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When you want to teach your students an academic skill, like addition or using figurative language, you probably follow a standard approach:
- model the skill
- engage students in hands-on learning activities
- provide time for independent practice
Believe it or not, this same basic approach works to cultivate social-emotional skills, like being kind to others.
If you want your students to spread kindness this holiday season (and beyond), start by modeling the positive behaviors you’d like to see. Then, try some of these fun, heartfelt, and hands-on kindness activities!
Teach the Science of Kindness
All children have probably heard that kindness is important, or that being kind is the right thing to do. But most children don’t understand the true power of a simple act of kindness.
Kindness stimulates the production of chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These feel-good chemicals increase happiness and help with sleep, health, relaxation, appetite, energy, and memory. For younger children, you can describe kindness as a “superpower” that makes people happier and healthier.
And it’s not just the person receiving the kind act who experiences these benefits. Research shows the effect in the brain is the same for the person who offers kindness, the person who receives it, and all witnesses to the kind act.
In turn, everyone who feels these effects may be inspired to offer kind acts of their own, spreading kindness in a domino effect. To illustrate this point to children, have them knock down a line of dominos or drop pebbles into a container of water, observing the ripples it creates. Even the smallest acts of kindness aren’t so small after all! Let’s look at some kindness activities for kids.
Bring the concept of “the science of kindness” to life by having students fill out Kindness Cards. Pass out index cards and ask students to write down something kind that someone did for them recently and how it made them feel.
Then, collect the Kindness Cards and read them aloud to the class. Discuss how all these acts of kindness, whether big or small, spread happiness and made a difference. Hand your students’ index cards back to them and ask them to brainstorm a list of kind acts they would like to do for others.
Spread even more kindness by challenging your students to practice random acts of kindness. Remind them that when they treat someone with kindness, that person is likelier to be kind to someone else, and so on.
Of course, it’s helpful to provide children with specific goals. I’ve created a challenge called 12 Days of Kindness, which features 30 acts of kindness in three categories: kindness to self, kindness to others, and kindness to Earth. Students can complete four acts of kindness in each category during the 12 days, or you can simply encourage them to complete as many kind acts as possible. These kindness activities for kids are simply and easy to complete.
Students will enjoy completing the Kindness Challenge and seeing the positive effects of their actions, encouraging them to continue spreading kindness in the future.
Similarly, you can create a kindness calendar for your students, with each day of the month featuring a simple act of kindness to be completed. As each act of kindness is completed, students color in the square for that date.
You want these activities to be doable, so think simple: giving high fives to six classmates, leaving a nice note in a library book, helping a parent without being asked, giving a compliment, holding open a door, etc.
Giving back through volunteering is an excellent way to foster kindness and share it with others.
Start small by talking to children about how they can “give back” in the classroom or at home. What special gifts do they have that can be used to help others? How can they encourage classmates or family members when they feel lonely, sad, or frustrated?
Next, discuss ways to be helpful in their communities. This may include picking up litter, donating clothes, filling backpacks with school supplies for children in need, welcoming new neighbors, making Valentine’s cards for senior citizens, etc.
And finally, how can children make a difference on a global scale? For instance, they can donate items to places affected by natural disasters, write letters to elected officials on important issues, send thank you cards to the military, and raise money for charities around the world.
As a class, choose a cause you’d like to support at the school, local, national, or even global level. Regularly journal about what you’re doing, how it’s helping others, and how it feels to offer kindness.
Create a Kindness Tree
To celebrate and encourage kind and helpful acts, the social and emotional learning program Conscious Discipline uses a Kindness Tree. When students receive or witness kindness and helpfulness in the classroom, they place a symbolic leaf, heart, magnet, or other item on the tree.
In older classrooms, children use a notebook to record kind acts and read them aloud at the end of the day or week. Children can also graph kind acts over time. Whether you create your own tree or use Conscious Discipline’s product, focusing on positivity and kindness encourages more of it in the future.
Read and Discuss Stories About Kindness
Another way to foster kindness in your students is by reading and discussing stories focused on kindness. While there are many such stories, a few suggestions include:
- Listening with My Heart by Gabi Garcia: This sweet story teaches children that it’s important to be kind to not only others, but yourself as well. Talk to your students about how they can treat themselves with kindness, especially when they make mistakes or have a tough time. Note that if we aren’t kind to ourselves, it’s very difficult to be kind to others.
- Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud: Carol McCloud’s classic story demonstrates that our actions impact others. It encourages positive behavior using the concept of “filling buckets” with love, kindness, and appreciation.
- Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller: This sweet story gently and subtly shows children the true meaning of kindness without being preachy. It illustrates kindness for strangers and that even small acts of kindness can make a big difference.
- Sprinkle Your Sparkles by Kirsten Tulsian: I wrote this book and it is available on Amazon, but VIP members get a FREE PDF copy of the book in my free resource library. Sign up here.
If you can get your students excited about academics, you can definitely get them excited about spreading kindness with these activities. And imagine the impact a classroom full of kind, caring kids can have on their community!