KINDNESS CRUSADERS (of the Kindergarten Kind)

By: Melissa Villeneuve

It’s an overcast autumn day and there’s a slight chill in the air. But that doesn’t stop a group of giggling elementary school students from accomplishing a very important task. They are on their way, on foot, from Children of St. Martha School to the train playground at Nicholas Sheran Lake. Some are decked out in superhero cloaks – dubbed “kindness capes” by their teacher. Each carries a gift – a book wrapped in paper with a special message for the person who finds it.

After their teacher gathers them close for one more pep talk, they run off to find a special hiding spot for their gift – giddy with the feeling they’ve done something kind for someone else. This is only one of their latest adventures as “kindness crusaders”. It’s all in a day’s work for kindergarten teacher Laurie McIntosh, who tries to instill the value of kindness by living it every day within the classroom.

“My thought is that especially coming into kindergarten, I don't believe that kindness is just an innate trait that we all have. And some people are kinder than others,” she says. “So, I think my inspiration behind this is realizing that really, ultimately, the only way you spread kindness, the only way you learn kindness is to make it a habit. And that habit needs to be practiced.”

Laurie was blessed to have great teachers growing up, so she strives to do her best as well. She took a keen interest in providing experiences for her students to “dream big together.” Laurie moved to Lethbridge from Lacombe in 2018 and is now in her 13th year of teaching.

Kindness capes began as a simple idea of ripping up old t-shirts to make superhero cloaks and leaving kind notes for people to find around the community. Since then, the kindness missions have evolved. “We have done everything from putting kind marks in books at the library for people to find, to delivering coffee to construction workers working at our school to delivering balloons and candy canes to another classroom… it’s just kind of whatever comes about.”

The school year usually begins with reading books about kindness and small tasks, such as making friendship bracelets for loved ones. It may also involve crossing tasks off on the #BeKind21 challenge – created by Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation – to do a good deed each day for 21 days. Soon the ideas begin to flow from the students in the class. “My favorite one, when we were in Lacombe, was just a little guy whose Nana was in the middle of treatment for breast cancer and he wanted to bring her pink balloons. So we each marched a pink balloon over to her house. So it's not something I ever could have thought, ‘oh, that's what we'll do this year in my year plan,’” says Laurie. “He asked to do this. I was like, ‘Yeah, let's do it.’”

Laurie acknowledges many other instructors teach the value of kindness in their classrooms; her class is not the only one. The one key difference for her class has been the impact of social media. She often shares photos and stories through Instagram and Twitter, or on her blog. It’s hard to share sometimes because “people think you're bragging” or “assumptions are made about intentions” she explains. “But I know that I wouldn't have these ideas without people being brave enough to share.” She finds it inspires acts of kindness not only within her network of teachers but through collaboration with businesses and non-profit organizations. Blankets of Hope, for example, found the class on Instagram. They delivered 220 blankets last year for the children to hand out to the less fortunate.

One of the greatest rewards, says Laurie, is to see children take ownership of their acts of kindness. “When they can drop everything and just say, ‘Oh, we saw somebody in the hall that’s sad. Let's blow up some balloons and make a card,’ and we all work on it and we sneak down the hall. To me, that's our celebration right there, when they start taking the initiative.” Their Kindergarten lessons are just the first in their journey through the school system. Laurie hopes by the time they graduate they're prepared to head out in the world and make good choices. To realize there are good people in the world, to want to take care of them, take care of each other and our community. And it wouldn’t happen without the immense support of parents, school administrators, and even the neighbourhood, says Laurie.

“We often say we're getting children ready for the future to be leaders of the world. And I don't believe we're getting them ready. I believe they are leaders, even as four and five year olds; they can be leaders in their own way. So I think the big inspiration, the big why, the big push is that kindness is just so necessary in the world. It's what connects us. It's what brings us together. And I really believe that as a school, as a community, we can all work together to provide the experience of kindness, so that this becomes habit.”
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