kindness

Book List: On Kindness

We are just around the corner from Valentine’s Day!  Before we dive into paper doily cards and candy hearts let’s take a moment to think about the reason we celebrate: love.  And what better way to experience love on a daily basis than to live a life of kindness?  Your children learn kindness by watching others, including their friends, their teachers, and you.  When we take the time to have conversations about the importance of kindness, children understand that it’s something we value.  This month’s book list includes ten titles that will help you get started.  Enjoy!

 

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney

This wordless book (aside from a few beautifully illustrated sound words) is a retelling of the classic Aesop fable.  The majestic and powerful lion shows mercy on the tiny and unassuming mouse, who later returns the kindness.  Children and adults appreciate this classic and gorgeous rendition.  

 

The Three Questions by Jon J. Muth

Based on the classic tale by Leo Tolstoy, a small boy is searching for the answers to his three questions.  What is the best time to do things?  Who is the most important one?  What is the right thing to do?  His own journey leads him to the answers, which are of course, based in being kind and present in the moment.

 

Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

CJ is a bouncy young child who is traveling across the city with his grandmother one Sunday.  A bit annoyed that they must ride the bus instead of hopping into a car, he is full of questions which his grandmother patiently answers.  CJ learns many things and meets many different people before arriving at their final destination: a soup kitchen where he and his grandmother will help people less fortunate than themselves. 

 

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Many of us are familiar with Silverstein’s timeless treasure of a book.  While the tree in the story is exceedingly kind to the boy, this is a good book to teach children about the limits of kindness.  We can be kind to others without putting our own happiness and well-being at risk.

 

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Mellon by Patty Lovell, illustrated by David Catrow

Molly Lou Mellon’s buck teeth, short stature, and deep voice may not be what many consider to be the standard of perfection, but Molly’s grandmother has instilled a strong sense of positive self-esteem in the young girl.  When Molly moves away and is teased by another child in her new school, fierce determination and pride in her unique qualities help her shine through the challenge.

 

Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud, illustrated by David Messing

This beloved book encourages readers to visualize a bucket that we all carry around with us.  When the bucket is full, we feel happy and content.  When we are sad, lonely, or upset, the bucket may be empty.  The story talks about different ways our actions can affect one another, either emptying or filling each other’s buckets.  This book also helps children understand that negative actions that may empty a bucket, such as teasing, are not permanent or definitive of who we are.  There is always room for us to grow and love others.

 

A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

A little girl tells the story of working toward a simple yet special goal in the aftermath of an apartment fire.  All the family’s belongings were destroyed, and while their neighbors and friends donated what they could, something important was missing: one soft, comfortable chair for her to share with her mother and grandmother.  The three save every coin they are able in a large glass jar, until they are finally able to make a trip to the furniture store together.

 

Should I Share My Ice Cream? by Mo Willems

One hot day, Elephant Gerald hears the enticing call of Ice Cream Penguin.  He happily purchases a cone, but just before he takes his first bite, he thinks of his best friend, Piggy.  Would Piggy want some of his ice cream?  Should he wait and share?  Would she ever know if he ate it without her?  His big heart wins the internal battle, but there is a twist ending.

 

Leonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Willems says this tale is written for those as young as 3 and as old as 36, but frankly, we think those age limits could be extended a bit.  Leonardo wants nothing more in life than to scare the tuna salad out of someone, but he doesn’t seem to be able to.  He finally finds some success, but might he discover that friendship is a lot more satisfying?

 

We hope you and your family enjoy these books about kindness.  Please let us know what you think, and if there are any others you think we should add to the list!

Montessori and Peace Education

Our world is often a tumultuous and scary place.  How can we help our children feel safe and cared for, while preparing them to lead the way as adults?  How can we cultivate empathy, kindness, gratitude, and the sense of community that helps people work together?

Montessori education has been addressing these issues for over a hundred years.  Sometimes the lessons are direct; at other times they are more subtle.  The mission is always clear: we want children to have a wide view of the world.  We want them to appreciate the diversity of others.  We want them to have the tools to navigate this world peacefully.

How do we approach this critical task?

Montessori schools teach peace both directly and indirectly.  Sure, we talk about peace and its importance openly and frequently.  We talk about what it means and what it looks like and what children can do to become peacekeepers.  But, perhaps more importantly, we model.  Through our words, the tone of our voices, and with our actions, we show children what it means to be peaceful.  They watch our everyday actions and learn so much from them, so why not create constant learning opportunities?

Teaching a Global Perspective

Even from a very young age, Montessori children are taught geography through the lense of the whole world.  They learn about the continents when they are as young as three years old.  These studies often include learning about biomes, instead of an emphasis on political boundaries.  Teaching about the world in this way gives children a sense of the natural world and people as a whole as primary to different countries.

Elementary aged Montessori children enjoy many lessons with timelines.  They learn about the origins of humanity, and studying ancient cultures is fascinating for them. 

Embracing a Variety of Cultures

One important series of lessons in the elementary years teaches the fundamental needs of humans.  Children explore how groups of people around the world and across the ages meet and have met their needs.  Physical needs, such as food, shelter, defense, and transportation are considered, as well as spiritual needs like art and religion.

Giving Them Tools

Montessori teachers are equipped to give children skills to resolve conflicts.  We give children tools such as micro-mediation, and give them the words and actions to express their needs and feelings while listening to those of others.

In Montessori classrooms, children often learn a variety of self-calming strategies.  This might include mindfulness meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, or the use of small hand-held tools such as a finger labyrinth or polished stone. 

Taking the Time

In Montessori classrooms the day is not structured with rigid timed intervals.  For example, there is no predetermined time for math, reading, etc.  This flexible schedule lends itself to shifting courses and having discussions in the moment.

For example, if a group of children are experiencing difficulty resolving a problem together, the teacher is able to stop and sit with them.  Without feeling rushed, they can take the time to figure out what went wrong and how to make it right.  Instead of an adult doling out consequences, we have the time to sit and work through conflict authentically.  

Giving to the Community

As Montessori children get older, they are encouraged to give back to their community.  These acts of charity will often be inspired by the children’s ideas.  Children may collect food and supplies for a local animal shelter, read stories and sing songs to residents of a nursing home, or make and sell baked goods to benefit a cause they believe in.  

By supporting children with logistics, we can encourage them to learn how to be active and supportive members of their communities at a young age.  They learn the importance of volunteering and contribution to others.

Giving back is just one way a child begins their active role as a peaceful member.

Embracing Diversity from a Young Age

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We all want our children to be be peaceful and accepting of others.  It is never too early to start teaching them to embrace diversity.  Too often, we falsely imagine that young children do not notice what makes them different from each other.  They do notice, and instead of waiting for them to ask questions or gather information on their own, we can be proactive about diversity education.  We can teach them that while there are so many ways humans can be different from each other, those differences (and our similarities) should be celebrated.

Setting an Example

Our children constantly look to us as models for their own behavior.  We can take the lead by embracing the values we hope to see in our children.  This starts by educating ourselves.  We can learn about different cultures and groups of people.  We can confront our biases and consider how they might be coloring our view of the world.  We can read about current issues in social justice and decide what responsibilities we have to make the world a more equitable place for all people.   

Read Together

There are many quality books written for children about this very topic.  Here are just a few... (click on the book images to go to the book's page on Amazon)

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña & illustrated by Christian Robinson

This book was the 2016 Newbury Medal Winner, and also received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor and a Caldecott Honor.  A little boy rides the bus with his grandmother after church each Sunday.  His grandmother’s laugh guides him through the journey as they meet a wide variety of people.

The Ugly Vegetables, by Grace Lin

Award-winning author Grace Lin wrote this charming book for young children.  A daughter helps her mother in their garden, but becomes dismayed when she sees it is fully of “ugly vegetables” while the neighbors are all growing flowers.  The soup her mother makes and the gathering of neighbors teaches the value of differences.

The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania al Abdullah & Kelly DiPucchio, illlustrated by Tricia Tusa

Salma and Lily are best friends.  One day, a conflict arises over their sandwiches at lunchtime (pita with hummus, and peanut butter with jelly).  The food that threatens to end their friendship ultimately binds them together again.

The Family Book, by Todd Parr

Parr’s books are simple, but his bright illustrations and straightforward story are perfect for young children.  The Family Book highlights many different types of families, and ends by saying, “There are lots of different ways to be a family.  Your family is special no matter what kind it is.”

You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith & illustrated by Danielle Daniel

Smith’s website states that she “wrote You Hold Me Up to prompt a dialogue among young people, their care providers and educators about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with their friends, classmates and families.” (link: http://moniquegraysmith.com/writing/ )

Experience Together

There are so many ways a family can have fun together while encouraging curiosity, understanding, and empathy with different groups of people.  Think about the activities your family already enjoys, and find ways to make those activities learning experiences.

Do you and your family enjoy cooking?  Try whipping up new recipes from different cultures around the world.  Preparing and sharing a meal is one way we all bond, so why not explore other cuisines?  

Many cities and towns hold festivals celebrating the cultures of the various people who live there.  Music, food, traditional crafts, and performances can be a fun way to learn about another culture.

Does your family love music?  Visit your library to borrow CDs or find some audio clips online.  Music from around the world can inspire your child to sing and dance.  Grab any instruments you may have on hand (or make your own!) to join in on the fun.

Share Your Own Experience

Each family has its own unique history, heritage, and traditions.  Teach your child about their ancestors, where your family originated, and what makes your family special.  Offer to share these traditions at your child’s school.  Teachers love to have parents come in for special presentations.  Whether you teach the children to prepare a snack, sing a song, or read them a traditional story, every new bit of cultural learning gives them a broader view of their world.  

Let’s open up the world for them, so that they may share it peacefully with each other.

Making the World a Better Place - One Child at a Time

Last Thursday was Gandhi’s birthday, and also the International Day of Nonviolence, a day to honor peacemakers around the world. To observe the day in the Lower Elementary, we read a short story about Gandhi’s life and talked about ways each of us might practice peace. The children thought of many different ideas like writing letters to new neighbors, helping someone, thinking about Gandhi, working with a Zen garden, saying kind words, and appreciating nature.