General Bank Street News

Talking To Kids About Hurricane Sandy

Posted by Lesley Koplow on November 06, 2012

As children return to school, they will bring a range of experiences related to the impact of Hurricane Sandy. While the children may welcome the return to the familiar routines of the classroom, teachers will need to make room for the emotional reactions that are likely to be a result of the storm.  

The following guidelines may be helpful for preschool through 3rd grade classrooms.

Use meeting time to check in with your class about Hurricane Sandy.

Even the youngest children will have something to say about the storm. Begin meeting with your usual ritual to greet one another (song, etc). Then move to the topic of the storm. Say something like, “We didn’t have school for so many days because of the storm. Now that we are back together, let’s talk about what happened. Who wants to start?” Call on kids and let them tell their stories, make comments, or ask questions.

Use reflective language to affirm the validity of each child’s experiences.

You may hear things that are upsetting or scary or tragic.  When you hear something that is important, invite other children to contribute and respond with reflective language.

Child: When the storm came, the policeman said “you have to get out!” We had to go to the shelter and my baby brother was crying.

Teacher: Did anyone else have to go to a shelter or leave their house because of the storm?

Child 2: We went to my grandma’s house, because the wind broke the porch and my mommy was screaming. My grandma had a big lake in her yard, and a dead bird was floating there.

Teacher: That sounds really scary. So many people saw things that were sad or scary when the hurricane came. Some children had to leave their houses because their houses were close to the water.

Child 3: I stayed in my house and watched the hurricane on T.V. Then I watched Netflix all day.

Be aware that children will have a range of experience, and that experiences all along the continuum will need time and space to be shared. Please keep in mind that when children have had troubling experiences and there is no invitation to share them, they are more likely to act themselves out in the classroom through negative behavior.

Tell the children that sometimes at school they may be thinking about what happened when the storm came, and the different things that are still happening because of the storm.  

When they are thinking about the storm, they can draw or paint pictures about it, or tell the teacher to write down their stories about it, or do some pretend play about it.*

Stock the bookshelf.

In the weeks and months that follow the storm, make sure that you have books on the shelf that include titles such as: 

  • A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams
  • Everyone Feels Sad Sometimes by Marcia Aboff
  • A House for Hermit Crab by Eric Carle
  • Jenny is Scared! (When Sad Things Happen in the World) by Carol Shuman
  • Storm in the Night by Mary Stolz
  • A Terrible Thing Happened by Margaret M. Holmes
  • A Home by Nola Langner Malone
  • The Longest Wait by Marie Bradby
  • Flood by M. Calhoun
  • All of a Sudden Susan by E. James
  • The Little House by Virginia Burton

When you use one of these books during read aloud, ask kids if the story reminds them of anything, and listen to what they have to say. 

(Many of the titles above are available at Bank Street Bookstore.)

Other Tips

Make blank books for kids with a title like, “My Book About Hurricane Sandy” and let them draw, dictate, or write in it when they want to.

Make sure that dramatic play corners have a few suitcases to play with.   

If you have large empty boxes available, you can offer them to kids to make boats, fire trucks, etc.**

Four and five year olds are very interested in superheroes. Inventing a storm-fighting superhero would be a welcome and interesting curricular project for them during this time.

Second and third graders may be interested in understanding more about hurricanes. For example, they might like to know more about how hurricanes work, how they are named, history of storms, how weather is predicted, etc. This kind of study may offer older children a sense of mastery over the event.

First through third grade children may benefit from having pen-pals who live elsewhere and have experienced hurricanes in the past so that they can feel connected to other children who have come through this experience.

Teachers, administrators, and school social workers should keep in mind that children regress when they are stressed, have had changes in their daily routines, and are surrounded by overwhelmed adults. Therefore, children who have experienced the most severe effects of Sandy will need to come back to low stress, comforting classroom environments that anticipate regression.

The children who will need the most comfort and support from teachers and other staff members are those children who have experienced loss or trauma as a result of the hurricane AND have traumatic histories prior to this event. These children may have lost ground accomplished in the first few months of school, and may need teachers to help them find their equilibrium in the classroom, as they did when school began in September.

Footnotes

*Head Start, child care and early grades public school programs that use curriculums from Unsmiling Faces: How Preschools Can Heal may find the following curriculums useful in the weeks and months after the storm:

  • Go Away Come Back
  • Hurting and Healing
  • Affect Curriculums
  • Messy/Clean
  • Lost and Found
  • Together/Apart
  • Light/Dark
  • Some Things Change, Some Things Stay the Same

**If your classroom uses ERP’s Teddy Bears in the classroom curriculum, consult "Guidelines for Use of Teddy Bears in Times of Crisis" in Creating Schools That Heal, and "Bears in Bad Times" in Bears, Bears Everywhere: Supporting Children’s Emotional Health in the Classroom.

About the Author

Lesley Koplow is a clinical social worker, teacher, and author who lives in New York City. She is the Director of the Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice at Bank Street College and a psychotherapist in private practice. She has worked in the field of early childhood mental health for many years, and writes books for and about children. She also enjoys drawing and doing collage.