How do educators teach under-fives to be kind?

Published on Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Last updated on Sunday, 08 November 2020

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Kindness makes people feel good and do good, and in the early learning environment, kindness is something that’s practised by children and actively promoted by educators.

Here we look at this human quality in more detail, and see how early childhood educators nurture, reinforce, and celebrate kindness in under-fives.

What does ‘kindness’ actually mean?

Kindness is defined as, ‘The quality of being gentle, caring and helpful’, and there are several other traits associated with kindness, including friendliness, generosity, courtesy and good listening skills. Kindness is also an important part of empathy, which is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings.

Kindness can spring from the smallest of actions, such as a quick drawing or a surprise video call, and whatever form it takes, these thoughtful moments have sizeable benefits for everyone.

Being kind can increase feelings of happiness and self-esteem, and it’s been linked with better emotional self-regulation. Kindness can have a positive effect on peer acceptance, and it’s also been described as an ‘antidote’ to bullying because it encourages children to learn how to get along and empathise with one another.

Plus, one of the best things about kindness, is that it’s contagious! People feel good when they see others being kind, and studies have found that this sense of ‘moral elevation’ makes people want to be kind themselves.

How do educators promote kindness amongst children?

On a daily basis, early childhood educators help children understand and navigate the social world. They role-model kind behaviour and provide opportunities for children to:

  • Celebrate the achievements of others
  • Cooperate and work together
  • Manage their emotions in ways that reflect the needs and feelings of other people, and
  • Gain an awareness of what’s fair, and what other people need and deserve.

At child care, youngsters learn how to take turns, share, listen to others, compromise, consider their peers and think about the wider community, too (e.g., by celebrating awareness days or taking part in intergenerational care programs).

There are lots of fun and meaningful activities that educators use to teach and develop kindness, including the following:

  • Storytime
    Empathy, tolerance and friendship are common themes in picture books, and reading sessions are used to prompt conversations about kindness, teach youngsters new words and feelings, and ignite their curiosity. Songs and posters can also be used to encourage positive actions.
  • Role-play
    Socio-dramatic play with props and dress-ups creates opportunities for children to solve problems in kind ways and act out nurturing roles (e.g. when a child pretends to be a vet looking after a sick animal).

    ‘Kindness cards’ can also be used to teach under-fives how to respond to scenarios with care and compassion. Cards with different scenarios are drawn out of a hat and acted out by children, with educators providing praise or constructive feedback afterwards.
  • Games
    Classic games like Charades and Simon Says can be used to teach kindness and manners (e.g. children could act out ‘helping a friend who fell down’ in Charades or following an instruction like, ‘Simon Says to open the door for your friend’).
  • Sharing activities
    A ‘kindness list’ is a nice example of a sharing activity and it involves children describing the kind acts performed by their peers.

    Alternatively, a ‘good things’ activity involves children sitting in a circle and sharing positive moments with the child next to them (e.g. they might say, “A good thing in my life is my Granny’s cat” or “Something good that happened is I got raspberries today.”) Volunteers then share their good things with the group. 
  • Kindness art
    Creativity is a great way to communicate kindness, and things like ‘thank you’ notes and ‘hug coupons’ can be made to acknowledge a special person in each child’s life. This kindness art can then be displayed for everyone to see, and think about, at the service.

What is the Kindness Curriculum?

In Australia, the Kindness Curriculum is a free online program that’s been designed to build the attributes of:

  • Empathy
  • Gratitude
  • Perspective
  • Honesty
  • Self-compassion
  • Self-acceptance
  • Humility
  • Collaboration
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Trust
  • Affiliation, and
  • Humour

It can be used by educators, parents and local community groups to teach children kindness, and the early learning activities (from birth to five years) are focused on:

  • Classroom jobs
  • Sharing a hug
  • Naming that feeling
  • Growing a gratitude tree
  • True and false flashcards
  • Puppet play
  • Funny show and tell
  • Mindful breathing, blowing bubbles, pinwheels etc
  • The Duck! Rabbit! Who Are You! book by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • ‘You Did It’ jar
  • Investigating feelings, and
  • Building trust prior to school settings.

You can click on the activities (for all ages) here, and however your child’s educator teaches kindness, it’s an important quality to instil and extend.

Kindness brings benefits to everyone it touches, and whether your child is sharing their precious raspberries or picking flowers for an educator, it’s a quality that’s definitely best shared.

What is World Kindness Day?

World Kindness Day celebrates the importance of being kind to oneself, to one another and to the world.

It happens on 13 November each year and if you’re looking for ways to make kindness the norm, then head to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website for inspirational quotes and kindness ideas.

Additional references

Positive Psychology

Community Early Learning Australia

Further reading

The importance of sharing

Supporting early childhood friendships

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