As the cold and dreary days of winter march on, Lower School students can become a bit restless.
Despite teachers’ best efforts to plan engaging lessons, build community with Responsive Classroom and morning meetings, or incorporate GoNoodle more to offset indoor recess, a type of cabin fever sets in. Teasing may become personal, a sarcastic comment may become hurtful; what was intended as a joke may feel like a punch in the gut.
While our teachers integrate social-emotional learning throughout our curriculum, we often see our students need a boost in kindness in mid-winter — our own MPA version of “Vitamin K.”
Classroom read-aloud books feature a theme of kindness, including Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, The Jelly Donut Difference by Maria Dismondy, I Walk with Vanessa by Kerascoët, or The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig. Our school counselor, Ms. Stec, presents lessons centered on kindness and how to respond to teasing. Teachers remind students just how easy it is to spread kindness.
About this time, our second-grade students are working on beginning multiplication. They recognize multiplication as repeated addition and move from a concrete to a symbolic understanding. Because of their imaginary Everyday Math friends – the Wubbles and Budruples, who effortlessly double and quadruple – the students realize how quickly numbers can grow.
During this time, I always read my students the mathematical folktale One Grain of Rice, by Demi. In this story a village girl named Rani devises a clever plan using the power of doubling to win more than a billion grains of rice from the rajah. When the greedy rajah offers Rani a reward for a good deed, she asks only for one grain of rice to be doubled each day for 30 days.
Beautiful illustrations of animals bringing her bags and then baskets of rice each day help students visualize the enormity of her reward and the power of doubling: “On the thirtieth and final day, 256 elephants crossed the province carrying the contents of the last four royal store houses …”
Next, I ask students to imagine what would happen if instead of grains of rice we began to double random acts of kindness each day for 30 days. We brainstorm a variety of random acts of kindness, ranging from helping a family member at home to waving hello to a neighbor, from saying thank you to the lunch room staff to inviting someone new to be your partner.
Today, you do one kind act. The following day you both do two random acts of kindness, doubling your efforts just as in the story. Showing the pictures again from One Grain of Rice generates excitement. It is this type of enthusiasm I wish we could spread around the communities.
I challenge my students to perform an unsolicited kind act each day, simply out of the goodness of their hearts, not for an external reward or recognition. The possibilities are endless if we all have this mindset.
So I encourage parents to ask your child how they made someone smile today. If they can’t tell you a kind act they performed, remind them that the day is not over yet. There is still time to brighten someone’s day.
By Liz Raser
Mrs. Raser teaches second grade, is Lower School assistant principal, and leads development of our elementary curriculum.