The phrase was showcased in bold letters on our wall: “In a world where we can be anything, we choose to be kind.” In my first year of service as a Teach for America Corps Member, I used those poignant words to frame our Kindness Tree. Well technically, it was a Kindness Map, because our classroom theme was Global Ambassadors. But it served its purpose all the same.
Many teachers thought the mandate for a Kindness Tree in our curriculum was simply another bureaucratic attempt to stress us out and weigh us down. That school year, however, my Pre-K students proved them wrong. And now that I have a son of my own, here’s why I plan to teach him kindness the exact same way.
Incentivizing a Heart of Service
No matter what stage of motherhood you’re in, I’m sure you can attest to the fact that children LOVE attention! They crave it and in fact, require it to foster their development. Through Conscious Discipline, a social-emotional learning program embedded in almost every early childhood classroom across the nation, the Kindness Tree capitalizes on that need for attention in a purposeful way.
Children are rewarded for kind and helpful acts of service performed throughout the school day. Kids may share a pencil with another student. They may give a friend a hug upon realizing that they’re having a rough day. All consideration is grounds for recognition.
Initially at the beginning of the school year, I made class announcements praising specific students for their acts of service. I placed a passport sticker on our Kindness Map to commemorate each kind act. As the year progressed, the children were so invested in the concept that they voluntarily took on the mantle. They began acknowledging friends on their own.
It wasn’t long before the culture of kindness became an integral part of our classroom. The recognition they all yearned for so deeply in the beginning was replaced by the spirit of altruism alone.
Normalizing a Sense of Gratitude
As a Millennial, I often hear the word “entitled” thrown around to describe today’s younger generations. I am confident that if we all implemented some form of the Kindness Tree into our lives and in our kid’s lives, the critics of our youth would change their tune.
I believe one of the most powerful teaching tools is the example we set. This was seen in my classroom firsthand. Using a Kindness Tree is a perfect way to model the importance of expressing appreciation for others. It subconsciously teaches children not to take the little things for granted and to never let an opportunity to say “thank you” pass.
Each time we had a class visitor, whether it was a read aloud guest or an administrator, they were amazed to see how eager my students were to show appreciation without being prompted or asked. “What a sweet bunch you have!” they’d say. I’d always glance over at the slew of passports on our Kindness Map and smile. Gratitude may not always be a given, but it can definitely be learned.
Making the World a Better Place
Call me an idealist, but I still believe that even though our world can be a cruel and dark place sometimes, the future of humanity is not lost. It lives in our children. It lives in my son. And even at two months old, he has subliminally been exposed to the concept of kindness in books and even the print on some of his clothes.
His introduction to the Kindness Tree will happen in only a matter of time, even if it surfaces in the form of a map or something else Pinterest inspires. It is my hope that as a result, he will never know a life where kindness and gratitude don’t exist. And if we all do our part, seeds of kindness will blossom everywhere.