Over the past few weeks while the winter holidays have consumed our lives, we might wonder: Why do we celebrate holidays? Actually, that question makes a good Think About (Available at www.thinkingzone.org). Teachers might invite their students to pen a list. Just as there are as many different definitions for normal as there are people on this planet, each list will be unique. My short list would include these reasons: the rich sensory engagement, the giving, the sharing of our time with family and friends, the cultural elements, and the traditions that accompany celebration. A holiday, whether April Fool’s Day or Christmas, forces us to pause from the hustle and bustle of our day to day routines so that we might tune-in to all of the great things we have going on in our lives that we overlook or take for granted. We are more likely to count our blessings during the holidays because there are movies, games, music, and events to help remind us that we have a lot to be grateful for. In essence, a holiday forces us to change our routine, to take a break from work and to focus on something special. Holidays remind us that we are made for something more than work—those somethings might include joy. After all, we don’t live in order to work, but work in order that we might live and laugh and love!
In the spirit of celebration and the promotion of living a joy-filled life, from January 16-February 14, consider holding a classroom contest to see how many times the class catches others being kind to one another. You can construct a kindness tree and see how many leaves it grows based on the number of times you and others in the class catch one another exhibiting one of the seven sacred teachings or virtues. For example, when someone is caught in an act of honesty, truth, humility, love, wisdom, courage, or respect (or whatever classroom virtues you value), that person’s name is written on a leaf with a brief note about the action.
This project works effectively at this time of year because Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK) and Valentine were both social activists who fought for civil rights and against injustice. Just as MLK stood for peace, equality and justice—especially for African-Americans and the socially disadvantaged—, “Valentinus,” from the Latin word for worthy, strong, or powerful, came to represent love. Both heroes were martyrs about whom you can discover more at these sites:
A project like this not only opens up for discussion the topics of bullying and injustice but also encourages positive behavior and social justice as children see how simple and rewarding it is to express kindness, appreciation, and love on a daily basis.
If you used the book Have You Filled a Bucket Today by Carol McCloud at the beginning of the year to build community and to open discussion on the topics of kindness versus bullying and mistaken behavior, you can revisit that text experience by making a comparison to MLK Day. If you didn’t use the book earlier, you might consider using it now. You might even consider reading Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport or watching the video reading of the book at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc39Ka8ut6k and then asking students to consider MLK’s bucket-filling nature and bucket-filling qualities. What did others do to dip into MLK’s bucket? How did MLK respond to bucket dippers?
Rappaport’s picture-book biography is an excellent and accessible introduction for young readers to learn about one of the world's most influential leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rappaport weaves the immortal words of Dr. King into a narrative that tells the story of his life. With complementary illustrations by artist Bryan Collier, Martin's Big Words is an unforgettable portrait of a man whose dream changed the world forever.
Picture books like these work at all levels because their topics cross age lines and remind us of the most basic of human needs: kindness and acceptance.