In Montessori classrooms we talk about how we are a community and what that word means. We collaborate, learn to communicate and solve conflicts by listening, and get to know each other individually. We celebrate our uniqueness and allow each other to be ourselves. We talk about the need to help and support each other. We contribute to the community by cleaning our classrooms together, offering help when a classmate needs it, and talking softly and moving intentionally so that we do not disrupt others. We talk about how a community can comfort each other. Students learn to write thank you notes, invitations to visit for lunch, and cards for someone who is hurt, sick, or celebrating something.
In elementary classrooms, children are searching for and enamored by role models and heroes. I often find my Upper Elementary students reading from a book of diverse biographies, absorbing their stories and photographs. They feel inspired by those who have changed the world for the better, and overcame difficult experiences. Every week, I switch which books are on display near the cozy chair in the nook to vary who they are reading about.
Recently we have been reading the book “Human Kindness” written by John “the Planetwalker” Francis. Books are incredible tools for helping children understand compassion, generosity, and activism. I love that this book gives definitions, gives examples of small and big acts of kindness, and shares stories.
People and stories spark children to have their own creative ideas to help others. They become curious about the injustices in the world and want to help in some way. By reading about people who have helped, they are able to envision themselves doing something to make a difference or a change.
Another way community kindness shows up in our classroom is our Random Acts of Kindness notebook. Students write down when they notice someone being kind. This book is read aloud at the end of the week and a glass bead is added to our Kindness Jar. This helps students recognize each other acting in a positive and helpful way, it also helps them share compliments and inspires them to act in generous ways.
Once the children are inspired we listen to their ideas, offer suggestions to help them make their idea/project/campaign a reality and connect them to others who are experts or can help in some way.
An intentional community that cares for the space and each other combined with books containing examples of generosity and activism help lead children to learn how they can be generous community members now and in the future.