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  • Lindsay Weiner

Creating A Culture of Kindness

Updated: Nov 16, 2021

Helping young children practice kindness takes teaching, patience, and lots of positive reinforcement. Kindness draws on several SEL competencies including self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills and decision-making, skills that grow with time and development. World Kindness Day on November 13th, 2021 offers an opportunity to help children realize that people are engaging in big and small acts of kindness across our global community. To support kindness conversations, here’s a roundup of some of my favorite ideas:

Activate Prior Knowledge

In this Edutopia article, A Culture of Kindness in Early Childhood Classrooms, the authors highlight several important ideas. I especially love beginning with activating and building upon children’s prior knowledge. Ask them what kindness means? And remember that kindness is not just about caring for ourselves and others but the world around us. You can ask kids what kindness looks like (what would we see?), feels like (how does it help us feel?) and sounds like (what would we hear?). Activating children's prior knowledge gives us a window into how children interpret the idea of kindness and a jumping off platform for further learning.

Discuss how Acts of Kindness Can Be Both Big and Small

Remind children that kindness comes in all sizes. It can be something as small as a smile or a hug to donating extra food to a food bank but both small and big acts of kindness are important to acknowledge. Try to point out how great it made you feel when someone held the door open for you in the supermarket or when a friend made you laugh.

Read Stories that Focus on Kindness

Stories activate a child's imagination and help them understand how another character is feeling. We can also help children think about decisions characters make and how and why they might have acted in a kind or unkind way. Research supports the connection between reading and empathy and we can facilitate that connection through questions and conversation. Here are three of my favorites: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, If You Plant A Seed by Kadir Nelson and Hey Little Ant by Phillip and Hanna Hoose.

Teach Kids to be Kind to Themselves

It is easy to forget to be kind to ourselves. Brainstorm and teach kids about kind and positive messages they can tell themselves when they're frustrated, such as “Pobody’s Nerfect”, “I can take a break” or “I can’t do it yet”. Other ways to be kind to oneself include taking a deep breath and making sure to get enough sleep.

Notice Feelings

Learning to recognize your own feelings and those of others helps children develop self-awareness and empathy, an important prerequisite to kindness. Support kids by noticing body language, tone of voice and facial expressions and wonder out loud how someone might be feeling based on these cues. There are many wonderful books and playful games to help children develop awareness of feelings. Make sure to check out this link for some great game ideas!

Reflect Reflection is a critical part of learning and helps us commit them to memory. We can help children reflect by acknowledging kind gestures whether it's taking turns on the swings or helping a classmate open their lunchbox. Reflection can occur as a whole class practice and helps positively reinforce children's behavior and show children that we notice what they do and how they act.

Practice and Acknowledge Kindness at a School Level

Take stock of the ways you practice kindness as a school and consider ideas for school wide practices. Ideas include pairing classrooms to do something kind for each other and brainstorming ideas such as making bookmarks or decorating another classroom’s door. Lift up someone in your school community who is often under recognized, such as a member of the lunch staff, a custodian, security guard or front office staff. Children can conduct interviews and write and decorate a thank you card expressing appreciation for all the work they do in the school. Still another idea is to make it common practice as a class to call a child who is sick and absent from school, a lovely way to send a caring message and remind children that their classmates and friends are missing them and wishing them better!

Family Engagement

Don't forget to include families in your effort. Children can generate lists of ways to be kind and share those ideas at home. Invite families to adopt an idea on the list and engage them in a conversation about kindness. For example, "how do you and your family practice kindness at home or in your community?" Whether it's a family birthday ritual of making a donation to a charitable cause, donating old toys, helping out with household chores, or participating in a local community clean up, sharing ideas between school and home reinforces to children the value of kindness in our homes and in our schools.

Practice "Kindness Do-Overs"

Practicing kindness with young children takes practice, patience, reinforcement and also forgiveness. Offer kids an opportunity to do a kindness do-over, that is, make a different choice. To model what this looks like and sounds like, reflect on a choice you made and engage kids in a conversation about how you might do a kindness do-over or act differently next time.

Kindness is a garden, the fruits of which need constant watering. Taking time out for World Kindness Day on November 13th can be a way of connecting young children with a broader community of people across cultures and countries planning intentional acts of kindness.

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