When celebrities “rock” the latest fashions, they look good. When rocks are dropped into water, they create ripples that extend outward from their point of entry. What do these two observations have to do with one another?
By merging these two concepts, and encouraging our children to start “rocking kindness,” by doing good deeds and including others whenever they see an opportunity to do so, we can help them realize how doing things that positively affect the world around them can make them feel good inside… which also helps them look good on the outside, no matter what clothes they happen to be wearing.
Teachers who emphasize connections like this in the classroom can help make kindness more real and relevant in their students’ lives and help them understand how individual actions affect others in ways they may not immediately realize.
A lesson plan inspired by Jacqueline Woodson’s award winning* book, Each Kindness, was developed by Susan Fuller, an urban elementary school counselor (see Sources section below for links). While Fuller’s lesson plan was conceived as an annual theme for an entire school, a similar idea could be adapted for an individual classroom or at home, and is outlined below. This activity capitalizes on the “ripple effect” of kindness. The activity idea suggested in this post could be adapted for use by classroom teachers, or by anyone leading a group of children or youth that meets regularly.
1. Prepare for this activity ahead of time by marking the word, “you” on a number of polished river rocks with waterproof, indelible ink. Obtain a large, clear, open, container that can be filled with water for use during the activity.
2. Decide ahead of time how you will recognize and acknowledge students who perform acts of kindness in the classroom—possibly by giving them a sticker or badge to wear, or by posting their name in a public place. Prepare the stickers, badges, or poster, as appropriate.
3. Begin the activity by reading the book, Each Kindness, as a group. Note that Each Kindness is a powerfully emotional story that identifies missed opportunities for friendship, and describes what happens when kind actions are not chosen in interpersonal interactions. In the story, a new student is mocked and shunned by classmates who criticize her physical appearance and refuse to play with her at recess. The story points out the long-lasting and far-reaching effects that result when kindness is not shown to others.
4. Discuss the story as a group by helping the students identify the feelings experienced by both the victim and the bullies throughout the story. Be sure to mention what could have been done differently and the feelings that would have come from the different, kinder, behaviors.
5. Bring out one of the rocks with the word “you” painted on one side, showing only the unmarked side to start, and the container of water. Ask the class what they think the rock represents, and lead them to understand that the rock represents each one of them and their individual behaviors toward other people. Turn the rock over to reveal the word “you,” for emphasis. Brainstorm with the class some of the significant and meaningful ways in which they can show kindness toward others.
6. Ask the class what they think the bowl of water represents. Help them understand the bowl of water could be their classroom, their playground, their sports team, their after-school club, their family, their community, or any place where they find themselves in the company of others. Lead a discussion about how the actions of one person can affect other people.
7. Gently drop the rock into the water with the word “you” showing, to illustrate the ripple effect the actions of one person can have. Fuller suggests using a concrete example directly from the class discussion as the rock is dropped in the water. You can make a statement such as, “In the same way this rock makes ripples when it goes into the water, when you choose to say good morning to someone you pass in the hallway, the action you just took toward that one person creates ripples, or waves, of kindness that will reach many, many, other people that day. The person who heard good morning from you may smile and say good morning to someone else, and so on.” Talk about how kindness spreads.
8. Fuller says to remind students that the rock represents them and the water represents anyone they encounter in their daily lives. She suggests repeating the action of dropping the rock into the water with multiple examples for maximum effect, always with an explanation such as, “You can smile at a person (drop the rock in the water) and the ripples of your kindness will reach who knows how many people (watch the ripples).” To help students own the experience of realizing the effects of their kindness, call on a few students to give some examples of acts of kindness they could do themselves, and let them drop a rock into the water. Discuss the ripples in terms of what others might experience in response to that one act of kindness.
9. Explain how each and every student can “rock kindness” and ask them how they think it will make them feel. Ask them how feeling good about their acts of kindness will make them look in the eyes of others. Remind students that because kindness makes you feel good on the inside, it automatically makes you look good on the outside, no matter what clothes you are wearing.
10. Describe how acts of kindness will be recognized in your particular classroom, whether it is by wearing a “you rock kindness” sticker or badge or by posting their names publicly. Remind students that “rocking kindness” is the right choice to make whether anyone sees you being kind or not.
This activity helps students learn that performing acts of kindness is sort of like wearing peace and love and other happy emotions as a perfect outfit—not only does it make us look good and feel good, both inside and out, but it creates a ripple effect in the world around us.
*Each Kindness, by Jacqueline Woodson, was named as a Jane Addams Award Book in 2013. The Jane Addams Peace Association provides annual awards for children’s books that meet recognized criteria for excellence in children’s literature while also effectively promoting social justice, peace, equality, and world community. Jane Addams was the first American Woman to win the Nobel Prize for peace in 1931 and is also known as the mother of modern social work.