The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds has been busy this year. They’ve added one more project to the many studies they contribute to, and this one is aimed at teaching kindness to preschoolers.
Called the “kindness curriculum,” the free program had children engaging in two 20-minute sessions each week for 12 weeks that would encourage them to develop attention, empathy, and willingness to share with others. This was done by devising activities that would help the children to pay attention to their teachers and to their peers, to regulate their emotions, and to practice kindness towards others.
Using fun props, children are encouraged to settle their conflicts in ways that develop empathy and comradery. One such tool involves “peace wands,” where children who are having an argument are each given a wand that has a different role attached to it. The child with the “heart wand” speaks from the heart about their feelings, while the child with the “star wand” tries to be a star listener. The wands are exchanged afterwards, and the children switch roles. The children are given the time and the tools to come up with their own solutions in a manner that recognizes and respects the feelings of everyone involved.
Lisa Flook is an associate scientist working on the program who shared her insights with Education Week in a recent interview. “There is so much research that shows that these skills learned early in life can set kids out on a positive trajectory,” she shared. Flook estimated that for every dollar spent on early “kindness intervention,” the return can add up to somewhere between $7 and $11.
The researchers measured the propensity that each child had in areas such as sharing, attention, and empathy both before beginning the kindness curriculum and after finishing the 12-week program. Given the criteria for each area, the results have been promising. Though only 38 classes were observed in this preliminary study, researchers are hopeful that larger studies will mirror these impressive results and will encourage the next generation to become kind and caring adults.
To learn more about the study and its results, visit blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/kindness_study.pdf.