Meet the educators using science to teach kindness

Science has shown that acts of kindness – such as helping someone in need, or giving to charity – improve our healthThese can help to build better relationships and even be a way to get along with your friends. contagious. These acts promote the production of ‘feel-good’ chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine in our brains, and possibly even give us a ‘helper’s high,’Scientists concur.

That’s why the charity kindness.orgIt is determined to promote kindness and understanding of science in schools. The result will be happier students and more caring classrooms, they say – and society as a whole stands to benefit.

Its Learn KindThe curriculum focuses on the science and art of kindness. It also teaches skills like empathy, self-awareness and emotional literacy. It was piloted in 2020 and taught in 15 countries including the US, UK, and Thailand. It reached more than 38,500 students worldwide. Learn Kind has been adopted by 260 schools around the world, making it a huge success.

“Kindness impacts our physical, emotional and mental health,” says Rebecca Reed, director of programmes at the charity. “An entire year of students experiencing a culture of kindness [could impact] communities, cities or countries.”

Positive News spoke to some of the educators involved in the pilot to find out more.

Then he asked students what they looked like when they felt confused. “They were able to say: ‘My eyes tighten up and my teeth clench’,” he recalls. “This was one of the best lessons,” Evans enthuses, adding that the exercise enabled his students to recognise how their peers are feeling, even if initially they were a bit hesitant.

At the end of the programme, he encouraged his students to “catch each other being kind”. When they witnessed an act of kindness, they jotted down a note, saying what they saw. Kind acts could be as simple and as simple as helping someone pick up something that they dropped. The names of the students who were “caught being kind” were then listed in the front foyer of the school, to amplify their action. “I believe all kids have kindness in their heart, and this lesson brought that to the surface,” Evans says.

His students have seen a significant impact from the curriculum. “They’re making more friends and keeping them,” he reports. “They’re more compassionate: they’re not putting each other down, and they’re better listeners.”

She particularly enjoyed a lesson about empathy, that centred around role play. One child was asked to take on the role of someone who didn’t have a friend to share lunch with, while another was asked to imagine what they might say.

Martelli admits that initially there were some eye-rolls and hesitancy. But the scientific focus of the lessons – activating kids’ natural curiosity by looking at kindness throughout history, for example – along with the activities, was able to draw in even the most sceptical of students.

To round off the programme, the children conducted their own scientific ‘kindness experiments’ – documenting how carrying out kind acts made them feel. One student made a Skype call with his grandma. Another student made cookies with her sister. Unsurprisingly, both felt good afterwards.

Martelli says that students seemed to take the lessons in their hearts and refer back to them throughout the year. She thinks the programme has the potential to create a better world. “I’ve seen so much change in the world over the course of my 60+ years. Our society has progressed in many areas, but it would appear that the basic tenet of kindness has been pushed to the back of the shelf. We are too concerned with technological advances and academic advancements. But kindness? It’s vital for the future success of society.”