Saying Goodbye To “Be Careful!”

Yesterday, I was browsing Instagram over breakfast, and I saw the image below included in Carmelina Di Grigoli’s Instagram story.

This message really resonated with me because this is the message that my teaching partner, Paula, lives by. I remember her teaching me this very lesson when I came to the school just over three years ago.

It was the very first day that we took kids out to the forest. I was so excited to have a space where kids could explore nature, climb trees, and make discoveries. Imagine the oral language possibilities. As a Board, one of our strategic directions is to have “all kids reading by Grade 1,” and I really believe that the risk-taking, new vocabulary, and perseverance developed in this incredible outdoor space will help us reach our goals. But then, here I was watching children climb down the fallen tree, and I was terrified. What if they fall? How will they get around that hump? Should I be supporting them? As much as I wanted to explore other areas of the forest, I was stuck at the side of this tree, sure that the children needed me. I was also forever uttering the words that now I try to avoid: “Be careful!”

After school on that same day, Paula and I spoke about this forest experience. I shared my worries with her. She pushed back. She wondered if the concerns were about the kids or about me. “Did they have a plan for how to get down? Were they being mindful in their decisions? Were they being patient with each other?” All great questions, and a good opportunity for me to realize that I was the one that was scared. Not them. But by expressing my fears, was I increasing their panic and maybe even impacting on the success of the climb?

That day, I decided to spend more time watching and listening to Paula. How did she handle these scary moments? She never makes her voice portray fear. She also chooses her words carefully. Instead of saying, “Oh my gosh! You’re too high,” or “Be careful! You’re going to fall,” she asks, “Do you have a plan for getting down?” And do you know what? Kids do have plans. They’ll talk us through their plans. They’ll show us how careful and responsible they can be, and how they can support their friends in being the same. Climbing is never a competition, and we never put kids up on trees, nor do we get them off. Both are key! Kids climb when they’re ready, and some may never climb, and that’s okay.

We don’t have to utter the words, “Be careful!,” as children are, for they’ve also reflected on the decisions that they’re making. This reflection is so important. Just as we wants kids to reflect on academic areas (e.g., reading), we want them to reflect on their gross motor skill development. What’s the right choice for them, and when do these choices begin to change? Think about the potential here for classroom carryover. Assessment AS Learning is all about self-reflection. As kids consider their strengths and needs, realize their limits, learn to take safe risks (and realize what’s safe for them), they also become far more reflective, independent learners, thinkers, and problem-solvers. Isn’t this one of our biggest goals as educators? I wonder if a regular forage out to the forest might be the key to this kind of success.

I know that this forest space might not be the reality for everyone (or for many), but if it’s not, how else might we develop these same skills in a different environment? I think of the other times we say, “Be careful!” One of these moments presented itself this week.

In our classroom, we use real knives, graters, screwdrivers, and hammers. We have real glasses, mugs, and dishes in dramatic play. We’ve used a step ladder with kids.

There are many times that I’ve had to bite back the words, “Be careful,” and a few times that I’ve let them slip through. But then I think about the “competent and capable” line in the Kindergarten Program Document, and the many times kids show us just how competent and capable they are. If we want them to demonstrate these skills, do we also need to trust them with the tools and experiences that allow them to do so? What impact might doing so have on the kinds of kids that are going through our educational system? I’m thrilled that Paula helped me reframe my worries, and I hope that others have done the same. Kids will continually amaze us with just what they can do.


4 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye To “Be Careful!”

  1. Paula is an amazing educator. You are blessed to have her, and we are blessed to have you sharing her wisdom with us. Just like I’m trying to remove “you guys” from my vocabulary, I think I’d like to remove “be careful” as well. That Instagram post offers some good alternatives. I’m going to try and monitor myself, especially as I bring back my sewing machine into my library learning commons makerspace. When you hear yourself accidentally say “be careful”, what do you do, Aviva? Do you pretend like you didn’t say it? Apologize? Rephrase?

    • Thanks Diana! Paula is amazing, and I’m so glad that she’s gotten me to think differently. “You guys” is another term I try to avoid too, so I could definitely relate here. In both cases, how I respond depends on if I catch myself at the time. If I don’t, then I guess I ignore it. It’s these times that I hear the words in a recording and think, “I need to remember to change up my wording tomorrow.” If I catch myself, sometimes I apologize, and say, “I meant …,” and sometimes, I clarify my thinking. Really I explain why I wanted them to “be careful.” I’m far from perfect, but am certainly more aware of the words I’m using now, which I think is a good first step. Good luck!

      I love the idea of bringing back a sewing machine to your Makerspace. Will the Kindergarteners get to use it? I always wanted a sewing machine for the classroom, but never went in that direction, unsure of how much additional supervision it would require. I hope that you blog about this (hint, hint). 🙂


      • I love how you poke at my thinking! Many of my Makerspace supplies get brought out during recess, and my kindergarteners don’t usually access the library at that time. When I first brought a sewing machine to my library (inspired by Jenn Brown of Peel DSB) my principal was worried about students piercing their fingers with the needle so I had to promise that they’d be well supervised by me when using it. They use pins on their own, but had to be shown how at first.

        • Thanks Diana! I can see why this needle would be of concern. That said, I did have some goals a few years ago, of getting a sewing machine for our class. We had a child at the time that has one at home and is an expert sewer. She made a bag and a teddy bear that she brought in to share with the class, and kids were so excited to learn from her how to sew. We bought some needles and thread, but a sewing machine is different and has some different options for kids. In the end, I didn’t buy one, but I was very tempted. With an ECE in the classroom at the same time that the Kindergarteners are down there, I wonder if sewing (at any point during the year) might be a possibility. What a wonderful technology tool to use with kids. Your comment had me thinking!


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