Help Create a Culture of Kindness This School Year

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As we've mentioned, a troubling 2014 study by Harvard researchers suggests that kids place more value on achievement and happiness than on caring and kindness--- and they believe their parents and teachers do as well. It's not hard to understand why that's true: we implore our kids to study hard, to get good grades--- and we spend considerable time and money to assure they're enjoying their lives. But we don't talk nearly as much about what caring and compassion mean to us--- or help them strengthen those empathy muscles by performing acts of kindness and service with them. Luckily, with a few simple changes, your family can help make this school year one that is focused not just on academics, but also on concern for others. The result will be children who are healthier and happier, and a school and community that are more welcoming.

–Jenny Friedman, Executive Director


These easy-to-implement changes will let your children know that caring for others is an important value.

Acts of kindness help children strengthen their empathy muscles:

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  • When your family does its back-to-school shopping together, purchase an additional backpack full of supplies to donate to a student in need. Your child can make a "Have a Good School Year" card to put inside. You might also expand your gift to include a bag of new socks or underwear, hand sanitizer, barrettes, facial tissue, or other things children need (or would like) to begin the new school year.

  • Take our back-to-school kindness challenge. It's a fun way to focus attention on a compassion-filled school year. We have challenges for both younger and older kids --- and a Spanish version, too.

  • Browse through this list with your family. Then together choose a few kindness habits to integrate into your family's school-year routine.

Your school can adopt some kindness policies too:

  • Consider starting a school kindness club during the lunch hour, recess or after school.

  • Add these free simple kindness tips to your weekly school newsletter. We have a different tip for every week of the school year!

  • Host a Family Service Fair. This fun event provides an "introduction to giving" for families. It can also promote parent engagement and jumpstart your school's focus on generosity and community engagement. (If you're in the Twin Cities, you can sample a Family Service Fair by attending our Festival of Giving in September.)


Avoid preaching to your children, but do spend time asking questions, listening closely, and wondering together about the experiences of others--- and about the common good.

  • How would it feel if you went to school and didn't have the supplies you needed? Why is it important to make sure all kids are prepared for school?

  • What are some simple ways could we spread kindness at home? At your school?

  • How do you think being kind and compassionate in our school and neighborhood can make a difference? How about in our city, across the country, or around the world?


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi. Ages 3-7. For a child new to America whose whole world is changing, the continuity of her own name means a lot. And friends who are willing to take the time to learn her name mean even more. This is an inspiring book about acceptance, friendship, and change.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold. Ages 4-8. Celebrate diversity and inclusion with this beautiful rhyming poem and its simple, loving refrain: all are welcome here. The colorful classroom depicted here is the perfect backdrop for a conversation about creating a welcoming and supportive culture.

The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson. Ages 5-8. You'll fall in love with this new picture book from the incomparable Jacqueline Woodson. It is a beautiful reminder to take pride in our own stories, watch for what we have in common with others, and delight in our fabulous differences.


"How can we close the gap between what adults say and what they actually seem to prioritize? The big challenge is not to convince parents and teachers that caring is important--- it appears they already believe it is. The challenge is for adults to "walk the talk," inspiring, motivating, and expecting caring and fairness in young people day to day, even at times when these values collide with children's moment to moment happiness or achievement."

The Children We Mean to Raise, a report from the Harvard Graduate School of Education's "Making Caring Common" program, 2014