13 November, 2019, By Christine O'Leary

Today, 13 November, is World Kindness Day. This was the opening day of the first World Kindness Movement Conference held in Tokyo in 1998 and it has been celebrated on this day every year since then.

The purpose of World Kindness Day is to look beyond ourselves, beyond the boundaries of our country, beyond our culture, our race and our religion so that we realise we are citizens of the world. As world citizens we are connected with every living thing, we have a commonality, and it is in focusing on what we have in common – not our differences – that we find likenesses and empathy for others.

It is also a form of separation when we fail to let go of transgressions, as it is only in forgiving others – and ourselves, that we can truly experience peace.

An important question to ask ourselves each day is: Am I contributing to unity or separation in this moment? If we do this, we are cultivating kindness and being co-creators of a better world.

It would be easy to think that kindness is an innate part of our character and that it doesn’t need to be taught. But Maria Montessori believed that children need to learn wisdom, virtue, honesty, responsibility, compassion, justice, courtesy, patience and humility – so these are explicitly taught in a Montessori classroom.

In fact, ”character education” is one of the most important aspects of a Montessori education – which goes far beyond educating children in all the usual subjects. Montessori is about the development of the whole child. Life skills such as empathy and respect for themselves and others, mindfulness and self-awareness are all explicitly taught, as are grace and courtesies. These are also modeled by the Guides which, in turn, is reflected in the kind and respectful interactions between Guides and children.

Montessori is far, far more than the materials you see on the shelves in Montessori classrooms. It’s a mindful way of life.

This fabulous quote from L.R. Knost captures it well:

“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.”

It’s so true.

Here at MIC our Junior Primary classrooms have peace tables where children can have some quiet time. Or they can use it as a space to resolve disputes, where everyone is heard and the children are encouraged to come to a peaceful solution themselves.

Some peace tables have jars of paper ”love bucket” scrolls on them where children can – at any time – write something kind about a fellow class member. At regular intervals, their Guide distributes the notes to their worthy participants.

At the Peace Table children are encouraged to find a peaceful solution themselves when managing conflict.

You know the most amazing thing about that? That act of doing something kind for someone else is as rewarding for the giver as the receiver.

Dr Montessori captures it perfectly in this quote from Dr Montessori’s Own Handbook, published in 1965:

“Let us treat them (children), therefore, with all the kindness which we would wish to help develop in them.”

Teaching kindness takes many forms in a Montessori classroom and we’ve blogged about this before. Our children explicitly learn about the importance of filling someone else’s love bucket, and filling their own by loving themselves. They learn about diversity and inclusion and having a growth mindset. They learn about mindfulness, gratitude (some of our environments hold a Gratitude Circle once a week where children consider what they are grateful for). They learn how to wait their turn when someone has a material they want to use, and they learn about being of service to others.

So what act of kindness can you make today?

How about telling someone you are grateful to have them in your life? Or leaving a love note in a secret place for someone? Buy a suspended coffee when you next buy yours? Let that car in the queue in front of you. Could you check on an elderly neighbour you know lives alone? Smile at a stranger?

Remember – your children are watching! Being kind – to anyone – with gestures big or small – is something we can do every day, in a hundred different ways.

Imagine if every school had kindness as a core part of their curriculum? Where children graduate and go out and share what they’ve learned with others.

The world would be a better place.

And our children are making it a better place. One kind gesture at a time.

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