Be kind, on rewind: Cultivating kindness and acceptance in schools

February 17, 2017 | Posted in: Early Learners, Elementary, High School, Middle Years

Kindness matters. It just does.

Many school districts are looking for creative ways of sharing messages of acceptance, respect and kindness with their students and faculty. But as we’ve learned, instilling a culture of kindness in our schools, which then extends to the world beyond, is not something that happens overnight.

“Kindness changes the brain by the experience of kindness,” Patty O’Grady, PhD, said to Edutopia. “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.”

Cultivating kindness and acceptance in our schools

There are more than just academics happening in our schools, and the lessons kids learn – socially and emotionally, as well as academically – help to shape the adult they will grow to be. As a result, school districts are offering character building programs and are encouraging conversations about self worth, acceptance and respect.

In the Monroe-Woodbury Central School District (Monroe, NY), for example, the student-run “Kids on the Block” puppet show helps elementary-age students understand what it’s like to live with a learning disability, and how acceptance and compassion from classmates makes the situation easier.

One puppet has difficulty with directions, so she wears her shoes on the wrong feet. She has a ring on her right hand to help her remember right from left. She shares with a classmate how the disability impacts her school life and how teachers and others are helping her cope. The high school puppeteers share their characters’ stories and challenges, as well as their successes. Kids on the Block promotes understanding, mutual respect and compassion in an engaging way.

Kids on the Block has had great success on many levels, according to Program Coordinator and Elementary Principal Bryan Giudice.

“The benefits from the Kids on the Block puppet shows are endless. The elementary students benefit from learning about special needs students in a fun, entertaining manner. The high school students gain knowledge about disabilities and have multiple opportunities to perform in front of groups of children in the elementary schools throughout our district.”

Where’s WALDO?

Third and fourth-grade students at Fayetteville Elementary School (Manlius, NY) recently participated in the “We All Learn Differently Olympics” (WALDO), an interactive program that offers students a chance to experience what it’s like living with various disabilities.

Guest speakers included graduates, a Team USA power wheelchair soccer player, an education advocate and a fourth-grade student, all who live with a disability. They shared stories of their self-directed lives, which, in many of their cases includes working and going to school, spending time with friends and playing sports.

There is power in the personal reflection of people who have overcome major obstacles and embrace life to the fullest.

Be a “bucket filler”

Music is another fun way some school districts are sharing these messages. Musician and songwriter Red Grammer has visited schools all over the country, encouraging students to be a “bucket filler,” or to build someone’s self esteem. His performances are based on the book, Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud. According to the author’s website, “this heartwarming book encourages positive behavior by using the concept of an invisible bucket to show children how easy and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation, and love by “filling buckets.”

As I sat outside a recent assembly, I heard the laughter and joy in the students’ voices as they sang along with Red. After the performance, graduates returned to thank Red for his music and how the lessons they learned when they were younger have stayed with them always.

This calls for some reinforcements

Programs like these shine the light of awareness on how we can be kinder, more understanding and embrace each other’s differences.

Conversations with our kids need to extend to our every day lives. Take advantage when you’re on the way to practice or rehearsal and reinforce these messages with examples of your own. We can remind that being kind and caring is actually easy, but that it makes a big difference in the lives of many. And in ours too.

These are lessons that we never outgrow.

Carole Spendley is the mother of four children and has a secret wish to one day be the person behind the puppet in Kids On The Block.

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