Fred Rogers said, “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.”
As a champion of early childhood education and social-emotional learning, Mr. Rogers saw the value and importance of teaching kindness, love, and compassion to preschoolers. These lessons have lifelong benefits for children’s physical and emotional wellbeing, both inside and out of the classroom. Children who are taught kindness in early childhood have tools for healthier relationships and personal success later in life.
The Benefits of Practicing Kindness with Early Learners
Kindness and Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum leads to happier and less anxious children. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside and author of the bestseller The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, explains that “since depression, anxiety and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, focussing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking. Having a positive effect on someone else can increase our self-esteem and give our life a greater sense of purpose.”
Ripple Kindness Project, a curriculum and community project with a mission of improving happiness and wellbeing in schools, notes that kindness in the classroom is being recognized as a vital part of curriculum, because of the wide range of benefits for early learners. Some of these benefits are listed below:
Increased Self-Esteem and Reduced Bullying: A study conducted in Vancouver, entitled Kindness Counts: Prompting Prosocial Behavior in Preadolescents Boosts Peer Acceptance and Well-Being, found that doing good to others will benefit the giver through increased popularity, making children more confident in themselves. These children are more likely to exhibit more inclusive behaviors with other children, benefiting the entire classroom community.
Better Physical Health: According to Dr. David R. Hamilton, PhD, author and blogger on kindness and healing, shares that that acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth, which produces oxytocin in the brain and body. Oxytocin protects the heart by reducing blood pressure.
Better Results & Greater Attendance: Students who feel welcome in their school, classroom, or center are more likely to want to attend. Children will feel less anxious about coming to school when they can anticipate being treated with kindness and respect.
Improved Teacher Well-being: Ripple Kindness Project shares that “Happy, co-operative children create peaceful and productive classrooms, an essential component for reducing stress for teachers. Students who feel good about their environment are more likely to show respect, and want to please and connect with their teacher.”
Can Kindness be Taught?
The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a Kindness Curriculum for preschoolers. The center’s mission is to cultivate well-being and relieve suffering through a scientific understanding of the mind, with a vision of a kinder, wiser, more compassionate world.
The curriculum has been implemented in a prekindergarten class in Queens by teacher Danielle Mahoney-Kertes, who described the positive outcomes in a NY Times interview. The curriculum led to fewer interpersonal conflicts, an increased willingness to share with others, increased levels of focus, and a modest increase in academic performance.
Resources for Teachers
Stories of Kindness
Choose to read books that have kindness as their theme. While there are many great options to choose from, Brightly’s article, Cool to be Kind: Children’s Books that Champion Kindness, highlights some favorites, including the following:
The Nice Book (available as a board book) is a simple look at kindness and friendship using clear, brief statements and sweet animal illustrations.
The Last Stop on Market Street is a winner of the Newbery Medal, Caldecott Honor, and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book. The book tells the story of a grandmother who teaches her grandson to lift up others while they ride the bus together.
Good People Everywhere is a reminder of all of the world’s good people. This book highlights kindness and goodness, while encouraging children to spread love.
Sesame Street’s Kindness Resources
The survey “K is for Kindness” is a brief set of questions for teachers, followed by helpful tips and ideas for implementing kindness into your classroom’s curriculum. Take the survey to see how your perspective compares with that of other teachers, and join the movement to create a kinder world!
Watch Sesame Street’s video on friendship and caring, designed to be clear and easily understandable for preschool-aged children. This video will help children understand what it means to be a good friend: