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Rocky Mountain Academy pupils learn it’s cool to be kind

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

It’s cool to be kind at Rocky Mountain Academy of Evergreen.

That’s why Anna Grose’s kindergarten class got a healthy dose of kindness education last week when they listened to assistant teacher Sharon Hughes read a book she authored called “Caterpillar Kindness.” It’s about the many forms kindness can take: generosity, politeness, forgiveness, thankfulness, concern and encouragement.

While Hughes read the book to the children, a team from a Denver-based nonprofit called the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation observed and taped the lesson, which will be distributed to other schools that use the RAK curriculum.

Dr. Ty Binfet, an educational psychologist at the University of British Columbia, watched as the children heard the book, and he talked with them about what they learned. Afterward, he said research shows the educational benefits when kids practice kindness.

“This is progressive work,” Binfet said of the RAK curriculum. “Kindness helps teachers build a working climate in the classroom based on caring and support. If kids feel supported emotionally and socially, they are better able to learn.”

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation works with groups around the country to help make their communities better places. RAK provides teacher training, and foundation staff members conduct workshops to help motivate groups to promote kindness.

In Hughes’ book “Caterpillar Kindness,” a tiny caterpillar hatches on a heart-shaped leaf, and he thinks the leaf is so special that he won’t eat it, even though he’s very hungry. During the next eight days, he, for example, shares leaves with a grasshopper, forgives an inchworm that bumps into him and encourages a violin-playing cricket to continue performing. As he is being kind to others, the heart-shaped leaf grows and turns red. At the end of the book, a fairy rewards him for all of the kindness he has shown others by allowing him to eat the heart-shaped leaf.

After Hughes read the book, the children talked about what they learned, demonstrating that even though they are only 5 and 6 years old, they understand the different forms of kindness.

“He did all kind things,” kindergartner Fletcher Lindsay said of the caterpillar.

“The more kind things he did, the bigger the (heart-shaped) leaf got,” kindergartner Xavier Gomez added.

Kindergartner Maddie Giles explained: “He was kind to every little bug that had trouble.”

The children also made caterpillars with the kindness words on them. The pink, yellow, green, blue, purple, red and orange circles were colorful reminders of what kindness means.

For Hughes, who has been working in kindergarten classrooms at RMAE since it opened 13 years ago, it took only two hours to write the book, plus she illustrated it herself, too. The first was so easy that she’s penned a second children’s book on sharing.

Her inspiration came from books by children’s author Eric Carle, and she wanted something to dovetail with the RAK curriculum that she wholehearted believes in.

For Grose, teaching youngsters about kindness is a passion because she says her son Jake has a special gift for spreading kindness. Jake, an eighth-grader at West Jefferson Middle School, has some disabilities, she said, but that doesn’t stop him from seeing the best in others.

“My philosophy in my classroom is, (the children) don’t have an option not to be kind,” Grose said. “It’s a challenge at times, but it’s worthwhile.”

Where to find the book

“Caterpillar Kindness” is available in both soft-cover and e-book formats at www.authorhouse.com, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com. Hughes is planning book signings at Rocky Mountain Academy on March 7 and at HearthFire Books and Treats in Bergen Park at a later date.