Kindness counts…in class and out of class. We might want our students to be good readers and quick with numbers but we also want them to develop empathy for others and show compassion. But how do we as teachers cultivate positive, empathetic students? Here are 5 easy ideas to help you promote kindness in your classroom.
A Plan to Save My Hair
One year, my Kindergarten class came to me in September exhibiting a lot of meanness and pettiness towards each other, more than I had ever seen in past years. There was pinching and snitching and grabbing and the inevitable tears (from both boys and girls). By the middle of October, I was pulling my hair out.
To save my sanity (and my hair!), I had to come up with a plan and fast! After much reflection, I settled on an Acts of Kindness plan. We as a classroom were going to learn about kindness and then practice it. We were going to change our behavior by changing our thoughts. The results were incredible! The kiddos loved to be kind. Picking up a friend’s lost mitten, fetching a box of crayons or tissues for someone else, helping to clean up a spill…these became the norm in the classroom. I hope you too can develop an Acts of Kindness plan with your class as well.
5 Ideas to Promote Acts of Kindness
DISCUSS HOW TO BE KIND
Introduce the concept of “being kind” in a group setting such as circle time or morning meeting. However, don’t give the students a pre-written list of ways to be kind…let them collaborate with you. Pull out your largest paper pad and brainstorm acts of kindness, all the way from the abstract to the concrete. You might get very broad responses such as “Smile a lot” or “Be good” to the very focused “Don’t pinch your baby brother when he has your doll in the sandbox and is pouring sand all over her.”
Once you are done brainstorming, collect the ideas and come up with guidelines. Focus on the positive, making the guidelines proactive. I did this with one class and came up with the following list to post in the classroom. Notice how each guideline begins with “BE”.
(All resources are available as part of Acts of Kindness EDITABLE Classroom Incentives packet. Click HERE to find it!)
ROLE-PLAYING ACTS OF KINDNESS
Role-playing immerses one child in the perspective and feelings of another child. Telling a child to “be kind” sends confusing signals to a young child because “kind” is not a concrete concept. However, when students act out social situations, they get a much better sense of what kindness (and conversely, meanness) feels like. They then identify that emotion with their own experiences and make the connection. A child acting out a scene where he must decide whether to grab a pencil from another child might think: “I remember when William grabbed a crayon from my hand and that made me feel bad. I don’t want to make Sarah feel bad so I won’t grab the pencil.” In this instance, the act of role-playing encouraged empathy and that is the whole goal.
Incentives give students motivation to reach a goal. I use these gumball machine cards for both individual and group goals. The “gumballs” are circle stickers that can be found in the office supply section of the Dollar Store or Walmart. Students can receive gumballs from the teacher or another student. I give each student five gumball stickers to give out when they see an Act of Kindness (kids have to check with me before they give one to reduce those “let me give them to all my friends” occurrences!). Rewards can be a visit to the treasure chest, an extra 10 minutes on the Ipad or computer, or if it’s for the entire class, a Movie and Popcorn day.
WRITE NOTES (and get the kids to write them too)
I make it a point to write little notes to my students when I notice exceptional kindness. I got the idea from my church which provides small scraps of paper in the Sunday bulletin for people to write an encouraging note to someone they see at the service. It could be anyone and you don’t have to sign your name. I have received notes on days I felt like the worst dunce in the world and they always lift my mood.
Here is a sample of the notes we exchange in class.
And don’t forget the power of a thank you note. Not only does it promote good manners (as well as writing!), it keeps students from taking people for granted. For these notes you don’t have to limit it to the kids in your classroom. Encourage your students to write to people in the building who help them or even their parents or others at home. Keep a ready supply so that students can write one spur of the moment.
GET PARENTS AND GUARDIANS INVOLVED
Send home a calendar with daily “kindness” ideas. Suggest to parents and guardians to make it a family challenge. Everyone in the house has to try the activities. Tell the parents to set a goal and incentive of their choosing. Make sure the student reports back to the class about their family challenge and how it went.
If you are looking for meaningful resources to start your own Acts of Kindness, then Acts of Kindness Editable Classroom Incentives is for you! Grab it HERE to save your own head of hair!