As many educators can attest, for effective learning and growth to take place in a classroom environment, students must feel safe and supported by their teacher and by one another. Making daily efforts to promote empathy and kindness can go a long way in building the kind of nurturing setting that helps children thrive.
In an article published by PBS, neuroscientist and educator Judy Willis agrees, and explains that at their best, classrooms can nourish a child’s academic and emotional growth:
“Classrooms can be the safe haven where academic practices and classroom strategies provide students with emotional comfort and pleasure as well as knowledge,” Willis said. “When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition. Brain-imaging studies support this relationship.”
We invite you to read below for five strategies you can try out in your classroom to promote the importance of kindness!
1. Hold a Kindness Week
Acts of kindness come in all shapes and sizes, and it doesn’t take much to make someone’s day. Select a week during the academic year and challenge students to do something nice for someone else — from writing a kindness card filled with compliments, to helping each other when they’re in need. Ask your students to record all the kind things they have done throughout the week and on Friday, throw a kindness celebration where children can share their week’s accomplishments.
2. Start a Kindness Brainstorm
Gather your class for a kindness brainstorm, where students can take turns coming up with creative ways to be kind to their classmates and families. To jump-start the conversation, consider asking students what kindness looks like for them, and encourage them to share examples of different times throughout their lives when someone was kind to them. If your students do not feel comfortable sharing their experiences with the class, turn this into a journaling exercise!
3. Embrace Imaginations
For Katherine Applegate, author of award-winning children’s books “The One and Only Ivan” and “Wishtree,” helping children ask themselves, “What would that feel like?” is one of the most powerful habits we can help them develop. “You can’t be a compassionate person unless you have an active imagination — you have to be able to step into someone else’s shoes,” she said in an article published by Parents magazine. Try introducing different imaginary scenarios for your students where they are challenged to come up with creative ways of helping one another. Sharing books is a great way to get the conversation started and provide ample opportunities for children to practice empathy.
4. Show That Kindness Is Its Own Reward
Research has shown that across cultures, people are moved when they witness others acting with courage or compassion — in turn making them more likely to want to help others. While educators might want to reward empathetic behavior, according to an article published by the University of California, Berkeley, “these kinds of rewards go against everything researchers know about developing altruistic tendencies in children.” Instead, focus on modeling kind behaviors for your students to help them naturally develop the desire to help others.
In this hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activity created by the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, children are challenged to develop an invention that can help make someone’s life easier. By using the power of empathy, children begin to develop confidence in their creativity and the ability to help those they care about.
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