I firmly believe that what unites us as human beings far transcends our differences, and that one simple act of kindness toward another can pay enormous dividends in the world. In order to link these two ideas, I have created a program that could be implemented in either a public library or a school library for elementary school students. While this program could be conducted at any time, possible relevant tie-ins would be Unity Day (October 25, 2017) or National Random Acts of Kindness Day (February 17, 2018).
I was inspired by the book Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson. The challenge with this book is that, unlike many children’s books, it does not have as happy an ending and, as such, it may be initially off-putting to younger children. I had just finished reading Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes, and it suddenly occurred to me that Henke’s story would provide an “absolutely perfect” bridge to the lessons in Woodson’s book.
Part One (Book Reading/Heart Exercise) – about 10 minutes
Before reading the book, the librarian hands out name tags with the names of flowers (and an accompanying picture) to each child; these names will be their “adopted names” for the rest of the program and how they will refer to each other. [I feel this would add a fun touch to the program and would sort of help prepare the children for the first reading.] The librarian also hands out ten (10) large cut-out hearts made of tissue paper to each child. Each child are instructed to crumple one heart each time one of the characters is unkind to Chrysanthemum (“Teaching Kindness”, 2015, 1).
Part Two (Reflection) – about 10 minutes
The children are instructed to uncrumple each heart and make them as smooth as possible. The librarian leads the group in discussing how “crumpled” they may have felt when someone said something unkind to them, and how sometimes feelings can’t easily be smoothed out. [I feel that a physical demonstration of the effect of negative words and actions on one’s “heart” would be a powerful addition to the lesson of the story.] The librarian asks the group the question, “how else might this story have ended?” This allows the children to consider alternate endings and explore some “what ifs”, further allowing the children to engage with the story. It may also bring up the possibility of the girls in the story continuing to be unkind.
Part One (Book Reading) – about 10 minutes
Before reading the book, the librarian hands out a small stone to each child to hold onto. The children are instructed to tightly clasp the stone in one hand each time someone is unkind to Maya in the story. [I want to stone to serve as an “anchor” for the children as they experience firsthand the discomfort of the treatment of Maya in the book.] After the reading, the librarian and the group discuss how much words and actions can “hurt”.
Part Two (Kindness Ripples) – about 15 minutes
The librarian brings out a large plastic or metal washtub filled with water and has the children sit surrounding it in a circle. Each child is asked to take their stone and think about a kind deed they have done for someone, say it aloud, and then gently toss the stone into the water, watching the ripples. They then imagine what could have happened after they performed the kind act that allowed it to “ripple out”. An example could be: I held the door open for my friend. Maybe my friend held the door open for someone else. The point is to get the children thinking about the “ripple effect” of their own acts of kindness (Woodson, 2012, 19-21).
Part Three (“I” Messages) – 15 minutes
Each child is handed an index-sized card with a simple scenario written on it, such as: someone at school makes fun of your clothes, someone calls you a mean name, and you want to play with a friend on the playground but he/she doesn’t want to play with you (Baele, n.d., 1). The librarian brings one child up to demonstrate the exercise, taking on the role of Maya while the child pretends to be Chloe. After the child (Chloe) reenacts the scenario on the card, the librarian (Maya) states his/her feelings using “I Messages”: I feel [feeling] when you [action]. I would like [kinder behavior]. A simple chart to this effect on an easel or a tri-fold on a table will be placed nearby to help guide the children through the process.
The children pair up and practice role-playing each scenario, alternating roles at least once, for about 5 minutes. The librarian walks around and listens, directing them to the chart as they practice. The objective is to get the children more comfortable with using words in ways that help and don’t hurt. At the end, the children come together to talk about how the experience felt - what came easily, what was more challenging, and whether or not it’s something they could see themselves doing in the future.