Can kindness be taught?
While researching for our school curriculum many years ago, I came across the work of Maurice J. Elias, a Professor of Psychology. His view about kindness being a teachable quality mirrors my own and like me, he's a huge advocate for teaching it in schools.
Like me, he believes that children have an emotional response to kindness but that emotionally intelligent kids have a better understanding of the feelings they're experiencing.
"Kindness depends also on possessing certain learnable skills, and these are included in most evidence-based efforts to promote children's social-emotional and character development."
- Maurice Elias
Maurice isn't the only one who believes kindness is teachable. Over the years I've discovered many with the same view and noted that apart from being a trait that can be learned, kindness is also contagious! So, spreading the kindness bug among a community really isn't that hard.
With the various kindness days that are recognised Internationally, we're provide with some wonderful opportunities to introduce kindness activities that teach social and emotional skills in a fun and heartfelt way.
"The neuroscience and social science research is clear: kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness. Children and adolescents do not learn kindness by only thinking about it and talking about it. Kindness is best learned by feeling it so that they can reproduce it."
- Patty O'Grady, Ph.D.
The warm, fuzzy feelings kindness produces is also an effective way to reach kids with anti-social or bullying behaviour. Their undesirable traits are more often than not caused by a need that hasn't been met (lack of support or love, etc.). They can, of course, also be learned within the home if positive values are not a priority making it essential for kids to be exposed to kindness and caring at school.
"We need to be prepared to teach kindness, because it can be delayed due to maltreatment early in life. It can be smothered under the weight of poverty, and it can be derailed by victimization later in life."
- Maurice Elias
There are many simple and free ways to nurture kindness and giving within homes and schools and we encourage you to share the resources below with parents to take kindness outside the school gate.
Free Kindness Printables
1. Kindness ideas posters for both students and teachers
Our kids poster makes it easy to start group discussions around kindness and giving and to inspire students to come up with their own ideas of how they can make a difference. Pop the adult poster on the wall in the staff room to encourage teachers to start a kindness initiative among staff.
2. Kindness checklists for students and teachers
3. Kindness is Your Superpower colouring pages
Teach your students that they all possess a superpower called kindness. These free colouring pages will help you to start a discussion about how they use this power and the kindness they may be able to share in the future. Pop finished posters throughout the school to remind the community to be kind to one another.
You may like to ask older students to work in groups to design and create their own posters.
4. Hug Coupons
There really is nothing quite like a hug to show you care or help make amends. Print our coupons or have your kids make their own. They can be taken home to share with family and friends or used in the yard.
Free Lesson Plans
This is a powerful activity to use in the classroom at any time a student is in need of some extra love and care or as a focus activity during International Day of Friendship. It’s one we’ve included in the Ripple Kindness Project for Schools primary and elementary curriculum as it can have such an incredibly positive impact on children who are being acknowledged and complimented.
The activity can be exceptionally moving for children who have trouble connecting with others or suffer from low self-esteem as it helps them discover a sense of community. It can also help to nurture more positive relationships as it encourages children to think about and highlight the endearing qualities of their peers.
2. Kindness Coupons
These little coupons are one of our favourite resources because they can be tailored to suit so many situations. During kindness day, you can have your students brainstorm ideas for sharing kindness at home and get them to make their own coupon poster to take home.
You can also use coupons to show love and kindness during Mother's and Father's Day, to celebrate Gratitude Day, to cheer up a sick friend or to pop in the staffroom. You're really only limited by your imagination!
Great Blogs About Kindness
Phrases like "random acts of kindness" and "pay it forward" have become popular terms in modern society. There are even special days dedicated to performing good deeds and organisations who specialise in altruism.
But why has kindness become so popular? Perhaps it's best explained by those who have identified a deficit in their lives that can only be filled by giving.
Science proves there are good reasons why so many of us can't get enough of those addictive, feel-good emotions. Research shows there are many physical, emotional, and mental health benefits associated with kindness. It's a powerful and free resource to reduce anti-social and bullying behaviour.
When I teach Kindergarten or first-grade children, I always teach my students a little song called “Five Little Bluebirds”. I developed some motions for the song, and always end this subtraction-type song by making a very sad face and saying, “No little bluebirds in the nest.” The kids find this hysterical!
We sing the song through a second time with them joining in with more enthusiasm, and I can see in their mischievous eyes that they cannot wait until we get to the last line and they get to see my sad face AND make a sad face of their own. They laugh with their entire bodies, as 5 and 6-year olds are prone to do - and yes, that means some of them end up “prone” as they fall over on the carpet with laughter.
The power of classroom circles for fostering emotional intelligence, improving well-being and creating a culture of kindness is well documented. Circles are important tools for nurturing relationships and feelings of community and can be used in any classroom.
Schools with a focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) often use circles to help build a positive culture to reduce bullying. Circles work because they help all children to feel loved and encouraged while creating bonds between peers. They are especially important for nurturing feelings of belonging, acceptance and stability in troubled children.
I am crazy about kindness. Sharing it, spreading it, promoting it, talking about it, practicing it, blogging about it, teaching it, quoting it, buying t-shirts about it… crazy. about. kindness.
I am SO crazy about it that I felt the need to come up with a unique way to share this passion with my students and to practice kindness in a way that they would remember forever. I wanted to not only read cutesy little books about being kind (even though one of my favourite books is “What Does it Mean to Be Kind”) or practice kindness within the fours walls of our classroom (our number one rule in the class is “Be Kind”) or watch videos about examples of kindness (even though I always love me a good ugly cry kindness story on Ellen…). I wanted to LIVE kindness in our community. I wanted people to think about kindness and associate it with my kiddos and be hopeful that a bunch of 4, 5 and 6-year-olds could change the world. I wanted my learners to know that there are some lessons that aren’t in the curriculum but that will be important to them for the rest of their lives. From that place, Kindness Capes (#kindnesscapes) was born.
In the book, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, she writes about Choosing Kind as the best option in life. This phrase resonated with me and sparked a new appreciation on how I discuss bullying with my 6th graders.
I then came across an article on the Edutopia website titled, “Why Teaching Kindness in Schools is Essential to Reduce Bullying” and knew this was the right angle to take with my incoming 6th graders. They have all heard the lectures about how bullying is wrong. I wanted to attack bullying from a different point of view. After reading the Edutopia article, I decided to teach kindness. What does it truly mean? I wanted my students to reflect on the meaning of kindness. I wanted them to pay it forward and start applying kindness to their peers at school.
Our elementary school serves approximately 800 students PreK-3rd grades.
The week of February 11th, 2018 happened to be “Random Acts of Kindness Week” so I challenged the staff to a Kindness Challenge — I challenged them to complete these simple, kind acts that would make our students’ and colleagues’ days just a bit brighter!
Links to Other Kindness Resources
AUTHOR: Lisa Currie - Ripple Kindness Project
Lisa is the founder of Ripple Kindness Project, a community and outreach program, and primary/elementary school curriculum. Passionate about improving well-being and reducing bullying, RIpple developed a whole school, evidence-based SEL, kindness and mindfulness curriculum to build character and emotional intelligence to nurture positive, happy and safe school communities.