Is Kindness More Important than Grades, and If So, Can It Be Taught?

The past year has been a big one for kindness, as noted in a recent New York Times article.

The Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, developed the Kindness Curriculum, in which preschoolers are introduced to a potpourri of sensory games, songs and stories that are designed to help them pay closer attention to their emotions. Since the curriculum was introduced in August, more than 15,000 educators, parents and others from around the world have signed up for it.

Sesame Street, which consulted with the University of Wisconsin team, made kindness the theme of its latest season.

There are other programs that have been around longer which also focused on kindness.

The Los Angeles-based “Kind Campaign,” founded in 2009, organizes middle and high school assemblies that target the problem of bullying between young women. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation developed lesson plans for all age groups through high school. Students are guided in classroom discussions and asked to come up with positive actions.

Ellen Degeneres ends each of her shows with the phrase, “Be Kind to Everyone.”

So the kindness movement is having its moment, and I couldn’t be more pleased. I can’t think of anything more important for children and adults to learn than how to be kind, to themselves, to each other, to animals, and to our planet.

Some people may be concerned whether there is any value in having kindness taught in school, arguing perhaps that doing so should be done at home, and school should concentrate on academics.

Research by clinical psychologist Lisa Flook has shown that youngsters who received the Kindness Curriculum training become more altruistic in tests that measured their willingness to share with others. It also strengthened children’s ability to focus and modestly boosted their academic performance.

Advocates of this approach say that the cooperative emotional skills enable learning, and learners, to flourish.

Another study that tracked kindergartners to young adulthood found that individuals with good prosocial skills — behavior that is positive, helpful and friendly — tended to be more successful as adults than those who did well in subjects like reading and math but lacked the ability to get along with others.

In a national survey conducted by Sesame Street of 2,502 parents and teachers, roughly 75% percentage said that it was more important for children to learn kindness than to get good grades.

Others have pointed out that preschool is a critical time to learn about kindness, but the lessons need to be reinforced as the students get older.

However, for any program to reach its potential, the teachers must be role models of kindness as well.

I’ve written about kindness multiple times, so it’s nice to see it getting the attention it deserves, and that our world needs.

But working on your kindness skills shouldn’t end when you are finished with high school; it’s a life long process.

Perhaps we should all spend a little bit of time each day watching Sesame Street, and then practicing what we learn.

Can you imagine what the world would be like?

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