Fostering kindness in the classroom

kindness MT

Starting small: Fostering kindness in the classroom

For most young children, being a “classmate” — at child care, at a place of worship, or at school — constitutes their first active participation in an ongoing social structure outside the family. The vision of community that these experiences provide can color a child’s ideas and expectations about equity, cooperation, and citizenship for a lifetime.

Starting Small: Teaching Tolerance in Preschool and the Early Grades is an innovative multimedia resource that illustrates how promoting empathy in young children can be achieved in the early years through various teaching methods.

The book component features seven early childhood classrooms (preschool, kindergarten and primary) in which teachers are helping young children build inclusive, caring communities across differences that too often divide. Each classroom narrative is followed by research-based “reflections” addressing specific themes or developmental aspects of teaching tolerance. Practical applications are also provided for incorporating the concepts into activities.

The teachers featured in the book and video understand that even within the seemingly safe confines of the classroom, children can feel lost or frightened. Following are examples of methods used in Starting Small. Parents will also find these strategies helpful at home.

Affirming Identity

Lead discussions and activities that openly value racial and ethnic diversity in the classroom (e.g., compare and contrast skin colors and affirm the beauty of all of them).

Nurturing Justice

Design learning activities that help children explore the concepts of fairness and justice. For example, use dramatic play, interviews, and puppets to talk about social and moral dilemmas, or read selected children’s literature to discuss or act out hypothetical social and moral problems.

Fostering Gender Equity

Break down gender stereotypes through your own actions (e.g., a female teacher fixing a wagon or a male teacher mending a doll’s dress). It is also important to inspect books, posters, and bulletin boards for gender balance.

Building Friendship Skills

Have children draw pictures of themselves playing with friends, and label and display the artwork.

Facing Prejudice

Take an active role against hurtful situations that occur among children. For example, if a child uses a racial epithet, determine his or her understanding of the term. Explain that such words are mean and make people feel bad.

Encouraging Self-Discipline

Create “Peace Tables” where children can work out their own conflicts, or role-play conflict situations and include a variety of ways to solve problems.

Responding to Special Needs

Invite guests with special needs to present activities in your classroom; focus on their “regular” traits first (such as job and family) and the activity they will lead. Create a relaxed atmosphere for questions and answers about disabilities and other matters.

Coping with Loss

Provide opportunities for children to commemorate loss through play and work activities, such as making memory gifts, planting a flower or tree, lighting a candle, or creating a mural.

Copyright © 1997 National Association for the Education of Young Children. Reproduction of this material is freely granted, provided credit is given to the National Association for the Education of Young Children.