The faces of students in the prekindergarten class at Caswell Community light up when they share a story of kindness.
Being kind to others is always an important topic for teacher Tracey Kimakowich, but it's taken on a special meaning for students this year as part of the classroom's Light Up the Season with Kindness project.
"As soon as it turns December the kids start talking about Santa and presents and the things that they want and how they can't wait to open presents. We kind of turned it back on them and asked them questions about feelings," Kimakowich said.
"Some children said they were excited to get presents, others said they were gong to see grandparents and other family members, others said they were excited to eat cookies. We decided to take all of the children's interests and talked about how we could expand them into acts of kindness throughout our classroom, school, and into the community."
Discussion and sharing about kindness are an important part of the work Kimakowich does with her students throughout the school year, but during the holiday season she looked for a way to illustrate individual acts of kindness and reinforce the message. The result was a long — and continually growing — string of colourful paper bulbs, each one sharing a separate act of kindness witnessed by either students, family or staff.
"The coloured light bulbs were a perfect place to write down in their words, or their family's words, what they have been doing and hang them up for everyone to see. It looks beautiful and the kids look up and go 'wow.' We talk about it every day at snack time. We sit down and I ask if anyone wants to share an act of kindness that they did or saw in the classroom while they were playing. It's a way for them to think back," she said.
"They are very proud of themselves. At the beginning it was more of us (staff) pointing out what was happening but now they are coming to us. They are seeing it themselves and that is absolutely what we want to see. They are doing and they are telling and it has been phenomenal. They are an amazing bunch of kids."
The 15 three- and four-year-old students in Kimakowich's morning class, along with the 10 students who attend the afternoon session, are sharing their kindness in other ways. A collection of new and gently used toys will find new homes and children to play with them through donations made to the Saskstoon YWCA and other community organizations.
An ongoing partnership with the neighbouring Saskatoon Convalescent Home will see the children stop by during the week before Christmas to share the spirit of the season and some sparkly ornaments with the residents, who the students refer to as the grandpas and grandmas.
"They are so loving and appreciative of us coming over," Kimakowich said. "We talk to the kids about how sometimes these grandpas and grandmas don't have families close by that can come and visit so when visitors come, they are happy to see us. For some of the students that hits home; they have grandparents who are very close to them and they can't imagine not seeing them."
The prekindergarten students also rolled, dipped, and baked sugar cookies to share with staff and students in other grades, one way for Caswell's youngest students to build connections within their own school.
Kimakowich says the learning and experiences that have been part of the project have been a hit with students and their families.
"The parents are very supportive and very on-board with what we do in here which is great, because otherwise we wouldn't be near as successful as we are," she said.
"When we introduce these kinds of things and talk about it, we tell parents we would like them to tell us about what's happening at home as well. If you are going out and helping a neighbour shovel, make sure explain to your child this is what you are doing and why. Let them see these acts in the world around them, not just because we are asking them at school."
Projects such as Light Up the Season with Kindness are among the many ways that teachers are sharing and incorporating the school division's vision that every student is known, valued and believed in. It's particularly important for prekindergarten students who are just being introduced to school.
"We talk a lot about kindness within our classroom, within our school, within our community and also with our families. We relate it to almost everything we do in here. I feel like when they are this little, making them aware of it will help in the later years," Kimakowich said.
"Even the activities that we plan and set out for the kids are to promote that kindness, that sharing, that sense of belonging, the feeling that this is a safe place to be. We want them to feel comfortable when they come here and take that feeling with them and do their best to make others feel that way."