POTOMAC, Md. (WUSA9)-- When does bullying begin? The patterns of how kids treat each other can develop at an early age, and a new school curriculum addresses the issue with the youngest students.
Puppets, colorful cutouts, and his many feline voices travel along with author Peter Goodman, who on this day is getting the rapt attention of a kindergarten class at the McLean School in Potomac, Maryland.
In his book, "We're All Different, But We're All Kitty Cats", Goodman describes the first day of school for a new class of cats, and one in particular named Carlos, a sphinx cat who doesn't have fur like his buddies.
Goodman describes his main character, "Carlos, because he is unique and different, he initially gets picked on. So that's kind of the crux of the story."
Goodman says of the story and the curriculum (Bully Free Students Make Bully Free Classrooms) that accompanies it: "The nice thing about the book is that younger kids can grasp these issues and older kids can grasp them in a more complex way."
Experts say this early focus on building student empathy for others can help prevent bullying later on, and teach kids that they need to intervene. One lesson on peer advocacy encourages 'upstanders' instead of 'bystanders' when a fellow classmate is targeted.
Licensed clinical social worker Karen Goldberg says some of the children she counsels can become anxiety- ridden and suffer physical ailments after being ostracized. She says this curriculum encourages the opposite of bullying, and teachers agree.
Blakely O'Bannon is a McLean kindergarten teacher. She says, "They immediately seemed to get the message, and what resonated with them more is feeling different. I think everybody, even kids as young as five, feel different in some way. Whether the way they look, or the way they think or learn."