Story Time: The Foundation of a Family Kindness Practice

The Doing Good Together™ blogger disucsses the impact of 2.5 years of kindness-centered book club activities on her family.

I realize it’s no longer truly spring, but I’m forging ahead with my unfinished spring cleaning list anyway. One rainy morning last week provided the perfect opportunity to tackle the last unkempt space in the kids’ rooms:  their book shelves.

This project felt like multitasking at its best. You see, I was testing out a new tool I created for Doing Good Together™. We now offer conversation cards in handy library pockets, both for our Big-Hearted Families™ Book Club Subscribers and for our partner schools and libraries. Adding these conversation cards to my own collection of books seemed like a great opportunity to rediscover old favorites with my almost-four-year-old.

I envisioned this project taking an hour or so. Ha! I had forgotten how long ago we launched the book club.

We’ve been at this for two and a half years!

Each month since December 2012, I've put my masters degree to work developing the materials to accompany each of our big-hearted books. Then, I've tested them and refined them with my own children. At the time, my little guy was only two, so his sisters, and often their friends, were my focus group.

Over time, we've offered thirty kindness-centered books, activities, recipes, and questions!  For our subscribers this meant something to look forward to in the mail each month. For my family, it was all completed with a little tag-along at my side, but we never put any pressure on him to participate.

As the rain came down and I sorted through these months and months of titles and activities, my son couldn't believe his good fortune. Before I knew it, curious Mr. Four-Year-Old was leading us both in a marathon book club re-do.

Somehow, amid all of our reading and all of our kindness-centered family time, I failed to notice my little tag-along had become the book club's most enthusiastic participant. At four, he's more excited than ever to discover new stories and share new acts of kindness.

His discovery of our archived book club editions was truly a treasure trove for him. And he instinctively, without prompting, asked questions each time I finished reading one for him. How did the mouse feel when he was all alone? What do we do if people want us to be fierce?

I was stunned. Working on this book club has had a bigger impact on my own family than I realized. And I intended it to have a substantial impact.

I, along with our amazing team at Doing Good Together™,  developed the book club in an attempt to fold a thoughtful, philosophical, and philanthropic aspect into family time at least once each month. The Big-Hearted Families™ program was new at the time, and though everyone at Doing Good Together suspected this monthly routine would be helpful, we have been pleasantly surprised at the depth it has brought to the kindness practices of our pilot families.

And to my own.

Our library of Big-Hearted Families™ Book Club titles is immense (browse the galleries of 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 selections).

My daughters love many of these books so well I can recite them for you.  The opportunity to rediscover these stories with my youngest is sure to give new shape to our unscheduled summer afternoons. (I’ve even stapled the conversation questions and other materials to the back covers of our oldest titles.)  I can’t wait for story time!

Looking back on these older versions of the book club, it’s easier for me to see the change this monthly family activity has brought to all of us.

The Big-Hearted Families™ Book Club has

  • Strengthened our empathy muscles:

Each month, we discuss emotions, consequences, alternative endings, and the deeper meaning behind the story. Exploring these ideas through fiction gives us the tools to evaluate them in real life. And that’s just the benefit of the books! The kindness activities we’ve undertaken provide the opportunity to explore each book’s themes in a new way, creatively share our different perspectives, and often make a difference in someone’s day.

  • Deepened our active reading skills:

Without a doubt, this family book club has taught my kids how to be engaged readers. Each month, we begin our conversation with the prompts I've designed for the book club packet. Over the years, all three of my children have grown better and better at asking new questions and at answering in unexpected ways. In the beginning, they were likely to give the answers they suspected I was looking for, but these days, my ten- and seven-year-old, think more deeply, answer more honestly, and stretch for new conclusions.

  • Inspired us all to take initiative:

The book club activities have really just been a starting point for all of us. Because we take the time to do a small, thoughtful kindness project together, the kids have the knowledge and motivation to practice kindness in their own unique ways. For example, my first-grader wants to start a book club with her friends this summer, and though we’ll be choosing chapter books, she is planning to feature kindness crafts based on her favorite Big-Hearted Families™ Book Club activities!

In fact, these activities have made me more open to impromptu acts of kindness as well. We’ve all learned to respond when we see a need or a problem rather than waiting for someone else to fix it.

  • Created calendar space for kindness:

Our goal has always been to make a family kindness practice as simple as possible for you. The book club is essentially a kindness practice packaged up and placed on your doorstep each month. I've prepped the conversation and the activity. We anchor the whole thing around beautiful books the children love to reread. Because the kids are eager to discover the next story, the books rarely sit idle for long before families dig in.

In this way, kindness remains on your calendar -- and mine -- even when life gets hectic, and time is scarce.

Now that our repertoire of big-hearted books is organized, each title reunited with its original book club goodies, my daughters are asking to start from the beginning too. It looks like this will be a summer of rediscovering old favorites, even as we test new projects for books you'll see later this fall!

I'm thrilled to see this habit of engagement and commitment to kindness growing in our whole family.

Have you tried the Big-Hearted Families™ Book Club?

How has the book club impacted your family? Please share in the comments!