It would be easy to dismiss International Random Acts of Kindness Week (9–15 February this year, leading up to Random Acts of Kindness Day on 17 February) as just another opportunity to share a few memes or schmaltzy videos on social media. After all, how can a fundamental quality like kindness seriously be given the treatment it deserves when it is squeezed in alongside days celebrating the gumdrop (15 February) and the battery (18 February)?
Look around and you’ll find plenty of activities suggested for this week (inspirational posters, acrostics etc.). But what benefit can there be if the concept of kindness is dragged out for intense scrutiny once a year and then promptly shelved again?
However, if you use this as an opportunity for a six-month review of the classroom ethos you have been carefully nurturing since the start of the school year – or if you set in train now habits you will review at the end of the year – then the timing is perfect.
Here are six suggestions for taking a longer-term view.
- Build a kindness wall
The idea is to build a 2D wall out of paper bricks, each showcasing the acts of kindness performed by members of your class. Think about whether you will give the class a reward when the wall reaches a certain height, as well as what sorts of behaviours might warrant a brick being added to the wall. Display some suggestions alongside the wall – these could change from week to week – so that your expectations are clear.
When it’s time to review, look at the sorts of things the children have been doing. Discuss any patterns (e.g. they’re great at praising each other) or areas where they might improve (e.g. they’re not so good at sharing resources).
- Kindness graffiti
Get the children to suggest ways in which they can be kind to each other. These might be very specific (“If I see a coat on the floor by the pegs, I will pick it up”) or more general (“If someone comes up with a good idea, I will praise them”). They can write these directly on to blank paper on the wall, or on to shapes that are then fixed on the wall. These then become targets throughout the year.
When it’s time to review, discuss how many targets they think they’ve achieved, or ask them to refine targets so they are more manageable or specific.
- Make a kindness chain
This is based on the “pay it forward” principle and teaches children that you don’t have to wait for someone to be kind to you before behaving kindly towards them. Choose a child to start the chain. They must think of ways to be kind to others in the class. Depending on the age of the children and the dynamics in your class, you can specify what sort of things they must do, or which child they must be kind to, or allow them a much freer reign. With younger children, you may need to be the judge of when the act has been performed and choose the next child. Older children should be able to recognise when the child starting the chain has been kind to them. Once they have reported this to the rest of the class, it’s then their turn to be the performer rather than the recipient. The chain is complete when each child has taken a turn in both roles.
You could see how long it takes for the chain to connect all the children in the class, or see how many times it can go round within the year.
- When you thought I wasn’t looking…
This aims to teach children to recognise kindness and to understand that sometimes we don’t get rewarded for it. At the start of the year, discuss the sorts of things that people do for us daily that go unacknowledged. Then, periodically, encourage the children to think of examples. You might then ask the children to complete a “When you thought I wasn’t looking…” gratitude bubble each week or fortnight and display these around the room, or simply discuss examples periodically. Encourage them to think beyond the classroom about things that have happened in the wider school, within their families or in the local community.
- Kindness bank
By the time Random Acts of Kindness Week rolls round, you should have a good idea of each child’s particular strengths. This activity aims to get the children working collaboratively and trading strengths. You may need to pick the groups and/or select roles within the group. The task itself may be closely related to a particular curriculum area (e.g. constructing an object in Design and Technology that requires skills of numeracy, literacy, spatial awareness and artistic flair), or it may be a more abstract “treasure trail” that the children can’t resolve without the help of others in the class.
- What would happen if…
This final activity helps the children to consider what happens when kindness is absent. Get them to come up with a list of all the ways people have been kind to them in the past week. Then get them to think about what would have happened if that particular person had decided not to be kind. Taking the consequences to catastrophic or absurd conclusions is fine if it gets the point across!
You might want to use this periodically as a review activity, particularly if the children sometimes need a little encouragement to do the kind thing.
The aim of these activities is to help children to reflect on what kindness means, so that they learn to appreciate that it isn’t always a two-way process, that it sometimes goes unacknowledged, but that nevertheless it’s an important social lubricant.