Kindness in a curriculum for peace: beyond "Random Acts".
Teaching (Methods)
Peace (Study and teaching)
Kindness (Study and teaching)
Wheeler, Edyth
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Name: Childhood Education Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education; Family and marriage Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2005 Association for Childhood Education International ISSN: 0009-4056
Date: Annual, 2005 Source Volume: 81 Source Issue: 5
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

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Vivian Paley tells us that if we could only treat one another with kindness, the world will be a better place--the kind of place that we want it to be (Starting Small video, Teaching Tolerance Project, 1997). The dictionary tells us that kindness is having a "sympathetic or helpful nature" (Merriam-Webster, 2001, p. 641). When asked "What is kindness?," a Head Start teacher mentor says that "it is seeing the world as others see it so that you can do things that will really help. I call this 'other-empathy.'"

Kindness is doing things for others, motivated by a true sense of concern and not merely a sense of duty or obligation. Kindness makes life a little better for us. We are all familiar with "random acts of kindness." As educators for peace, the question that challenges us is, "How can we make acts of kindness not 'random' but universal?"

In relation to peace education, kindness predisposes children to build, create, and keep peace. Acts of kindness create an environment in which escalating disputes and destructive conflicts cannot take root. Kindness plays a role in acts of mediation and resolution of differences. Kindness presupposes an effort toward perspective-taking. The "kind thing to do" is an important solution to disputes.

In this column, we will take a look at kindness in a curriculum for peace through a few examples of routines and daily practices that offer opportunities for kindness and how kindness and caring can be integrated into the curriculum. Beginning the school year with these practices and themes shows children what kindness looks like. School-wide or classroom-wide activities can give children practice in giving and receiving small kindnesses throughout the day. We would suggest that this attention to kindness is critical because, as a kindergarten teacher from Virginia notes, "There are whole schools where the climate is not one of kindness." Kindness can be natural and instinctive, yet defensiveness, competition, and a social climate of "looking out for Number One" can get in the way of such natural kindness.

Daily Practices That Help Children Develop the Habit of Kindness

"The Kindness Jar" promotes kindness among children at Green Acres School in Maryland. Lower school principal Barbara Andrews tells of the approach that the Pre-K teaching team has initiated. When children observe acts of kindness, they dictate what they have seen and a slip of paper with their description is put into a jar in the classroom. Periodically, the slips are posted on a big jar on the wall near the entry to the classroom for all in the school to read. There is no reward or competition to fill the jars. When the jar was first introduced, children would report on their own acts of kindness. Then, they began to report on acts done to them, and now are reporting on kindnesses they observe between others, This process has contributed to a climate of kindness.

Conversations about kindness can be integrated within everyday teaching and learning. For example, when reading the story of Cinderella, the teacher can ask: "How do you think Cinderella felt when she was spoken to in a mean way? How would you feel if someone used mean words when speaking to you? How could we change the story to add kind words and actions?" Acts of kindness, caring, and justice are the subjects of many books for children, from Swimmy and Little Blue and Little Yellow, both by Leo Lionni, for preschoolers to the Harry Potter books for school-age readers.

We hope to teach children to respond to others with kindness in words and actions until kindness becomes spontaneous. Children can offer words of comfort and affirmation to others, and demonstrate kindness by standing up for another who is being teased or by acting as a mediator in a conflict. Even young children are able to choose peaceful words when acting and speaking in a proactive way against physical or verbal abuse. The Virginia kindergarten teacher quoted above tells us that she constantly sees acts of kindness as children give hugs to a child who has been hurt, offer comfort by holding hands, or come back into the classroom from the playground while another child looks for his mittens. Adult modeling of kindness embedded in day-to-day classroom life helps build this climate. Themes of Kindness in the Curriculum

Second-graders at Linthicum Elementary School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, recently put their Open Court Reading unit on kindness into action. The teachers presented their students with an inquiry and investigation activity. The students came up with the idea for sharing their kindness with the local chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). After meeting with the chapter, the students and their teachers organized a "Kindness Walk for Pets," ultimately raising over $1,900 for the organization Please see our Online Resources for Kindness for a helpful Web site.

Themes of caring can reframe a traditional curriculum into one of caring, kindness, and justice. Nel Noddings's work on the ethic of care supports our ideas. She describes these themes "as caring for strangers and distant others ... or animals ... plants and the earth ... for the human-made world and caring for ideas" (Noddings, as cited in Smith, 2004; Noddings, 1995). According to Noddings, success in education depends not only on caring, but also on children believing themselves to be cared for. Kindness can be a large effort, like the Kindness Walk for Pets project, or a small act in everyday life, as simple as smiling at the checkout person at the grocery store. Let us practice kindness not randomly but spontaneously and often.

Online Resources for Kindness

Children's Kindness Network:

Random Acts of Kindness Foundation:

TEACHKIND: (humane education, violence prevention, empathy for animals)

Teaching Tolerance Proiect:


Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary (10th ed.). (2001). Springfield, MA: Author.

Noddings, N. (1995). Teaching themes of care. Phi Delta Kappan, 76,675-679.

Smith, M. K. (2004). Nel Noddings, the ethics of care and education. The encyclopaedia of information education. Retrieved February 26, 2005, from

Teaching Tolerance Project. (1997). Starting small: Teaching tolerance in preschool and the early grades. Montgomery, AL: Southern Poverty Law Center.

Our thanks to contributors to this column: Stresa White, Alison Sayres, Holly Pence, Mary Margaret Gardiner, and Barbara Andrews. We invite others to contact us with your ideas and stories about peace education and conflict resolution for future columns.

--Edyth Wheeler, Towson University, and Aline Stomfay-Stitz, University of North Florida,
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.