One of the responses among the public in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy was to focus on random acts of kindness. Anne Curry, an anchor at NBC News, even got the idea trending on Twitter. #26Acts became a way for people to show they cared (one act of kindness in honor of each child and school staff member lost) for the Newton community. As social justice educators, it warmed us to see the country take acts of caring to heart and to demonstrate to children everywhere that our nation’s caring spirit is resilient even in times of grief.
But there are some teachers who have been focusing on this type of character education for quite some time. Alicia Robbins, a fourth grade teacher at Gowanda Elementary School, has been teaching a lesson plan on altruism to students for over a decade during the Christmas season, using Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch” as a basis. The activity unfolds over a 2-3 week period. Here’s how “Miss Alicia” explains the lesson:
Each year, I turn my classroom into Who-ville in an attempt to emphasize the character education trait of caring for others. I read my class the Dr. Seuss’ book, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. We discuss the character education trait of caring, and how kindness can spread. We also discuss what kind acts “look like” for kids. Then I introduce the Grinch bulletin board, upon which I have the Grinch himself, along with three hearts: one inside the other, getting progressively larger. The students look for acts of caring and kindness in their fellow students as well as family and community members, and then record these bits of “Who-ville Spirit” on construction paper hearts. I pin these up on the board. The goal is to make the Grinch’s heart “grow” three sizes, inspired by our altruism.
The acts of kindness range from “Saw Suzie help Johnny pick up his crayons when they spilled out all over the floor” to “Donated 3 cans of food to the food pantry” to “Brought cookies to an elderly neighbor.” The kids are proud when the Grinch’s heart starts growing.
Thank you Alicia for helping your students grow their hearts. It turns out Alicia isn’t the only teacher in the area doing this lesson. She told us she was surprised to open the local paper this weekend and find a similar bulletin board done by a teacher at the local Catholic school. Go Gowanda!
Are you doing something at school or home to encourage acts of kindness, caring, or social justice? We’d love to hear about it. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or mention it on Twitter using our handle, @PrevEducators.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, and safe New Year!