“So-and-so pushed me”, “So-and-so didn’t wash their hands”, or “they’re being mean to me” are some of the daily mantras parents might be familiar with hearing like a broken record. Kindergarten is an age where students begin to learn what it means to solve problems on their own, which can often lead to frustration and tears, but also to budding pride and confidence. Each and every day, students come to school either excited to learn or dreading the day. As they learn the routine and know what to expect, they begin to be able to practice the concepts of problem-solving with less and less adult intervention.
Even as a teacher, sometimes the conflicts seem impossible to figure out. However, as time goes by, students surprise me day by day with their maturity in decision-making. Sometimes, they make humble decisions that I know a lot of adults could not make. It is eye opening and holds me to higher standards than I had previously held for myself. There are so many little eyes watching me. They need to see me living out exactly what I expect of them.
The golden rule is a difficult concept for kindergarteners to grasp. The idea that you should do to others what you wish they would do to you does not make sense to them as it does not seem that they gain anything in return. Our Bucket book (Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for kids by Carol McCloud) is really helpful for this concept. Learning that doing something kind fills their bucket as well as yours (makes you feel happy) makes it easier to visualize. Not only that, but if you are kind to others, then others will feel inclined to be kind to you as well. This is not the end of the golden rule, however. We are to do beyond what is humanly possible, with God’s help. We should be kind without expecting any kindness back.
Let’s check the golden rule in context:
“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Furthermore, in Matthew 5, we are called as Christians to “turn the other cheek” if we are struck across the face:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth’. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
This is an unbelievable level of love and kindness towards others. The world expects us to strike back, so when we don’t and we extend a loving hand, it really confuses them and breaks them down. The world cannot handle the kindness of Jesus, nor can they understand His love.
So, how do you teach kindergarteners how to love like Jesus? How to do to others what they wish they would do for them, but without expecting kindness in return? This is hard enough to do for people we naturally love, much less the people we don’t particularly like. This is a very difficult concept to teach, so I don’t believe there is any simple answer. However, I believe teaching empathy is very powerful. Kindergarteners have incredible imaginations. They have the ability to really become the other person through the magical game of pretend. This game can help build empathy by really thinking of how that person is probably feeling. By understanding these feelings, they can then act with kindness in the real world, outside of their imagination. It does not mean dismissing the wrong doing, but being able to have a forgiving heart. While we will be doing no physical slapping across faces, we will learn patience and kindness in all that we do in our time at school.
Some beautiful moments I have observed during class or recess were moments that previously got out of hand. Instead of giving up and feeling sorry for themselves, they worked hard on how to solve it. If they didn’t know how, they would ask for ideas or guidance, often coming up with the answers themselves. We aren’t a perfect class and still fall into old behavioral patterns, but each time we practice empathy and kindness, they get a little better at understanding and genuinely wanting to improve how they interact with each other.
It is such an honor to be the lead kindergarten teacher, and I don’t take my job lightly. Please continue to pray for me in my role, that I would be able to make the right decisions in your children’s lives. We never forget our teachers from a young age, so it is important to never betray their trust, and to be able to help build their strength for challenges they will face in the future.