When Kindness Is In The Curriculum
I attended preschool nearly 30 years ago, but three things about the experience stick out in my mind: (1) Monkey bars are magical and should be commandeered the entirety of recess. (2) Cottage cheese is the exact inverse of monkey bars. (3) You will never be able to capture the lightning in a bottle that is an afternoon nap after playing with a wooden train for two hours.
Preschool has become much more rigorous since I attended: Today there are practical lessons on colors, numbers, letters, early science, and problem-solving. But just like it was “back in my day,” matters of kindness, generosity, and empathy are often left to learn at home.
Yet knowing how to relate to others and understand your own emotions is invaluable. These soft skills, known as a person’s emotional intelligence, or EQ, can be a strong predictor of one’s success academically and professionally. It’s really a kind of mindfulness — the practice of being keenly aware of what you’re sensing and feeling. And when it comes to teaching it, schools have been coming up short. Until now.
“Kids actually are pretty naturally mindful,” says Lisa Thomas Prince, an educator with The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, which just developed a 12-week “Kindness Curriculum” for use with preschool-age children.
“In general they respond pretty well to the curriculum,” Thomas Prince says. In addition to the many hugs, high-fives, and smiles she’s received when teaching with this method, Thomas Prince noticed a positive change in the feelings and behavior of her students. One little boy even pulled her aside after a session as said, “Miss Lisa, I was born to be kind.”
The curriculum was developed by a team of CHM scientists and researchers who wanted to know what effect a mindfulness-based curriculum could have on children developing skills necessary for academic success. For 12 weeks, CHM-trained educators taught the curriculum to children ages 4 to 6 in classrooms around Madison, Wisconsin.
Those positive effects weren’t just anecdotal. Published in “Developmental Psychology” in 2015, CHM’s results reveal, students who received the kindness curriculum showed signs of improvement in academics, mental flexibility, attention, sharing, and delayed gratification.
The program was so promising that the Center for Healthy Minds announced the ”Kindness Curriculum” is now available — for free. With breathing and listening activities, hands-on projects, books, songs, and ample time for discussion, children get an age-appropriate introduction to the practice of mindfulness as well as gratitude, forgiveness, and how to “tune in” to their emotions and feelings.
The 70+ page curriculum also includes thorough instructions and scripts for each lesson along with additional resources and letters to parents explaining the project.
But why start with preschool students? It turns out, it’s all about something called “the perfect window.” Research shows that preschool-aged kids are in a near-perfect period of development to learn a second language or try a musical instrument. New studies reveal that this age may also be the best time to work on social and emotional skills.
“We know that a child’s social and emotional skills when she or he’s 4 to 5 years of age is a very important predictor of major life outcomes when the individual is in their 30s,” says Dr. Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds and the William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry.
Intervening in these early years, and ideally continuing mindfulness practices throughout childhood, may have positive effects for decades to come.
“We think it can have enormous impact and multiplicative effects over the course of development, promote wellbeing, and save taxpayers money on all the problems which could occur were these skills not cultivated.”
If your child is past preschool — or you want to become kinder yourself — don’t worry. Improving EQ and mastering mindfulness is a skill that takes lifelong practice, and you can start learning any time.
Davidson says the best way for children to learn these important skills and healthy habits is for parents to model them at home. “Simply by being with a parent who is calm and kind and civil and gracious, the child will learn osmotically from the parent,” he says.
And of course, practicing mindfulness can have positive benefits for parents too, including reduced stress and improved memory and focus. Unsure where to start? Try some of these mindfulness exercises on your own.
While my fondest memories of preschool involve playing outside and naps, I can’t help but wonder how different I would be, how different my generation would be, if this curriculum were instituted in our preschool years. Would we be more patient? More generous with our time and emotions? Maybe, maybe not. But we can certainly do our best to be kinder and gentler with one another right now. Because it’s never too late to do right by each other ... or for monkeybars.
Share image via iStock.
Lyft Wants To Help Its Drivers Finish College The ridesharing company is partnering with Guild Education to offer thousands of dollars in tuition discounts to drivers.
Congress Is Preparing To Tackle The Higher Education Act. Here’s What It Could Mean For You Congress is preparing to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in 2018 and it could mean big changes to the federal student aid program.
Sony Looks To Improve Data Management At Universities Through Blockchain Technology The blockchain is going to school.
Here’s Why These Libraries On Wheels Are Rolling Into Combat Zones Education "is a vital part of the humanitarian response” that “is not a luxury that can wait until other survival needs are met.”
Education Isn't A Constitutional Right, But It Should Be Without a federal check, education policy tends to reflect politics more than an effort to deliver quality education. It's time to affirm the right to learn in our country's most important document.
College Is Supposed To Help You Get A Leg Up In Life. So Why Do These Students Have To Go On Food Stamps? The new face of food insecurity might be a college freshman.
New GOP-Backed Education Bill Could Cut Funding For Dozens Of Minority-Serving Institutions The bill fails to examine systemic issues that hinder academic performance.
Lucian Wintrich’s ‘It’s OK To Be White’ Speech At University Of Connecticut Ends In His Arrest Universities across the country are grappling with allowing controversial speakers like him on campus, fearing that their hate under the guise of free speech only inspires more racial animus.
5 Lessons From One Of The Music Biz’s Most Successful College Dropouts A conversation about making it big, with or without a degree, with powerhouse producer Jimmy Iovine. “He gave up the game. A lot of people do these things, but they don’t tell you how they do these things.”