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
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
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: www.ckn-usa.org
Random Acts of Kindness Foundation: www.actsofkindness.org
TEACHKIND: www.teachkind.org (humane education, violence
prevention, empathy for animals)
Teaching Tolerance Proiect: www.teachingtolerance.org
Merriam-Webster's collegiate dictionary (10th ed.). (2001).
Springfield, MA: Author.
Noddings, N. (1995). Teaching themes of care. Phi Delta Kappan,
Smith, M. K. (2004). Nel Noddings, the ethics of care and
education. The encyclopaedia of information education. Retrieved
February 26, 2005, from www.infed.org/thinkers/noddings.htm
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, firstname.lastname@example.org and Aline
Stomfay-Stitz, University of North Florida, email@example.com