What’s with the arrows and the bubbles?

Explaining things to very young Kindergarteners requires a special talent. I learned from Mrs. Rariden that when you are talking to five year olds, rather than saying “please have a seat,” you have to say “please make sure your bottom is on the chair, your feet are on the ground, and your head is facing forward.” Then they understand exactly what is expected and have a three-step plan for doing exactly what you want them to do.  They feel proud that they did it right, and the teacher gets the result she was looking for. After all, in the mind of a 5 year old who has never been to school before “have a seat” could mean all kinds of things: sit on the ground, sit facing backwards, sit on a desk, and so on. (A room full of brand new Kindergarteners would probably come up with 15 other ways to interpret that expression.)

When we started the school we knew that we’d need a way to ask the students to be quiet without shouting, and if possible, without even speaking. Shouting at them is not the best way to make things happen. Adults should be gentle around little ones, and anyway, if you shout, they’ll probably start shouting too. So, we invented something called Arrows Up, a hand signal where the first and middle fingers are extended. It’s like a peace sign, but with fingers together.

Following Mrs. Rariden’s principle of explaining everything in minute detail, in the very young grades, we taught the students that when you see Arrows Up, you puff out your cheeks and hold a bubble in your mouth. That makes it very difficult to talk, and it’s an extra reminder of what that arrow means. Plus, it shows the teacher that you understand her directions and you are following them.


Since the early days of Arrows Up, we’ve formed some interesting new habits:

We learned that new Kindergarteners need to be reminded that they can still breathe through their noses when they have bubbles in their mouths and that we don’t expect them to hold their breath any time they’re in the hallway. (But thank you, little ones, for your commitment to the bubble before we explained that to you.)


We learned that when you have a bubble in your mouth, it’s very difficult to say hello to the adults in the hallway who say hello to you as you walk by. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said “good morning” to a group of 5 or 6 year olds only to put them in a moral crisis about whether to pop the bubble and greet me back or not.) So, now there’s a way to wave at someone who’s saying hello to you while keeping your arrows up–just use those two fingers.


Sometimes if the class is being a little too loud and one of the students is finding it hard to concentrate he or she (let’s be honest, usually she) will just raise up an arrow and the class will begin to quiet down.


Those of us who are especially committed will sometimes raise two arrows.


At volleyball games, when we’re at game point, the crowd and the bench raise an arrow in solidarity with the girls on the court.


Arrows Up works surprisingly well with high school students, and at our first graduation it worked with game show hosts, too.


Just one of the funny things about working here every day.