The Life Vest Inside™ Kindness Curriculum: Understanding, Refining, Implementing and Growing in Kindness from Kindergarten through Fifth Grade
Ph.D. Georgia State University Department of Early Childhood Education
Abstract: In response to growing demands to provide more real-life experiences for children during the school day that are based on improving critical thinking and increasing awareness and use of lifeskills, Life Vest Inside™ (hereafter referred to as LVI) has designed a Kindness Curriculum. The LVI Kindness Curriculum is intentionally crafted to align with the newly adopted United States Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and Bloom’s Taxonomy to elicit higher order thinking skills and increase young childrens’ understanding of and engagement with kindness. Vetted by various educational stakeholders, the LVI curriculum currently includes Units of Study from Kindergarten through Fifth grade (www.corestandards.org, 2012). The LVI curriculum is unique in that it functions as a seamless curriculum to complement and enhance instruction for teachers, unlike “push-in” curricula requiring teachers to “make time” within a school day to accommodate additional learning objectives not reflected in the CCSS. Each Unit, designed by experts in the field of education, includes six lessons. The Units build upon the prior, with the intention that by the end of Fifth grade, students will have received almost forty lessons directly aligned with the CCSS that additionally enhance their understanding of, and ability to, think critically about ways to generate more kindness on an individual and global level.
Key words: Kindness, Curriculum, Education, Equity, Social Justice, Learning.
“We must become the change we want to see in the world.”
Young children are often the purveyors of creating and offering kindness. They give and smile and love and fail to judge, but as they grow they are inundated with television, movies, magazines, and video games (to name a few) that cloud, disrupt and confuse an inherent understanding of kindness (Rice, 1995). Couple this pop culture inundation with the growing pressure on teachers to teach from a scripted curriculum, excluding discussions or even reflections, of kindness and other important lifeskills evoking critical thinking from children, and the fertile ground for growing a community focused on kindness is scarce (Darling-Hammond, 2012). Opportunities to engage children in authentic discussions and experiences based on equity, caring, giving, social justice and kindness within the community is rare and growing more obsolete (Noddings, 2012). Without this personal attention to lifeskills and opportunities for critical thinking, children are educated in a system ignoring the child (Noddings, 2012). The purpose of the Life Vest Inside™ (hereafter referred to as LVI) curriculum is to attend to the child, reengage him/her with discussions and experiences rooted in kindness, aligned with a theoretical framework to elicit critical thinking, all while attending to the current expectations of curricular instruction in schools framed around the United States Common Core Standards (www.corestandards.org, 2012). With these authentic experiences, for both students and teachers, it is our hope that conceptions of learning, as broader than classroom teaching and learning, increase kindness both on an individual and global level.
A common goal for is for teachers is to be culturally responsive by learning about students’ cultures, interests, strengths, needs and school communities (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). A common goal for students in the 21st century is to successfully meet the objectives of lessons taught (Darling-Hammond, 2012). A common reality for teachers, especially in areas failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is loss of control and ability to be culturally responsive because of mandated, even scripted curricula, which removes opportunities to be a culturally responsive teacher (Durden, 2008). Further, more and more pressure is put on teachers and students to successfully pass state-mandated tests; tests which do not account for children’s understanding of lifeskills like kindness, respect, and trust. In fact, in many classrooms across the country, the only time children are exposed to lessons about lifeskills are during “push-in” experiences and occur as a “reward” or happen once a month (Durden, 2008; Darling-Hammond, 2012; Gatto, 2009).
The LVI Kindness Curriculum provides a framework for scaffolding immersive experiences using critical thinking skills focused on kindness with the goal of benefitting not only the student and teacher, but also the community. Research studies on the implementation of curricula rooted in kindness, aligned with the CCSS and linked to Bloom’s Taxonomy are currently not available. Thus, this curriculum, and the research conducted throughout its design and implementation, provides fertile ground for developing a students’ and teachers’ school experiences, beyond the four walls of the classroom to grow kindness individually and globally.
The Life Vest Inside™ Kindness Curriculum
Currently the LVI Kindness Curriculum includes one unit of study per grade level from Kindergarten through Fifth Grade. Each unit includes six lessons. Lessons were designed to elicit critical thinking related to kindness, equity, and social justice. Lessons were also designed with teacher flexibility during implementation. Teachers know their children better than any curriculum designer. With this in mind, we provide a framework for each lesson, but there is great flexibility for how a teacher may want to implement the lessons. We attend to Howard Gardner’s (2009) multiple intelligence throughout every unit, as we involve, for example, the arts, music, composition, and creative writing.
Each Unit is aligned to a specific CCSS for that specific grade level. See the table delineating each grade level and the CCSS applied within it.
TABLE 1. Grade level and CCSS applied within it.
Aligning these lessons to the CCSS was purposeful in that it freed teachers interested in using the LVI Kindness Curriculum from adopting a “push-in” model that led to them trying to create more time in the school day to teach about lifeskills. By using the CCSS as a framework for design, teachers are meeting requirements of the government, but also using critical thinking grounded in learning more about kindness, equity, and social justice for themselves and in the community.
Further designing these lessons with Bloom’s Taxomony as an additional framework was important to ensure opportunities for critical thinking (Bloom, 1979). The lessons include examples of questions and situations where students to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate contexts and issues related to kindness on an individual and community (local and global) basis.
Each of the six lessons builds upon the one(s) before it and each culminates with some sort of celebration of learning. Throughout each unit these celebrations may be shared with the larger LVI community. For example, students in third grade will end the unit by either individually or collaboratively writing a fable based on kindness. With student and parent permission, the teacher may upload these fables to the LVI website where children around the world can read other fables, focused on kindness, written by children their age.
Within each unit of study we outline prior knowledge that students will have gleaned from previous experiences in the LVI curriculum. For example, the first grade unit is designed to build upon the unit children engaged in during Kindergarten. Thus, by the time a child finishes fifth grade s/he will have experienced almost forty lessons based on kindness. It is our hope that we can continue to grow the curriculum through twelfth grade, meaning a student who is experiences the LVI Kindness Curriculum from Kindergarten through 12th grade will engage in close to 80 lessons designed with a focus on kindness, equity and social justice.
Life Vest Inside is currently soliciting feedback from educational stakeholders on the curriculum. The lessons are being reviewed and piloted around the world. Data collected from both the review process and piloting will be analyzed and findings will be used to improve the curriculum. Feedback to date has been overall positive and teachers report a “need” for this curriculum in their classroom, school, and community.
While research related to providing students’ critical thinking opportunities foundationally built on kindness, equity and social justice, aligned with the CCSS is non-existent, this curriculum and our commitment to continued research of it, provides a springboard for conversation and future research examining learning experiences associated with a kindness curriculum as a core component of a child’s education resulting in student, teacher and community benefits associated with stronger commitments to becoming active and effective community members focused on kindness, equity and social justice beyond the four walls of the classrooms.
To connect with Life Vest Inside™ visit www.lifevestinside.org
Bloom, B.S. (1979). The taxonomy of educational objectives: Affective and cognitive domains. New York, NY: David McKay Co.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2012). Powerful teacher education: Lessons from exemplary programs. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Durden, T. (2008). Do your homework! Investigating the role of culturally relevant pedagogy in Comprehensive school reform models serving diverse populations. The Urban Review, 40(4), 403-419.
Gardner, H. (2009). Five minds for the future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Gotto, J.T. (2008). Weapons of mass instruction. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers.
Noddings, N. (2012). Learning to be human: the educational legacy of John Macmurray. The caring relation in teaching, 38(6).
Rice, J.A. (1995). The kindness curriculum: Introducing young children to loving values. St. Paul, MN: Readleaf Press.
This article was published on January 30th: School Day of Non-violence and Peace in Global Education Magazine