When “What The [Bleep]?!” Becomes A Learning Opportunity

I’ve sat on this post for a while, but it has such a good title that I just had to publish it before the year was through. There are some topics that kindergarteners find particularly intriguing. Number 1 on the list is anything to do with the bathroomAs adults, we want kids to leave the bathroom words in the bathroom, but the forbidden nature of these words and the grossness factor, makes toilet talk the best kind of talk for three- to five-year-olds. My teaching partner, Paula, and I try to stop a lot of this talk, but we also ignore some with the hope that it will go away on its own. If not, a sign always works well. 🙂

And number 2 on the list is bad words. I’ve learned over the years that these words can vary depending on the students. I’ve been told that hate is a bad word. Understood. Other kids have seemed to create a scale of bad words. Many years ago (and a few schools ago), a kindergarten child came up to me to tell me that a friend told him to, “Sh** Up!” When I called the child over to find out what happened, his first words to me were, “I did NOT tell him to F*** Off!” Good to know. He did own up to the words that he said — and why he said them — but he certainly knew that his words were not the worst ones that he could have uttered.

I would like to believe in the innocence of young children, but in a world that includes YouTube, social media, and adult conversations (trust me: kids will always hear and remember the one thing that you don’t want them to), most kids have heard a variety of swear words by the time that they come to school. Some have experimented with saying them. I’ve heard stories before of the two-year-old who hears the F Word, and has to say it to every person he/she meets, regardless of the embarrassment that it might bring to parents. It happens. Live and learn. Kids learning where and when to use different vocabulary is important. Think about media literacy and a focus on audience. We need to be aware of the people in front of us and the choices we make. As kindergarten educators, part of what Paula and I do is help students understand this audience component … and words that belong at school and those that do not. 

Keep all of this in mind then for my little story. We were heading outside one wintery morning with the class. Paula went at the front of the line, and I was helping a few stragglers get their mittens and hats on at the back. When we got outside, I had already missed the excitement … if you want to call it that. A child took one look around, glanced at a few friends, and said, “What the f***?!” Oh my! Thankfully the words were uttered quietly enough that just a couple of children in the vicinity of the child, heard. Paula got kids off to play, and then called the child over to talk. She asked, “Why did you say that?” The student replied, “Because look at all of that snow!” When the kids came inside this morning, it was just starting to snow, but a few minutes later, the back playground was covered in it. A surprise … and the word choice was indicative of this surprise in the student’s mind. Paula went over with the child some other things to say instead, like, “Oh my goodness!” or “I wasn’t expecting that!” They spoke about the importance of not uttering these other words at school, and the problem was resolved.

The interesting thing about this is that the friends that overheard the comment were less focused on the statement and more intrigued by the spelling. What?! Paula overheard these kids talking about how they might spell “f***.”

  • “We hear the /k/. Is it with a C?”
  • “Maybe it’s a K.”
  • “You know those words that have a C and K together. Could this be a CK word?”

To think that group of four- and five-year-old boys were chatting about spelling rules. I’m not suggesting that we make our next inquiry about profanity or even extend this kind of spelling, but it’s interesting to think that their interest was around word formation. Could all of our signs, writing, and reading be making a difference? Quite possibly! I kind of love how this became a mature chat about writing, even if it’s not the kind of mature chat that we’ll be extending anytime soon. 

The message is still out there not to swear, and this child never did so again, but there’s this little unexpected rainbow in the midst of the rain. How might classroom and home learning positively present itself in some unexpected circumstances? Paula and I are all about finding learning in all that kids say and do. I just didn’t expect a swear word to lead to literacy learning, but you just never know. Do you? As school begins again in another week, listen closely. What might you hear and see? Kids, like adults, are always learning.


4 thoughts on “When “What The [Bleep]?!” Becomes A Learning Opportunity

  1. Oh, Aviva, I laughed! That spelling conversation is truly one for the ages. I could totally hear them in my head. How much fun is that? Those are the moments, truly, when you realize that the input you are offering is making a difference. Thanks for sharing this.

    Had an interesting moment a few weeks ago. My students had had a rough period with a supply teacher, who tried to “throw shade” at my sarcastic Grade 7 girls. Bad idea, and the teacher came to see me after school and we talked it through, which was awesome learning. My students and I debriefed a little, and then tried to move on to some ukulele playing. One of my students was finding it regulating to play right after he’d been asked not to, and when I, in frustration, explained that when people repeated an action after being asked not to, it could be interpreted as being done to “piss the teacher off” (admittedly not my best choice of words). There was an intake of breath around the room, and my students made it clear that this was not appropriate teacher language. I even got a quick discussion from my wonderful admin the next morning, because a parent had called. It was a bit of an “aha” moment – grade 7 students do not necessarily expect to be called on their language, but they do expect standards from you. Really quite fascinating.

    • Thanks for the comment, Lisa! Glad that I could add a little humour to your day. I have to say that it was hard not to chuckle (and celebrate) at the time, as we did want to emphasize that swearing at school is not okay, but we also kind of loved the critical spelling discussion that it inspired.

      Thanks for also sharing your story. I’m guessing that it’s not just Grade 7 students who have these language standards for teachers. While I haven’t let certain words slip into discussions before, I have had a few close calls. We are human, and occasionally, just like kids, words slip through our filter. Maybe this becomes an opportunity then to model an apology and admit to flaws just like we might hope our students would do. Or maybe it’s a case of live, learn, slowly forget, and hope to remember some different words the next time. 🙂


      • I think that’s it. Having that count to 10 moment and saying “that can be really frustrating for a teacher”. Yup, constantly refining my vocabulary for context….

        • Absolutely Lisa! We often remind our students to pause and think first (I can’t count the number of times that I’ve suggested to kids to “breathe and count to 10”), and I guess this advice is just as good for adults. With educators often trying to do many things at the same time, and always aware of time constraints, maybe at times, we pause less than we should. I know that this is most certainly true for me. Hmmm … you’re making me think about my “one word” for 2020.


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