One of the most effective and creative bullying-prevention programs is Bucket Filling, which stems from a 2006 book by Carol McCloud, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids. Today, there are bucket filling schools in many states and abroad, and data show that such programming reduces negativity, bullying or unkindness in schools by 86 percent.
Bullying in schools is an epidemic in our country. It is much more devastating to children today than in the past because of the prevalence of cyber-bullying. Home is no longer a safe haven because kids can’t escape this type of bullying; it follows them 24 hours a day.
I teach theatre at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. A few years ago, my four year old son Trey came home from school talking about bucket filling, and it gave me an idea; Carol McCloud’s book would make a wonderful theatrical adaptation.
I wrote to Ms. McCloud to ask for permission to adapt two of her award-winning books into a play with the title “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” She agreed, and off I went to create a play about elementary school kids; their summer camp counselor Mimi; Professor Smarty Pants III; and Bucket Filling Fairy, a magical creature who speaks in rhyme. The play’s humor, heart, larger-than-life characters, and audience participation make it both a fun and educational experience for children and adults alike.
The book and my play focus on how we all have an invisible bucket inside us, and we fill someone’s bucket when we say or do nice things. In turn, we dip into someone’s bucket when we say or do mean things. The story is essentially a modern take on the golden rule.
The bucket filling philosophy works as conflict resolution because children are empowered with the vocabulary necessary to express their feelings, allowing them to resolve difficulties in the moment without involving adults. For instance, a child says, “you know, that really dipped my bucket,” and the other child recognizes the wrongdoing and apologizes. I believe if we address bullying at an early age in this way, we can head off more serious problems later in a child’s life.
The play Have You Filled a Bucket Today? became available to the public in December of 2012 and has already been produced across the U.S., in Canada, and Australia. A variety of groups have directed the play: schools, theatre companies, churches, and character education groups. Some are producing the play at single venues, while others are touring it to schools.
Christine Kowanes, a teacher in the East Syracuse-Minoa Central School District, took her children to a production in Syracuse, New York. She commented that her kids “thoroughly enjoyed the actors, the humor and most importantly the message about lifting each other up and anti-bullying. The play has had a long-term impact on their lives, as two years later they will communicate to each other that they are either filling or dipping each other's buckets. Powerful! A must see for all children.”
Guidance Counselor Judy Butler of St. Mary MacKillop Primary School in Queensland, Australia, the site of the international premiere of the play in 2013, has stated that her “school is a richer community for investing the energy into producing Have You Filled a Bucket Today? as it is our way of creating a happier and more peaceful world, one bucket filling opportunity at a time.”
Research shows that young people respond positively to the arts. I believe that theatre can play an important role in bullying-prevention programming. I am confident that schools that use the play will see a decrease in bullying and an increase in civility among students. I’d be happy to communicate with any group that is interested in bringing the positive message of Have You Filled a Bucket Today? to their community. To learn more about the play, please visit www.bucketfillingplay.com.
Ann Marie Gardinier Halstead is an Associate Professor and Co-Chair of the Performance and Communication Arts Department at St. Lawrence University in northern New York where she teaches acting, directing and children's theatre. She has an MFA in Theatre Pedagogy/Directing from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BA in English/Secondary Education from Le Moyne College. Ann Marie is also an actor, director and author of the internationally-produced play Have You Filled a Bucket Today?. She is often invited to speak on the topic of the arts and bullying- prevention programming for such organizations as the American Association of University Women, Southeastern Theatre Conference, and the international television program The Big Picture With Thom Hartmann. For more information about the play and how Anti-Bullying Program Takes the Stage, please visit www.bucketfillingplay.com.