One day, I was working in a pre-school. It was that special time…story time! The children and I gathered in a circle while another teacher sat in a chair to begin her dramatic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. At one point in the story… after the teacher finished one of the Giant’s loud tirades of “Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum…” a little child’s voice rose above the golden circle and asked of the teacher, “Why was the Giant so mean?” The teacher could have answered this question while still “in character” as the mean Giant, so as not to break the flow of the story. However, that is NOT what happened. Instead, the teacher stopped, took a cleansing breath, leaned forward, and clasped her hands then as she opened them, placed them upon her heart. (This surprise break in character actually made the audience of 4-year-olds more captive than before!) With a tender smile, a tilt of her head and an angelic voice resonating compassion, sincerity and kindness the teacher looked at her captive audience and said, ”Some people’s hearts have not yet awakened… that is why the Giant acts the way he does…his heart is still asleep.” The child who asked this question understood and accepted this explanation. The class understood and accepted this explanation. I did too. The teacher then got back into character and backed-up to the “Fe-Fi-Fo-Fum” part.
A young child’s full-time job is to learn about the world. When they are exposed to some things that don’t fit their picture of the world, as they know it, they ask questions. As adults it is incumbent upon us to remember that their questions are valid and deserve to be answered. Yet we must also remember that there are ways to answer questions that preserve a young child’s spirit and sense of wonder.
A child’s heart is innately kind. The Giant in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk wasn’t kind. I was fortunate to be sitting in the classroom of a wonderful teacher as she did an exquisite job at addressing this incongruent situation to children so as to preserve their sense of wonder and hope. The Giant, like everyone, has the potential to be kind…his heart just needs to wake up.
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for kindness.”
Kindness. What is kindness? How would I take this concept beyond Jack and the Beanstalk to elaborate upon it for children older than 4? I would have to say that it would be difficult for me to define kindness without also defining service. Here goes…
Kindness is the quality or condition of being thoughtful, helpful, considerate, friendly, compassionate, selfless and sincere. An “act of kindness” is an act or deed with these qualities.
Service is an act, deed or work that is carried out with the qualities of kindness, and without the expectation of receiving something in return.
Most children know that it is wonderful to be the recipient of an “act of kindness”. However, it is just as important for children to know how wonderful it is to perform acts of kindness and participate in service. Someone who performs (gives) a kindness or participates in service benefits by a feeling of dignity, pride and self-worth.
As we talk about kindness with our children here are some things that we all need to remember:
--Kindness cannot be taught, only demonstrated.
--An act of kindness can be random or thought out.
--Kindness is a gift that everyone can afford to give and everyone appreciates getting.
--Acts of kindness and service come in all forms.
--You can engage in an act of kindness or service for yourself, others or for the Earth.
Here are some simple ways we can demonstrate acts of kindness:
--Smile at someone.
--Give someone a hug.
--Really listen to someone
--Don’t tease, name-call, gossip or blame.
-- Work with others to find ways to be of service to our families, schools and communities.
As I mentioned before, a child’s heart is innately kind. It is no wonder that we as adults, can learn a lot about kindness from the children. Spending some time among children we often find that they not only have a tender way of softening us but also they have a magical way of “awakening our hearts.” In fact, I think there may still be some hope for that Giant.