Creating a Culture of Kindness

Inspiring. Challenging. Compelling. Habit-forming. Mindful. Fun. These are some words Shady Hill School (MA) seventh-graders have used to describe their ThinkGive Challenge experience.

ThinkGive is a nonprofit whose mission is to inspire young people to make giving a way of life. In a ThinkGive Challenge, children in fourth to eighth grade are asked to give their time, a kind word, or their help to experience what it means to directly impact others. They learn that what they do can make a difference. For teachers, the program provides a vehicle through which to teach prosocial skills, including empathy, compassion, awareness of others, kindness, respect, and gratitude.

In 2013, Shady Hill was one of the early adopters of the program and helped refine the curriculum. The program consists of three main components: THINK (in-class curriculum), GIVE (individual action), and SHARE (team collaboration). Teachers deliver curriculum to introduce concepts of giving. Students are directed to give according to themes that move them from giving to those in their comfort zone (friends and family) to those in their courage zone (acquaintances, community, etc.).

After each prompt, students perform an act of kindness. This experiential learning is empowering: Students decide what to give; they see the impact their actions have on others; and they discover how it feels to make a difference. Finally, students use the ThinkGive website to record their gifts and engage with classmates
around giving.

When Shady Hill began the challenge, students didn’t necessarily believe that the experience could change the way they viewed their own ability to make a difference. By giving simple, mindful gifts and forming a classroom community of reflective giving, students were transformed in small yet significant ways. They discovered their own power to impact others in the Shady Hill community and beyond.

One student shared, “I see more opportunities to give now, and they do not seem as intimidating.” Another said, “If I saw someone on the street who needed help a month ago, I wouldn’t have gone to help unless it was serious. Now I would because I look at helping people as a good challenge.”

Through ThinkGive, students recognized characteristics in themselves that they liked and wanted to nurture: bravery, mindfulness, gratitude, and generosity. As one student stated, “I am surprised at how brave I can be and the ripple effects that giving sends. I learned that I can be good at giving.”

In addition to the Shady Hill School, the following NAIS member schools have also worked with ThinkGive: Advent School (MA), Duke School (NC), Fessenden School (MA), Lake Forest Country Day School (IL), Lesley Ellis School (MA), Meadowbrook School (MA), Nashoba Brooks School (MA), Spence School (NY), and University Liggett School (MI).

For more information, go to thinkgiveproject.org.