I read a story in Huffington Post last week about teaching kindness in kindergarten. Who could argue with that? Comments came in with praise for the program.
The story brought back memories of my daughter's pre-K class. We had just moved to a small town in Massachusetts. It was late in the school year when I rolled Ariela into class. The teacher must have told the children that Ariela could neither walk nor talk, but that she could hear and understand everything they said. I saw the children at pick-up and drop-off and the few times I volunteered in the class. Many of them wanted to help. They brought her the crayons and gave her a turn at petting the class iguana. They understood that she needed extra time to do just about anything. Lesson #1: Patience.
The more the kids got to know Ariela, the easier it was to be friends. The talkative ones did all the talking and the quiet ones moved the puzzle pieces and sat next to her during story time. Ariela had all the qualifications of a good friend. She was a good listener, never complained, let you chose the games, and could be trusted to keep a secret. She would never abandon you. One little boy made a ceramic dragon for Ariela in art class. Lesson #2: Thoughtfulness.
Ariela had a one-on-one classroom aide. There were at least three during Ariela's year and a half in pre-K and eight in the three years we lived in that small town. Some of Ariela's aides were better than others. I'm not sure how well the aides modeled kindness. One of her aides was arrested for disturbing the peace. Another wouldn't take Ariela outside for recess, because it was too much trouble to put on her parka and hat and boots and mittens.
Those aides could have used a lesson in kindness. They had only to look to some of the children for guides.
At the end of the school year, Ariela's pre-K class joined a class from another school for playground activities. A boy from the other school stared at Ariela. He tilted his head and watched from a distance. He probably had never seen a child in a wheelchair before. "How can you be friends with her?" he asked a girl in Ariela's class. "She can't even say hello."
Ariela's classmate became visibly irritated with the boy. "She can too say 'hello.' She says 'hello' with her eyes." Lesson #3: Acceptance.
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