SEL Tip: Pass the Quiet

Watch, read about — and try! — this 'snippet of magic' for younger elementary students. 


pass the quiet

I’d like to start this SEL Tip with a shout-out to Mr. Holifield, a master teacher who introduced me to this “snippet of magic” many years ago in his pre-K classroom at Atlanta’s Dunbar Elementary School.

In the years since, I’ve found that the activity, which I call Pass the Quiet, has an almost mystical power to thrill Pre-K to 2nd grade students – and get them to center, calm themselves, and focus in a positive and exciting way.

Here’s how Mr. Holifield did it: 

Sitting on the rug, surrounded by the wiggly, excitable bodies of his pre-K students, he would cup his hands, and, looking as if he was hardly able to contain himself, he’d whisper to his students “I have the quiet.” He’d glance into his cupped hands, then look back up at his students, repeating the fact that he had the quiet. His excitement was contagious, yet quiet and contained.

Students, intrigued by what Mr. Holifield was doing, would mostly stop talking and lean in to find out what was happening. He’d ask his students in a very quiet, low, but excited voice if they’d like to get the quiet as well. He used expressive body language and facial expressions to accentuate his words. Captivated by his excitement, his students would inevitably want to hear the quiet for themselves.

I have found this to be true in lower elementary schools across the country, whenever I get ready to pass them the quiet in this way. Students pick up on the quiet excitement and will almost certainly want to be a part of it.  

So I put my cupped hands up to my ear and listen intently. You might consider it yourself — nod enthusiastically, confirming that the quiet is in there. Invite students to put their hands out, like a cup. Then pour (yes POUR!) the quiet into the hands of the student sitting next to you. Encourage them to put their hands up to their ear to listen:

Can you hear it? …
Good …
Pass it on … 

Point and demonstrate. Use your body language and facial expressions to encourage and maintain the enthusiasm while the quiet moves around the space, from student to student.   

At the end, when the quiet is passed back to me, I usually tuck it into my pocket, quite carefully.

After reflecting on the experience with students, I’ve also given pieces of the quiet to the teacher to put in a safe place in their desk so that it can be taken out and shared as needed.

Students like the idea of being able to come back to the quiet in particularly noisy moments. Some students will even ask for a piece to take home with them. They recognize, as we do, that we need moments of calm and quiet throughout the day to be able show up as our best selves and to do our best work.

This was the case in Molly Heekin’s second grade classroom in Woodstock, NY, a few weeks back. For her students, as for so many others, being back in school after the stresses of Covid and other hardships has provoked both excitement and anxiety – feelings that can be hard to contain, especially in the early grades.

Last week I got a text from Molly that read:

For our closing today the kids wanted to do Marieke’s “pass the quiet.” They have been sooooooo hyper and frustrated and emotional the past three days. This video is a snippet of magic: 



Note: In the video, the “quiet” is part way around the circle already when Molly recognized the magic of the moment and started filming. Look for the girl in the blue t-shirt on the right, furthest away from the camera. The video starts with her passing “the quiet” to her neighbor in the jeans-colored tunic. 

Enjoy – and pass the quiet!