Theory and practice

It takes nothing to be kind

How to place kindness at the heart of your curriculum
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June 22, 2023
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In a rush? Here’s the quick run-down. 

  • We all want the little ones in our care to become kind, considerate adults when they grow up. But can kindness be taught? 
  • Emma Davis tackles exactly that. From the links kindness has to  patience, tolerance, compassion and empathy, she breaks down how to plant the seeds of kindness. 
  • Read on for the many, many benefits in making it part of your curriculum, and why it has a knock-on effect in a child’s entire life.
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Now, more than ever, the world needs a little more kindness. Even the tiniest gestures or words can help us get through a tough day or week. However, it’s easy to forget where kindness starts, and how it can be encouraged.  

And what is kindness? It’s an act or a gesture whereby we show someone or something that we care.  It’s a way of considering the feelings of others, of empathising and demonstrating respect as well as making them feel good.  

In the Early Years, it’s our role to establish and maintain a culture of kindness which permeates through the setting or classroom. This helps to create a positive, happy and safe environment in which children and adults act with kindness, impacting on the experiences of everyone. Nurturing kind practices is especially important in Early Years, as this lays the foundation for a child’s future and supports them to flourish and grow into kind, considerate individuals within society.

In this article, I’ll go through why nurturing kindness from an early age has such a huge impact on a child’s life, and some tips on how to make it a core part of your Early Years curriculum.

The big ideas

Why kindness matters

When it comes to the benefits of teaching kindness in the Early Years, they’re twofold:  

  • The person receiving kindness feels reassured, happy, safe and cared for. 
  • Those demonstrating kindness can feel a sense of pride in their actions, happy that  they have impacted on the wellbeing of another.  

It’s through kind practices that children learn to accept and demonstrate core values which feed through their education and into adulthood. These include patience, tolerance, compassion and empathy. 

The Early Years can be a time of rapid development full of strong emotions, and children often don’t have the words to describe them. We can guide children through these tricky times, labelling emotions and feelings, giving children the tools to see things through the eyes of another.

The role of the adult

So where do we, as educators, start to encourage and nurture kindness? Creating a space where children can understand what it’s like to be on the receiving end of kindness, and why we should show kindness to others, is the first step. 

You can create a kind working environment in simple ways, from saying please and thank you, to helping out with activities and paying compliments. This then feeds down into the experiences of the children as they see and hear the adults around them acting in kind ways. 

We know how observant children can be, and our own kindness can inspire them to act in similar ways with the motivation to want to care and be kind. This is exactly why our interactions with colleagues matter just as much as those with the children we care for. 

With that in mind, here are 3 tips to start you off: 

  • Label kind acts and words. Children will begin to recognise what we mean by ‘kindness’ and understand that it holds value. 
  • Offer praise and encouragement when you see positive interactions between children. This could be sharing, turn taking, helping one another to get ready for outside play, using kind words when a peer is upset, inviting others to join their play or demonstrating that they can take into account the feelings and wishes of others.  
  • Model interactions together with children. If you notice a child is sad, label the emotion and talk about how to make them happy, together with them. This could be playing a game, reading a book, having a cuddle or finding a friend.  Through this, children learn ways of helping others feel better, by showing kindness and this then becomes evident in their play and actions.

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The importance of routine

Kindness can also evolve through a warm, safe, happy environment where children are valued and respected - every single day. In this way, children are sensitively supported to self-regulate their behaviour, are listened to, and encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas on a regular basis. 

Why not try creating some permanent cosy nooks and quiet spaces where they have time and space to reflect and contemplate? These are also great spaces for children to observe what is going on around them and spotting opportunities to be kind.  

Within every day practice, children can be encouraged to help with routines, such as giving out cups or plates at snack time, counting the children at circle time or ringing the bell for tidy up time.  These small acts can help children develop self-awareness and confidence which can then lead to moments of kindness. They learn what it feels like to act kindly towards another, making this behaviour more likely to occur again.

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Making kindness a part of your curriculum 

Kind words and gestures should be at the heart of our practice. Now that Early Years settings have the freedom to develop their own curriculum, there are so many ways educators can promote kind practices in unique and engaging ways. 

Children require age appropriate experiences whereby they have opportunities to both be kind and receive kindness. There are many ways we can achieve this, but here are some ideas to start you off:

  • Read and talk about books which focus on kindness.  Think about the ways in which the characters have acted with kindness and how this has made others feel. Some great books are The Smartest Giant in Town, Little Robin Red Vest, The Selfish Crocodile, The Bog Baby, Be Kind, The Hugasaurus, Kindness Grows, Extra Yarn and I’m Sticking With You.

  • Take kindness out into the community – why keep it confined to the setting?!  You could gift wrap some books and leave them around the local area for other children to find.  Perhaps consider collecting items for your local food bank, connect with a care home so you can catch up through video calls on a regular basis, donate duplicate books or toys to a charity shop, go on a litter pick or sponsor a guide dog.

  • Initiate situations which involve groups of children working together. Think about creating a group collage, bake for a cake sale, write a poem with an adult scribing, build an obstacle course or perhaps a den. These types of activities involve children having to take account of the views of others, taking turns, sharing resources, being patient and recognising the perspectives of others.

  • Build a bank of kindness, perhaps pulling together a display or book which you can share with parents. This involves the educators, and children, noticing acts of kindness as a group and jotting them down.  You could even take a photo, too! Educators can look back on these gestures of kindness, talking with the children about how this made the other person feel and the words that were involved.  

  • Create a natural area outdoors which can become a home or feeding place for bugs and other creatures. Include a mini beast house, plant wildflowers and add a bird table and bird boxes. Depending on the space you have, you could also consider planting fruit and vegetables and adding a water butt. Keep these spaces natural and encourage the children to water and tend for the plants. It can be a space for quiet reflection, where children can observe and notice how their kindness has impacted on the creatures who stop by. 

And finally…

As well as teaching children to be kind to others, it’s just as valuable to teach kindness to ourselves.  We can help children accept that we all make mistakes, and that it’s OK – this is the way we learn.  

When mistakes happen, children (and adults) need to learn the skills to be kind to themselves and have the self confidence and self love to just try again. Acknowledge that we don’t always achieve something the first time and instead be kind to ourselves in accepting that we can think about solutions together.  

We all just need to give and receive more kindness, starting with ourselves.

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Please note: here at Famly we love sharing creative activities for you to try with the children at your setting, but you know them best. Take the time to consider adaptions you might need to make so these activities are accessible and developmentally appropriate for the children you work with. Just as you ordinarily would, conduct risk assessments for your children and your setting before undertaking new activities, and ensure you and your staff are following your own health and safety guidelines.

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