Photos by Krakora Studios
What if kindness, attention and gratitude were taught in schools just like math, history and reading?
That’s a question posed by UW–Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, a research organization that studies the science of well-being and examines how to improve it across the lifespan.
Today the group is releasing its mindfulness-based “Kindness Curriculum” at no cost. This program is a 12-week curriculum designed for teachers to implement with their preschoolers.
Focusing on a range of themes, from encouraging kids to distinguish how emotions make them feel on the inside and outside to acts of kindness and forgiveness, the curriculum includes scripts, activities, parent letters and instructions for implementing each lesson.
The curriculum originated as part of a research study at the center, where early findings published in the journal Developmental Psychology in 2015 suggested the program could improve both emotional and social measures of child well-being. Children participating in the curriculum not only improved on social and emotional measures such as sharing, attention and empathy, but they also performed better on traditional academic measures such as grades when compared to children in the control group.
Associate scientist Lisa Flook (right) and former outreach specialist Laura Pinger (left) teach the Center for Healthy Minds Kindness Curriculum to a group of preschoolers at the Waisman Center Early Childhood Program in 2011. In addition to exploring prosocial concepts like kindness, forgiveness and gratitude, kids are taught mindful movement exercises to build awareness of their minds and bodies.
Since the findings were first published two years ago, interest among educators and the general public has grown to focus on ways to integrate social and emotional learning in the classroom and at home. Center experts had the unique honor of sharing insights from studying the curriculum with education groups, including Sesame Street Workshop, where they consulted for the show’s current season on kindness. So far, the work has inspired more than 2,200 educators and parents from around the world to sign up to receive the lessons on the center’s website.
“We’re thrilled to be able to share this curriculum with a wider community outside of our lab,” says Richard Davidson, founder and director of the center and William James and Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry. “It’s been an aspiration of ours to bring the insights of the lab out into the world where they can have the broadest impact for kids.”
Davidson and other scientists say that although initial findings on the curriculum are compelling, there’s still significant work to be done to fully understand whether these results last beyond the time of the study and whether such changes can be seen in similar studies.
– Marianne Spoon