Kindness means to show concern about the well being and feelings of others, and research has shown that children are born with the potential to exhibit this wonderful trait. The research also shows, however, that the potential for kindness must be nurtured if it is to remain a part of the child’s character. Unfortunately, this generation of children is constantly being exposed to examples of unkindness, meanness, and discourtesy through the media, by theirs peers, by adults at the store or in the movie theatre, and even through the videos they watch. Research has shown that the more times a child sees a negative behavior, the more desensitized they become to it. When the child becomes desensitized to a negative behavior, they start to see that behavior as normal.
At SCC we do not want children to think of unkind behavior as normal or acceptable. We believe it is in the best interest of the children to nurture the innate kindness within them and to let them experience an environment of caring and kindness. Because we have a low adult to child ratio, we are better able to monitor behavior to maintain a kind and caring atmosphere. Even though cruelty and lack of compassion are becoming more and more common-place in our society, we believe it is important that the children know first-hand what a caring community can be like.
To give positive images of kindness and to help the younger children and the preschool children understand what “kindness” means, we encourage everyday acts of caring. Often throughout the day we point out to the children when someone has done something that is kind. We also make suggestions of acts that can be done that would be kind, such as a preschool child helping a younger child put on their shoes. We let the children know that kind acts mean including all children in our games and activities, and treating animals with gentleness and consideration. As a reminder to be kind, the preschool children repeat the following Kindness Pledge during circle time:
I pledge to myself on this day, to try to be kind in every way.
To every person, big and small, I will help them if they fall.
When I love myself and others too, that’s the best that I can do.
The teachers try to model kind behavior to the children and also between the adults. One way of modeling kind behavior is to point out when an act of sharing takes place, whether between children or from an adult to a child. However, we do NOT REQUIRE children to share what they are playing with. We have found that if a child is forced to share, they are much less likely to share spontaneously on their own. If a child wants what is being played with by another child, we help them ask if they can share it. If the first child says “no” then we ask that child to please let the other child know as soon as they are done with it. Usually when we do that, the child with the toy will relinquish it to the other child within a short amount of time, and sometimes they even give it to the other child immediately.
Because of the exposure children of this generation have to images of unkindness and cruelty, it is necessary to consciously work to replace those negative messages with specific acts of compassion, helping, and sharing. One of the activities we do to counter this image is to have our preschool class choose a charity or organization at the beginning of each school year that they will donate to at the close of the year.
At circle time the preschool children count out one to five coins they brought from home and then they place them in our sharing bank. Each day we look at pictures of those who will be helped by their gift and we discuss why it is important to share with others. At the end of the school year the preschool children help sort the coins and place them in coin rollers. If the organization they have chosen cannot come to us to receive the donation, then we put all the rolled coins in a wagon and take a walking field trip to the bank to buy a cashiers check. After returning from the bank, the preschool children help place the check in an envelop and put it in the mailbox to mail to the organization. One year the children even insisted on making more money, so we baked cookies and strung candy necklaces for a bake sale to raise extra money to donate. Each year the preschool children have raised over $200 to share with others. We have donated to Guide Dogs for the Blind, Habitat for Humanity, March of Dimes, Rancho Coastal Humane Society, and several times to Heifer International, an organization that helps children and families all over the world.
While we believe it is important for the children to know first-hand what a caring community can be like, we also know that the children will someday leave this environment and have to function in a world that may be less friendly. To address this, we work to empower the children to handle unkindness from others. Some of the things we show our preschool children are how to assert themselves using a strong voice and clearly stating their displeasure with the offense, or to question the insult, or to laugh at it, whichever best fits the child and the situation.
When unkind behavior is observed it is addressed immediately. We not only help the child who has been treated unkindly to express themselves, but we also address the issue with the child who has acted unkindly. However, we target the behavior and not the child, letting everyone know how unkindness affects other people. We also teach the children how to replace the offensive behavior with appropriate behavior. We try to be clear as to why it is unacceptable to be unkind.