Talking to Children about their bodies, safety, and personal boundaries can be a challenge to even the most seasoned educator. A turtle offers a wonderful concrete example of self-care and safety planning by nature; it has that beautiful shell. When a turtle is scared or needs alone time it can just pop into its shell. This action is a useful visual metaphor for children because it provides an opening for talking about safety and boundaries. A turtle also honours the territory in which we do our work – Six Nations of the Grand.
A few years ago, while working as an occasional teacher and a community educator for a sexual assault centre in Brantford, Ontario, I began developing a sexual assault prevention program for children and teens. I created a set of characters with which to talk about sexual assault and to empower young people to articulate their boundaries and their right to healthy and happy bodies. Taylor the Turtle was born.
The Taylor the Turtle program focuses on the human right to safety and well-being of all kinds. Rather than invoking frightening scenarios like good touch/bad touch and stranger danger, Taylor the Turtle is intended to help students learn how to articulate their health and safety needs in a clear, assertive, non-aggressive way. Taylor wants children to know they have the right to a safe body, a healthy body, a safe school, and a safe community – and the right to talk to someone when they do not feel safe. Studies have found that children who are well connected to their bodies and can express their needs have a lower chance of being abused, or if they have been abused are more willing to share that experience with a caring adult. Taylor the Turtle teaches children emotional literacy and helps them connect their bodies, their feelings, and their expression.
Each Taylor the Turtle presentation is modified for the audience. In one secondary-level special education class we divided the class into six groups and assigned them each a lesson card. Together in their group they had to come up with a way to teach the lesson to their classmates. Last year in an elementary school, we met with a primary class three times. The first time we explored the lessons of Taylor, the second we did a craft that reflected the values of the program, and the third we introduced the class to living tortoises.