By Linda Commito
I grew up in easier times. Although most of us never talked about kindness, we lived by The Golden Rule, treating others with respect and caring. It was a simple life where neighbors knew and helped each other, we were safe at home and at school, and we felt cared for, with a roof over our heads, enough food to eat, and someone to turn to in times of trouble.
Fast forward to today’s world where it’s sometimes difficult to feel positive and hopeful – especially after reading the daily news. How can we create a more loving world for children who may not have the support systems that we grew up with? We can each make a difference in our own unique way. In fact, most often it is the simplest things that people have said or done for us that have changed the focus or direction of our lives.
I realized that if I truly wanted to make a difference by getting a message of love and kindness out into the world I needed to take it up a notch, and what better place to start than with children? I had already been working as a part-time volunteer at Alta Vista Elementary School, a Title One school in Sarasota, Florida, where Principal Dr. Barbara Shirley and Assistant Principal Dehea Smith foster an environment that emphasizes the qualities of caring, responsibility, trust, honesty and family. Here was a perfect opportunity to do more.
Alta Vista’s students come from diverse cultures and backgrounds and have multiple challenges, yet I found them to be engaging and open to learning. I proposed doing a kindness project at the school, which we called Kindness Starts with Me.
Kindness Starts With Me
“What does kindness look like? How are you kind at home and at school?” I asked some students sitting in a circle on the floor, hands waving as they eagerly offered to share what they were doing to be kind.
“Kindness is helping someone to sound out words that they don’t know,” said one student. Others offered: “Kindness is not calling someone names.” “I am kind when I let someone use my eraser, or give someone a pencil.” “Kindness is inviting a new student to play at recess” or “Helping someone with a broken arm to carry their tray.” At home: “I am kind when I share my toys or read to my little sister,” or “I am kind when I help my mom to cook.”
“What about kindness to animals?” I asked. Many had pets at home and loved talking about them. “I am kind when I play ball with my dog” or “when I feed my hamster.”
But most of the kids were stumped when asked, “How are you kind to yourself?” So many of us, even adults, have a difficult time finding ways to be kind to ourselves. When I noticed their blank faces, I reminded them that being kind to ourselves allows us to more easily be kind to others. The students decided that eating healthy foods, exercising, and talking nicely to yourself, even when you made mistakes, were all important ways to practice self-kindness.
As part of the project, Mrs. Colgan, the head of the media center, and I met with 500 students, one class at a time, over the course of five weeks. Each student was invited to create a kindness portrait – a picture of themselves being kind. Numerous volunteers had previously cut and glued colorful construction paper borders to frame the student’s artistic images. These profiles of kindness were then mounted to form “Kindness Quilts,” which were showcased in a month-long public exhibition at the Marie Selby Library. These creative, colorful profiles are now hung in the hallways of the school as reminders of the hundreds of ways to express kindness.
The Kindness Starts with Me program at Alta Vista Elementary School was a school-wide project that found expression not only in the kindness quilts, but also in smile cards that students filled out to acknowledge each other for the kind things they did. These cards, color-coded by class, were then put onto a large Kindness Tree in the cafeteria where students could see how quickly and easily kindness could grow.
At a time when so much attention in the news has been focused on the detrimental effects of bullying, at Alta Vista daily acts of kindness are reinforced to inspire the students to become good citizens, but more importantly, to create a kinder, more loving, and accepting world.
According to Principal Dr. Barbara Shirley, “Our students have become noticeably kinder in their thought processes and we’re seeing a higher level of respect and caring about what’s going on in their classrooms and in the school.”
I’ve noticed that passions often have a life of their own, and I am captivated by an ongoing flame. These children and this kindness project have made me feel much more hopeful and positive about the future and I am inspired to do more.
My goal now is to put together a kindness book for each child at Alta Vista and for each classroom and office—about 650 in all. Using the children’s own artwork, the students can feel proud of what they were a part of and helped to create. It will also offer an opportunity for them to share with their brothers, sisters, and friends the ways that they can create and live in a kinder world.
And coming soon will be a “Kindness Starts With Me” website where kids can read about hundreds of ways to be kind, whether in story form or in pictures. They can then make their own unique contributions by sharing their ideas, stories, and artwork.
Here is the best part: YOU can participate! There are numerous opportunities to help – contributing personal stories for children on ways to be kind, filming, puppet skits, sharing this information and website with others via the internet, liking us on facebook.com/kindnessstartswithme, sharing blog articles on kids’ kindness, or financially helping with the costs of the books and website.
I need your help! Please forward this newsletter to friends who have kids or grandkids. Go to www.loveisthenewcurrency.com or the Facebook page: KindnessStartsWithMe to be updated on the latest developement of the kids kindness project. Be the first to know!
Together we can create a better world by helping more children to walk a path of kindness!
Note: This article was originally published in the October 2013 issue of Transformation Magazine.