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Nora McNamara
October 20, 2015
The Power of Nico
To introduce a theory of the mind to the children so that they can understand why
at times children have difficult behaviors when upset. To reintroduce the Power of
Two cube for further exploration. To encourage an attitude of hopeful empathy.
Powers of Two cube, prepared labels, and photographs.
This is Niko.
Indicate photograph.
Niko is a brand new Montessori Elementary student. He’s 6 years old. He likes to ride his
bicycle, play with Legos, and eat pizza, like lots of 6 year olds. Unlike a lot of other 6
year olds though, Niko has a very difficult time managing himself when he gets angry.
Sometimes he hits, sometimes he yells, sometimes he throws things. Other children tend
to leave him alone, because they don’t like that.
Indicate cube.
Nora McNamara
October 20, 2015
Here’s Niko, all alone. He’s lonely most of the time, and also ashamed about the things
he says and does when he is very angry. The feeling ashamed is a secret feeling, so most
people just see the angry feelings. He has no power.
Place label.
N X 1= 1
This is Niko’s Guide, Anna.
Indicate picture
Anna has been looking forward to having Niko join her community all summer long.
Niko’s parent(s) were able to describe some of his difficulties managing his angry
behavior when he gets upset, and they were also able to share some of the maybe reasons
why this happens to him. Anna notices the other children staying away from Niko, so he
spends almost all of his time very close to Anna, observing many presentations,
sometimes working alone (but not very often!), sometimes wandering around the
classroom doing nothing much, and sometimes getting very angry and upset over various
and particular things that happen that might only bother some children just a little bit.
In order to stay calm and work with friends in the classroom, Anna knows that THESE
parts of the brain should be in charge, the thinking parts of our brain that we call the
cerebral cortex.
Indicate picture:
Nora McNamara
October 20, 2015
Anna also knows that when Niko gets very angry, THIS part of the brain is in charge, the
amygdala, which cannot think or reason at all. The amygdalae only allow us to react very
quickly without even thinking, so that a person either runs away very quickly, or puts up
a fight.
Indicate picture:
Anna and Niko spent a lot of time together at the beginning of the school year. Niko was
part of pretty much every single presentation, ate his lunch at Anna’s table, and noticed
she was always very close on the playground. They tried many new activities in order to
Nora McNamara
October 20, 2015
see just what kind of work was most likely to lead to Niko being able to use that thinking
part of his brain more easily. They tried gardening, but that wasn’t helpful. Niko wasn’t
fond of getting soil on his hands or clothes. They tried sewing, but that wasn’t helpful.
Niko had trouble controlling the smaller muscles in his hands and wrists, and then he
poked his finger with a needle and was very angry with Anna! They tried drumming,
which Niko liked, but maybe he liked it too much because the other children complained
about the noise, so the drum had to take a permanent vacation.
They tried many, many kinds of work, and all the while, Anna would tell Niko every day,
every single day, how happy she was to have him in her classroom, how she loved him,
and how she noticed his bravery in sticking with her and the classroom despite it being
such hard work for him. She knew that Niko needed to hear these messages often, so that
he could really know for certain that she loved him exactly the way he was. Soon, Niko
wasn’t all alone, because he knew that Anna loved him and believed it with his whole
Indicate and place second cube, flip first label, and place next label:
Anna was Niko’s first friend, which meant Niko was got some power! As luck would
have it, Anna and Niko eventually found work that he really enjoyed: making pizza
dough. This is hard work, and it takes a long time. Try kneading 2 pounds of pizza dough
for 20 minutes if you don’t believe me! Niko was able to really practice learning to use
the thinking and listening and calming parts of his brain, the cerebral cortex, and his
classroom was able to enjoy a lot of pizza.
As Niko was able to spend more time using the thinking and listening and calming parts
of his brain, Anna and Niko were able to have some conversations about one of the things
that would often lead to Niko getting very angry, and with Anna’s help, Niko was able to
think up some new ideas of things he could try instead when that one thing happened
again, and he practiced and practiced using these new ideas, and one of those things
really worked!
Sophia and Deandre, who were two other children in the classroom, asked Niko one
morning if they might help with the pizza dough work, which led to pizza-making work,
which led to Niko being invited to sit with them at lunch, and later to sometimes do other
kinds of work with them. Not to say that Niko still didn’t get angry—he sure did! He
continued to have many conversations with Anna when his brain was focused and calm,
and practiced even more new ideas to try, and sometimes Sophia and Deandre would
Nora McNamara
October 20, 2015
have conversations with Anna and Niko as well. Having 2 more friends helped Niko
grow his heart and his brain. He had more power!
Indicate and place yellow prism, flip over previous label, place next label:
N X 2 X 2=4
One week, Sophia and Deandre were both out sick with diarrhea. It happens. Niko felt
lonely and lost without them, and decided to make them get well cards. He didn’t know
how to spell “diarrhea”, so he asked Monique for help, and she didn’t know, so they
asked Taj, and he didn’t know, so they all went and asked Bree B. and Bree M. who were
not only the oldest girls in the class, but they were also best friends. Bree B. and Bree M.
didn’t know how to spell “diarrhea” either, but they DID know how to use the dictionary
in the classroom, and showed the younger children how to look up words. And all of
them added “diarrhea” to their personal spelling dictionaries, and without even knowing
it, Niko had even MORE power!
Indicate and place green prism, flip over previous label, place next label:
N X 2 X 2 X 2 =8
Anna continued to have conversations with Niko from time to time, as new things would
seem to result in sometimes Niko losing his ability to manage his reactions when angry,
and he continued to think of new things to try instead and to practice those new ideas.
And he continued to practice having these kinds of conversations with his new friends,
and he grew more and more skillful at keeping the calm and thinking parts of his brain in
One sunny Tuesday in October, Sarah, James, Joe, Chardonnay, Ahmed, Charles,
Sayeed, and Nailah asked Niko for a lesson in how to make pizza dough, and then they
all decided to work together on a timeline of the history of pizza. And Niko’s heart grew
again, and he had even more power.
Indicate and place yellow cube, flip previous label, place next label:
Nora McNamara
October 20, 2015
N X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 =16
Niko and Anna continued to have many conversations about even newer situations that
could lead to his brain switching to no-thinking-only-angry-acting mode, but he didn’t
need these convos all the time anymore, and he didn’t need to almost always be with
Anna anymore either. The more he talked about his new ideas of things to try “next time”
a situation might lead to angry behavior, and the more he practiced his new ideas, the less
often it happened, and the stronger Niko’s brain became at being able to think clearly and
Niko was invited to join Sheila, Arturo, Elan, Paul, Marika, Espoire, Olivia, and Frances
for penguin research. He planned a Going Out with Will, Anton, Marquel, and Izzy to see
an electron microscope. He was invited to spend the night at Jamil’s house, and Peter,
Marco, and Sam spent the night too.
Indicate and place white prism, flip previous label, place next label:
N x 2 x 2 x 2 X 2 x 2 = 32
In the springtime, Niko’s class decided to put on a musical play with the other
Elementary class. Which was so much fun, and now Niko had 32 more friends to work
with and grow with. And the loneliest boy with no power when he first started this
journey was now fully part of a large community, a boy who had learned how to work
hard and to love fully, and with much more power!
Indicate and place green prism, flip previous label, place next label:
Nora McNamara
October 20, 2015
N x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 64
I have many more stories to tell you about children and how their brains develop, but
those are stories for another day. You might like to write a story about how you are
helping your brain grow too.
Carter R (2010). Mapping the Mind. University of California Press, Berkeley California.
Greene, R (2014). Lost at school: why our kids with behavioral challenges are falling
through the cracks and how we can help them. Scribner: New York.