In honor and celebration of Martin Luther King’s life and legacy, I recently visited 5 kindergarten classes to teach a special project on kindness. During the course of the day every child in kindergarten would have the opportunity to make a kindness card, seal it in a yellow envelope and give it to someone special in their life. The project was inspired by the Yellow Envelope Project, launched by writer Kim Dinan, the author of the up-coming book, The Yellow Envelope. One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life Changing Journey around the World.
She describes being given a yellow envelope by a close friend. Inside the envelope was a gift for her and her husband to pay forward as they traveled the world. So began this beautiful project on practicing random acts of kindness and the ripple effect of spreading kindness one yellow envelope at a time. Prepare to be inspired when you read her story here and see how kindness spreads @yellowenvelopeproject
If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.
I recalled these words by Martin Luther King as I walked into the different classrooms, prepared to teach about kindness, my bag filled with enough paper and yellow envelopes for 110 students. Five year olds are all about doing small things in great ways and a day filled with conversation, drawing and writing about kindness showed me the truth to this. As always with kindergartners, I discovered that I had just as much to learn from them.
Kindness is caught not taught
Experience has shown me that young children are hard-wired for kindness. If we create safe, predictable settings with nurturing adults who model kind behavior then five year olds and kindness flourish. We only have to provide the space by asking the question what does kindness mean? What does being kind look like and sound like? Then watch and listen as children share their ideas.
I learned in the process that when we add paper, markers, heart stickers, yellow envelopes and the opportunity to make a kindness card for someone special, the sky is the limit.
The dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. Listening to the children’s responses, I couldn’t help but feel this definition falls short of what kindness looks like in action. They taught me that wrapped up with kindness were their expressions of love, gratitude and happiness. One child wrote to her friend, you make me feel happy and I love you too, another to her mom, you are the best Mom forever. You make me smile.
Kindness is inclusive
There was a contented buzz in the room as the children worked and I was fascinated to see that they all included themselves along with the recipient of the card, in their picture. Kindness is about connection and seeing the world in happy relationship. One girl made a card for her neighbor beginning with his house, then adding herself and her friend playing together in the neighborhood. They helped me see that as we nurture children’s sense of kindness we are helping them develop the seeds of empathy and inclusiveness. Kindness knits friendships, families, classrooms, communities, the world together.
Kindness makes us happy
We may all have experienced a feeling of happiness and appreciation when someone is kind to us but watching the children at work, I was struck by how excited they were at being able to show kindness to someone else. I enjoyed listening to the conversations as they asked one another what their teacher’s favorite color might be or their friend’s favorite food so they could include these personalized details. Several jumped out of their seats to show me their picture or whisper in my ear who the recipient of their yellow envelope was.
It seems that spreading happiness is good for us, and it comes as no surprise to discover that science supports this. Studies show that when we’re kind to another person, our brain’s pleasure and reward centers light up, triggering a release of endorphins, chemicals in our body that induce a feel-good sense of happiness. Being kind to others also gives our brain a serotonin boost, the chemical that gives us a feeling of contentment and well-being.
Kindness is contagious
As every teacher of young children can tell you, being in a kindergarten classroom is a joyful experience in addition to being, at times, wild, crazy, funny, busy and noisy. Five year olds’ enthusiasm is infectious. Even a reluctant child can usually be tempted to participate with support and encouragement. During the course of the day only 2 children needed a small amount of cheer leading to get started, all of which was provided by the children around them. Clearly, spreading kindness is contagious.
And, as you can imagine after a day with 110 young kindness ambassadors in action, I left school feeling on top of the world.