Charlie, Charlie, Are You Here (In Art Class)?


I will write about many things. Sometimes, it will be about the warm and fuzzy things. At other times, it will be about mundane things. Occasionally, though, I will comment on the bizarre (but no less important when working with kids)!

Today’s post is one of those latter posts: just plain bizarre. I chose to write on it because my experience yesterday served as a potent reminder to how sensitive we need to be with our younger students. What is funny to one child, is horrifying to another! Religious beliefs can also play a major role in helping or hindering coping.

Charlie Who?

distractions_in_the_artroom_charlie_challengeFads come and go. Scary fads have a tendency to be more disruptive and hang about a bit. The Charlie Challenge seems to be a recent fad you may or may not have heard about on the news or read about online. I had no clue about it, frankly, until a boy hinted at playing it to one of the girls at his table while I was working with another student on the other side of the room. Well, it reduced one boy and three girls to tears and quickly spiraled this Third Grade class out of control!

Now, as reports indicate, The Charlie Challenge is not unlike previous nonsense such as Bloody Mary. Instead of speaking into a mirror or shiny object in the hopes of getting the down-low from some apparition named ‘Mary’, you use two pencils, a piece of paper, and the name of a supposed Mexican demon named ‘Charlie.’ (And since when do Mexican demons call themselves by American names? Hello?!)

At its most harmless, the concept is very much akin to the Magic 8 Ball. At its worst, you have kids putting a new spin on Ouija boards and making light of occult practices.

Distractions in the Classroom

Regardless of the origins of this new pastime, the damage was done. I had a class that had gone from mark-making (finishing up Pointillist landscapes) to mayhem. I try to keep talk down to a minimum in my class. I know, I know. They’re kids, right? However, I do this because I have seen the positive benefits in their work when talking is kept to minimum (especially when I see them only eight days in a quarter!). But, that’s a post for another day.

I had three girls and one boy upset. While it is important to know when to allow kids to cry, this was a whole different beast and, frankly, I was at a loss initially how to address it. The boy never really let on that he was upset until the end of class. I’m not sure he was being manipulative or whether he was feeling remorse over not being truthful with me about a situation that occurred earlier. Regardless, the three girls in near hysterics were my top concern. On top of that, the counselor who I tried to call the previous day was out again. Therefore, I began where I always begin and moved through my normal steps of being a peacemaker.

STEP 1: Confessing and Forgiving

When the original incident came up, the boy starting it all did not realize he was causing such distress to his classmate. Once he realized that, he apologized to her. The young lady, wiping tears from her eyes, accepted his apology and I told them to take a deep breath and not to bring it up again. In my class, confession and forgiveness are key components even if students do not use that exact language.

She did a fine job—until a piece of paper near her and her friend shifted slightly. They shared a glance and, with their imaginations already primed for paranoia, the tears started again because they believed this to be a sign that Charlie was in their midst. <sigh>

STEP 2: Giving Space, Time, and Encouragement

In this particular situation, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. It was a half day and my class was on a limited schedule. To top it off, dismissal was beginning. So, I tried to ride the wave of distraction in the hopes that busyness would insulate these children from further emotional turmoil. I quickly got supplies and artwork collected. I then sent the bus kids to the bus rooms and took the rest of the kids outside to their parents. As we walked I allowed the girls to find solace in one another. Periodically, I provided a nurturing pat on the back. When we got outside, I gave a little hug here and there but I didn’t engage them in more conversation about ‘Charlie’. My strategy worked on two of the three girls, and they calmed down.

STEP 3: Engaging Administration & Parents

Making administration aware of issues like this is important too simply because if it is happening in one class, odds are it is occurring in others. Sometimes administration will address the entire school or the specific grade that seems to be sparking the trouble (which is what happened in my school).

I spoke to these parents and alerted them to The Charlie Challenge and its affect upon their child that day. In this case, all three parents knew about ‘Charlie’ and were appreciative of the heads up.


The next day, I overheard a student discussing ‘Charlie’ again and spreading misinformation. I quickly intercepted the conversation and politely, but firmly, told him what he was saying was not true. I had anticipated such discussion going on and had up a few websites about ‘Charlie’ and was ready to shed light on the silliness if so challenged. I wasn’t so I did not pursue it further.

A student told later me that the principal had come in and talked to each of the Third Grade classes about The Charlie Challenge and forbade it being played on school property. Sounds good by me, though I would have loved to dispel the mystery surrounding it and used it as a teachable moment. You could have discussed cultural and religious inconsistencies as well as simple logical explanations. (It could have been fun!)

Mundane Distractions

What happened in class yesterday was not your normal run-of-the-day distraction. Teachers will tell you there is a continuum of distraction ranging from a quick discussion about what was on television last night to something bizarre or emotionally heartbreaking that stops the class and demands attention. Learning to handle each situation takes patience and grace. 

Most of the time, I handle such distractions using my classroom management plan. Numbers 1 and 2 above are involved in situations where there are hurtful words spoken or there is harm to another student. Depending on the level of injury, I will involve the principal. But, such things are governed by your school’s discipline policies. As many who work in an elementary school setting—especially during lunch time and/or recess—kids putting their hands on one another (mostly accidentally!) or saying unkind things happens so frequently it can be dizzying!

Have you had any bizarre occurrences or interactions with cultural flares such as The Charlie Challenge? How do you handle them?

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2 responses to “Charlie, Charlie, Are You Here (In Art Class)?

  1. I really appreciate the way you handled this situation. I too am sorry that you didn’t get the chance to impart your newfound knowledge of this topic to your students. The best way to help them “get over” these fads is with the facts, the truth, and by giving them an opportunity to chime in with questions or their view of it. Allowing them to discuss topics is SO telling and would have given you extra insight into their personalities and character. When their creativity is flowing, and they feel a little freedom, I find that students begin to open up. Great job teach.


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