Why COVID-kids need a kindness curriculum
Trying a little tenderness might just be the answer for students navigating home and school life in this time of coronavirus.
That's the expert advice of Australia's reigning queen of kindness, Kath Koschel, the inspirational former Australian cricketer and Pride of Australia medallist who has dedicated her life to paying it forward.
The kindness of others defined Ms Koschel's own experience after twice breaking her back, being told she would never walk again and losing her beloved to suicide, all within six years. And while Kindness Factory, which she began five years ago, clocked its milestone millionth entry on the global kindness counter over a month ago, Ms Koschel is far from declaring her mission accomplished.
Instead, she has her empathetic sights set on kids returning to the classroom, launching her new initiative the Kindness Curriculum this week with celebrity ambassadors including Australian cricketers Moises Henriques and Alyssa Healy.
A bright spot on the national road to recovery, the timing for the Kindness Curriculum could not be better - given the global health crisis elevated the national conversation around kindness in recent months.
Developed in partnership with Kaplan Australia well before COVID-19 spawned social media movements like #KindnessPandemic and #caremongering, Ms Koschel said the program's content has been 12 months in the making.
"It's based on 12 attributes that we believe make kindness what it is, so things like trust, honesty, collaboration, empathy, positivity, perspective and humour," Ms Koschel said.
"We've come up with age-appropriate resources that are linked to the Australian curriculum, that will be able to instil these values of kindness into kids and create generational change."
Each of the 12 identified attributes has a corresponding group activity of 30 minutes to 40 minutes, suitable for each age group.
With empathy, for example, children up to five years old use emotion cards and a Sesame Street clip to "name that feeling", while those children in the early years of school also use emotion cards and create a "feelings collage".
Activities become more nuanced and multimodal in later years. Staying with the attribute of empathy, Years 4 to 6 use role-play based on the book The Invisible Boy. Years 7 to 10 are invited to "cross the line" if they have ever experienced a range of potentially hurtful, isolating or alienating moments, including being left out or bullied.
Years 11 and 12 travel back to the 1992 Olympics to gold medal favourite Derek Redmond's 400m sprint heartbreak. After a video introduction by NRL international Aaron Woods, the group watches Redmond's fall - and his heroic finish leaning on his dad - before "putting on his shoes" to imagine what that moment was like.
The curriculum seeks to reinforce a view that city and regional neighbourhoods alike need to "lean" on each other, ushering in the era of he village and random acts of kindness that don't seek praise or acknowledgment.
Ruth Parker, her husband and sons William, 9, and Oscar, 11, have followed Ms Koschel's activities since 2016, when they welcomed her into their home as part of her journey to see how far she could travel on the kindness of strangers.
"It was almost like we were bringing a role model into the house for the boys to see that there are people out there pushing for good all the time," Ms Parker said. "It's really given us a nice focus with the children, reminding them how important it is that there are people out there doing good and they should recognise that and be part of it."
Ms Parker believes the Kindness Curriculum has readily available benefits not just for children but their parents as well.
"It's an amazing free resource that not only schools will benefit from, but that can filter through to the home, working like a partnership to continue this everyday language of kindness," she said.
"Looking through the attributes, the language used is really positive and it's really spot-on in terms of what kindness really is. The words are really relatable, they're not foreign, weird terms the children can't grasp. It's really easy for them to start to embrace and use this within their everyday language and actions."
Social experts agree that getting kids to do something like kindness activities is a great counterpoint to the COVID-19 climate.
"If we can turn 'don't do this' into proactive caring, helping, supporting, community mindedness and good old Aussie mateship, then that's an active message to which young children can proactively respond," says researcher Mark McCrindle
Empathy in the right attributes
The Kindness Curriculum identifies 12 attributes of kindness: collaboration, compassion, empathy, gratitude, honesty, humility, humour, mindfulness meditation, perspective, positivity, self-acceptance and trust
The Kindness Curriculum activities are available free of charge at thekindnesscurriculum.com
Visit Kindness Factory to log your family's small acts of kindness, at kindnessfactory.com