09/04/2014 01:20 pm ET Updated Nov 04, 2014

Let's Begin With Gandhi

Within the context of "taking care of each other" we begin to build a meaningful appreciation for one another: heritage, customs, values, traditions etc. My four and five-year-olds embark on an age-appropriate, anti-racist, community-building, multisensory curriculum that helps develop social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. At the center of this curriculum is Gandhi.

Children of this age are very concerned about what is fair, and they are not as self-centered as some would think. It is not hard for them to make personal connections when they recognize injustice, for instance, when Martin Luther King Jr. could no longer play with his best friend who was white or when Rosa Parks was expected to give up her seat or when people were being very mean to Ruby Bridges.

Children understand that no one should ever be thrown off of a train ... No one should ever be treated meanly ... No one should ever be judged by the way s/he looks. They get it. At the same time, they also identify with Gandhi who was shy and afraid of the dark when he was younger.

As the school year begins, we talk about ourselves and listen to our friends.
We build an appreciation for one another, encouraging families to share their heritage: family customs and traditions, learning about our differences as well as our similarities. Our main job - our first job - is to take care of each other. This grows through appreciation. The children get it, and these ideas go way beyond our immediate classroom.

I like to think this curriculum is centered on doing the right thing for the right reason. In this way children learn that mistakes are not bad, all feelings are good and as long as we remember to take care of each other, we will be taking care of ourselves. Children quickly learn how good it feels when we help one another.

We celebrate Gandhi's birthday in October. He is a person who tried to be someone other than himself when he went to law school. This ignites conversations about why he thought he had to give up the way he looked to fit in - to be like all the other students.

Gandhi used his words. He did not hit, kick, punch, or push even though he was probably hurt and mad. He took the time to find his words.

These are interpretive aspects of Gandhi that connect with the children. During the year when there are disagreements, it is not unusual for a child to invoke him, saying "What would Gandhi do?"

Gandhi is a model and hero for the children, helping them understand Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges. They get it in an age-appropriate way that helps build the community within as well as outside the classroom. This curriculum is the basis for developing emotional and social skills, and according to research compiled by Stanford School of Medicine's The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education developing compassion "offers tremendous benefits for both physical and mental health."

The children go home and inform their parents. They talk about the books, poems, projects and dramatic play. They talk about what they have learned about Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. King, Rosa Parks and Ruby Bridges, and they ask questions.

Our classrooms need Gandhi. In a world where violence can be employed without a thought and the bottom line often comes before the needs of the people, what has happened to our sense of humanity and how do we get it back? In addition to modeling in the home, Preschool is the place to discover that which makes us need and want to take care of each other.