes, I washed my hands,” – either of these are easy enough to verify by checking in a backpack or looking at the hands in question. A more substantial variety of the fib comes in the form of a tall tale, which I guess is a subcategory of the fib, but far more interesting and creative. Examples include; “I found a wasp as big as a bird in my backyard,” or, “One day, I lost my tooth, broke my arm, got stung by a bee, AND fell off my bicycle!” Which was curious, because the exact same thing – minus the broken arm – happened to another student one day, too.
These kinds of untruths can be left as is because no one is harmed by such exaggerations. A student who lets loose with one of these may be heralded amongst his or her peers as cool, lucky or a great story-teller, and may even garner a “Student X has an excellent imagination” comment on a report card from his or her teacher. However, the fibs that are problematic are ones which can cause some sort of injury. This is often the time when the truth is harder to get at and when we, as teachers, need to figure out what has happened so that we can report to parents or to the administration. Nothing is more frustrating than having both parties involved in a conflict deny involvement. How can they be so convincing? Looking you straight in the eye, and giving their side of the story, you think you may know who is telling the truth, until the second student denies everything. OK, someone here is not telling the truth, but who is it? I don’t have training in the forensics of lie detection, I don’t have the time to slowly draw it out of a student when my classroom is in full swing with 24 kinders, and I need to get to the bottom of this. What to do?
Quite by accident, the other day I stumbled upon a strategy that seemed to work really well and quickly. I am not sure if it was a one-off or if it would work with other students, but it is definitely worth trying again. The situation was a relatively common one in the school yard; one boy had shoved another boy during outdoor play. When I went over to put a stop to the scramble, I was ready to give a serious reminder about schoolyard behaviour to the boy whom I had seen doing the shoving, when he very quietly told me that the other boy had tried to pull his pants down. What?! This was a very uncharacteristic statement from a boy who enjoys running and wrestling and has received the old ‘proper playground behaviour ‘ talk a few times already. But the other boy said that he hadn’t done anything! He told me several times, in fact. Here’s the problem; when we are dealing with our students in delicate situations like these, we always want to be fair, but it can be really hard when 2 five year olds look at you and blind you with their cuteness and excellent fibbing skills. So, instead of being hasty and jumping to conclusions, I decided I would try again to ask my question, “Did you do that?” but this time, I told the student he could answer me with a thumbs up if he had done it, or a thumbs down if he hadn’t. When I repeated my question, he squirmed a few seconds, looked everywhere but at me, folded his arms, then, there it was, the thumb popped up. Now we could get somewhere!
I can only assume that it is more difficult to tell something that is not true when you cannot use your words, and I can only assume that it may even be a small kind of relief when your body just goes ahead and tells the truth. There is no more conflict or hole-digging once the gesture gets everything out in the open. I am not really sure why it worked, but it was a gentle way for a problem to be resolved and for me to help two little boys who had both gone too far in their actions, and, as a happy ending to this post, I am happy to report are still good friends.