According to David R. Hamilton, Ph.D., an author and kindness advocate, there are many beneficial side effects of kindness. Being kind makes us happier, promotes heart health, slows aging and improves relationships. In addition, kindness appears to be contagious and encourages others to be kind. What educators have found, in addition to those benefits, is that kindness can be taught and it can improve children’s academic achievement and social/emotional well-being.
There are several programs and techniques available to help adults become more mindful of their surroundings. However, there are few high-quality resources readily available for the direct instruction of mindfulness or, more simply put, teaching kindness to young children.
A 12-week Kindness Curriculum was developed at the Center for Healthy Minds by communication disorder specialist, Laura Pinger, and clinical psychologist, Lisa Flook, to help elementary-aged students strengthen their kindness skills. During the initial study, they met with students twice a week for 20 minutes. They introduced stories about kindness and provided opportunities for students to practice paying attention, being aware of their emotions and developing a spirit of authentic kindness.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health, the Kindness Curriculum developed by Pinger and Flook had a positive influence on the students involved. Those children who received explicit instruction in developing kindness “showed greater improvements in social competence and earned higher report card grades in domains of learning, health, and social-emotional development, whereas the control group exhibited more selfish behavior over time.”
The Structure of the Kindness Curriculum Program
Using a format familiar to young students, the Kindness Curriculum has an ABC design. Taking advantage of the fact that children remember better when given a mnemonic device or memory aid, the curriculum is built around the letters A through G:
- Attention – Children learn to focus on external and internal sensations to help them direct their attention.
- Breath and Body – Using calming music, students pay attention to their breathing rhythm to cultivate peace and quiet.
- Caring – A brainstorming session is prompted by a story. Students think about and share how others might feel and how kindness can make a difference.
- Depending on other people – Through stories, students see how everyone in the world can support and can be supported by others. Gratitude for kindness is discussed.
- Emotions – Through pantomime, classes define and recognize different emotions and discuss how these feel in the body.
- Forgiveness – Again, through story, students learn how everyone makes mistakes, and how everyone must learn to forgive others and themselves.
- Gratitude – Children discuss acts of kindness by others in the community and the importance of being thankful for their help and bravery.
More Kindness Instruction
In addition to the Kindness Curriculum designed for elementary students, programs have been developed for older students like Create a Culture of Kindness in Middle Schools, written by Naomi Drew and Christa M. Tinari. This curriculum has 48 lessons to build character, foster mutual respect and prevent bullying.
Teachers at all levels have also developed activities to promote kindness in the classroom and school. For example, teachers can provide “smile-o-grams” or other fun ways for students to give compliments and support classmates who are unhappy or troubled. Read-alouds offer a natural platform on which teachers can encourage discussion about historic figures or characters who display characteristics of kindness or who are selfish or mean-spirited.
The Kindness-to-School Connection
There may not be studies done claiming that students who are kind bring home higher grades than students who are mean or disrespectful. There is, however, a connection between a higher level of kindness and compassion in a school and increased attendance rates and test scores.
When students both give and receive kindness, they are more able to focus on what is important in school without fear of being singled out because of race, religion or other differences. They find school a safe place to learn as well as make mistakes because they know kindness is modeled, promoted and held in high regard.
Kindness program designers Drew and Tinari are convinced: “Better test scores and higher rates of student achievement are inextricably related to a school climate of kindness and support.”
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