|2nd Graders Practice Compassion and Conscious Kindness|
|Written by Jenni Leach|
Joey Ullian and Benjamin Meltzer enjoy fresh
vegetables from Mount Madonna's Children’s Garden.
The morning sun warms the faces of the second grade class as they move along a lakeside trail on Mount Madonna’s 355-acre campus. They hike in silence, observing nature around them in their outdoor classroom. With clipboards in hand, they sit down by the lake to write. For this particular writing lesson, the question is: “How do you positively assimilate to nature?”
Over the past four months, all of the second grade lessons have been filtered through a meaningful integrative positive character curriculum. Now, after a language arts lesson on adjectives and similes, and several lessons in life science, the second graders were prepared to reflect.
“I am as creative as the universe and as compassionate as the large world is to me,” writes Blythe Wilson.
“I am as courageous as a water snake, and as calm as the peaceful, quiet lake,” asserts August Jonker. Classmate Summer Howley shares, “I am as creative as the resourceful spider who spins a web for life, and as compassionate as a mama mountain lion caring for her cub.”
This year my second grade class has been focusing on The ABC’s of Positive Personality Traits and most recently on “C” words in a lesson called, “Creative, Conscious, Compassionate Characters.” This concept came from my 8-year-old daughter and student Denali, who says, “Life is like a play and how I act is who I am.”
Mount Madonna School (MMS) values the integration of intellectual, emotional, social and creative learning. The campus’ forest and meadow surroundings, low student-to-teacher ratio, and small class sizes provide students with a safe experiential learning environment where they can practice being aware, kind, caring, resourceful, artistic and inspired. Teachers honor each student’s personal achievements and rejoice as they become conscious, compassionate, and creative members of the school and their communities.
Through this focused character development curriculum, which is integrated in different ways at various levels in PreK through grade 12, students learn critical thinking skills and to question and reflect on their words, behaviors, and the world around them.
With 30 years experience working with children, I have extensively studied child development, psychology, philosophy, and education and have learned how to incorporate positive character curriculum into all educational subjects. The curriculum is enriched by my experiences volunteering in orphanages and schools in Central America, Asia and Africa, studying yoga and Buddhism in India; and working as a teacher at Tara Redwood School, and at several progressive public schools.
I teach centering, calming and mindfulness exercises for self-reflection, active listening techniques for sharing thoughts and feelings, and peaceful conflict resolution skills. Students have opportunities for practicing each of these on a daily basis.
In September, the school year began by asking students, “Who are you?” The children spend their first few weeks looking critically at themselves by sharing their stories, engaging in discussions, associating with book characters and classmates, and by writing in their “All About Me and My Feelings” journals. Students also reflect on themselves as they silently center on their intentions and reflect on their actions. As a class, the full range of emotions and behaviors was considered, concluding that we all have them, and recognizing that some are helpful and some harmful.
With guidance, students learn that emotions come from within, from our own perceptions, and that we are responsible for our own feelings and actions. They share their emotional stories and practice role-playing the alteration from harmful to helpful feelings through breathing and calming techniques, as well through their own original and creative ways of changing their thoughts.
“I just turn the page in my mind,” says second grader Simone McIntyre.
During our morning circle, I encourage my students to share their thoughts, feelings and important happenings in their lives. Often these conversations are fueled by emotional and social situations. By sharing and showing their vulnerability, students develop emotional security and friendships as they relate with empathy and respect to one another. Generally I follow this lesson by reading a book such as: Have You Filled a Bucket Today? or Don’t Laugh at Me. Tales of fear and courage, conflicts and solutions, of love and loss, help students manage their own emotions and build relationships as they connect to others. At closing circle, students recognize each other for “filling each others’ buckets,” an affirmation of ways they’ve supported each other. Addy Catterall-Pendleton shares, “Jared filled my bucket when he helped me with my homework.” And Ashtyn Abmont says “Grace filled my bucket when she helped me when I fell outside.”
As the year progresses I ask students, “What do we all need?” This lesson is integrated with life science, as we learn what plants and animals require. The children brainstorm their basic needs for survival and I teach an adapted version of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Together we discuss how everyone wants to be safe and loved, have friends and respect, and find happiness. From this lesson, students learn appreciation for what they have and who they are. This gratitude leads to empathy and acts of compassion, as they come to realize that happiness comes from giving to others. During a writing assignment on the topic of “thankfulness,” second grader Joey Ullian shares: “I am thankful for food, water, shelter, loving kindness and a full heart.”
Demonstrations of the children’s compassion can be seen in our social service projects. The second grade class led a successful food drive at Mount Madonna for the Second Harvest Food Bank’s Grind Out Hunger program (which brought in twice the amount of food as was donated the previous year!); and is leading Annie’s Blankets for Animals blanket drive. Second graders Ben Meltzer and Bryce Adams donated their allowance money for these causes; and everyone in the class brought in food and donations. Students promoted these efforts through creative written, spoken and artistic works.
Positive character development is integrated into the curriculum in subtle ways, too. In the guided readings group and independent reading center, for instance, literature is chosen related to social and emotional learning, and students write reports reflecting not only on the content, but how they related to the characters. They critique the characters’ actions and words, and what they might have done differently.
In math, students practice writing positive character story problems for each other to solve. Social skills are practiced in pairs as they learn to help each other and be patient. In social/cultural studies, students make connections with people across time and across cultures. Much of our science is biology-based, and as students learn about flora and fauna, they act with consciousness and care. As they carefully weed beds in the Children’s Garden, the students practice compassion for the insects and animals.
“I’d rather play friendly birds than angry birds,” I’ve overheard kids saying. “I saved the spiders, and the rollie pollies,” second-grader Amirah Ibragimchayev says as the class walks, while Ben Pearson shares, “I carefully moved bugs and worms.”
In Art, Music, Dance and PE classes students practice working cooperatively together; they express their creativity without criticism.
Meanwhile, near the school lake, Kayla Goldstein smiles and writes, “I am as confident as the positive squirrel, and as calm as the gentle green grass.”
Jenni Leach teaches second grade at Mount Madonna School. She holds a BA in Psychology from Sonoma State University, and an MA in education from the University of Colorado, Boulder. She lives with her family in Santa Cruz County.