By Elyse Jacobs
Four boys filled the small couch at an all school sing-a-long. A three-year-old left his class and toddled his way across the room. I could see that he clearly wanted to join his older brother although there seemed to be no room on the crowded couch.
One boy moved his legs, freeing a tiny space on the couch. The younger boy remained still, neither moving nor speaking. The three other boys appeared not to notice, intent on watching another class take the stage.
Then, spontaneously, without words, each boy shifted very slightly. One by one they inched closer together, opening up a space just big enough for the smaller boy who then climbed up and joined them on the couch.
Later, I reflected on this small act of kindness that had touched me so deeply. I thought of the many acts of kindness that can go unnoticed and how important it is to recognize and acknowledge them. In doing we so, we help children become more aware of what kindness is, thus helping them to develop it.
When a 5-year-old heard that one of his dads had climbed a tall ladder to hang netting in the dramatic play area of our room, he asked me how to spell the words for this note: “Thank you Papa for making a difference.”
How We Can Help Develop Kindness in Children
· Identify it aloud when kindness is expressed. Call it by name with details of the act itself.
· Notice when a child does or says something kind and model for the other children saying thank you. “That was very kind of you to write a note to your Papa. Thank you, Dash.”
· Acknowledged acts of kindness are contagious. A teacher or adult’s reinforcement of an act of kindness can spread through the room, causing others to find ways to be kind.
· Help children transform unkind acts or words into alternative actions, words or tone. “Is there a kinder way to say that to your friend?”, “Is there another way you could have stopped her from getting ahead of you in line without digging your nails into her arm?”
Activities to Promote Kindness:
There are many activities that will help children to recognize self-kindness and the kindness of others. Here are a few more to add to your tools of peace.
Classrooms use paper chains, circles of paper looped together, to celebrate different occasions. Let’s celebrate kindness by having the children write or dictate acts of kindness on cut pieces of paper. Make interconnected loops and attach to an ongoing chain in recognition of kindness given or received by the children. Hang it across the room and watch it grow, as illustrated in the Prairie Dog photo.
o Kindness Sculpture. As an alternative, you can add to any collaborative sculpture already hanging in your room. We began connecting pieces of paper on which were written acts of kindness witnessed or initiated by the children. The children attached the paper with string or pipe cleaners to the wall sculpture that has been growing over the years: Each time a child recognized an act of kindness contributed by self or others, they added to the sculpture.
o The concept of interconnection, who we are as part of community, is subtly but concretely stated and can be referred to as needed for a learning moment.
· Kindness is…
Have the children express how they feel when someone is kind to them; when they are kind to others. You can write down their ideas and attach to a group sculpture or explore other ways of displaying their answers.
· When I Am Kind, I Feel…
Have them name the feeling. This builds emotional literacy. See if they can point to a place in their body where the feeling lives. Some point to their heart, others their heads. Still others may feel a warmth or other body sensation. If they feel nothing at all, they are still learning by hearing of the feelings of others. This, too, helps develop emotional literacy.
To create a more peaceful world, offer kindness as a prescription and preventative for aggression. We can do our part to help transform our world by teaching kindness.
In the words of Maria Montessori:
"Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war."