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Ontario English Catholic Teachers

Empathy

The Sunshine Kids.

Heather Schnurr is a Kindergarten teacher at St. Anne's School in St. Thomas. Each month, she encourages her class to think about people in their school or community who could use a little bit of sunshine in their lives. Whether it's letters explaining the difference they make in the students' lives, cards for a special occasion, or even some tasty baked treats, Heather and her group of "Sunshine Kids" have found a way to brighten the day of everyone around them, all while learning the essential values that will help guide them through the rest of their lives.

When I came to teach Kindergarten five years ago, other classes in our board would call their students ‘The Green Earth Kids’ or ‘The Super Stars’ or that sort of thing. So we called ourselves ‘The Sunshine Kids’. Early on, we sang sunshine songs and did sunshine activities, but by the end of the year, I decided that we really could do more to live up to this name, and spread sunshine.

So the following year, we worked together to come up with something we could do each month so that we really felt like we were being ‘Sunshine Kids’ — making others happy and spreading warmth and sunshine in our school and our community.

The first thing we did was bake cupcakes for our Grade 4 buddies. We surprised them and had the cupcakes sitting at their desks when they came in from recess. Our Kindergartens had fun making the cupcakes, even though they didn't get to eat cupcakes themselves. The joy on the faces of our Grade 4 buddies was special for us to see. This was an introduction to acts of charity.

From there, every month we tried to think about who else might need our help. We had ARF Ontario — the Animal Rescue Foundation — come out and talk to us about what they do, and we made them dog-bone-shaped biscuits to take back to the dogs. One month, we made Valentine cards for patients at the hospital, and those who received them were so touched. It made such a great impression on our students when they received a special thank you message from a patient's family member. Another year, we made Christmas cards for seniors at a nursing home in town.

We have made play dough for each of the other Kindergarten classes in our school, and we surprised a class with handmade bookmarks in their library books one month. We also made Confirmation cards for each of our Grade 8 students to remind them that God loves them, and to let them know that we are proud of them. Sometimes we write letters to people who help us out around the school. When someone receives a letter, and they hear what the students have to say about them, they are so touched. We always say to our students afterwards, "Could you tell that we were spreading sunshine? Did you see how happy you made that person?" And I think they really feel it.

At three, four and five years old, it is easy to just be focused on yourself. When you come to Kindergarten, a big part of that is learning to share and get along with others, which can be challenging enough. I feel like our Sunshine Activities are times when we really aren't focusing on ourselves at all. Our students see that there isn't necessarily something tangible that they, themselves, get from doing this, except that feeling — that really great feeling of making someone else happy.

These are the lessons that we want our students to learn. When you look at the Catholic Graduate Expectations, you don't necessarily think of them as things you would learn in Kindergarten, but when you break them down into Kindergarten language, you realize, yes, we can do this, we can start that learning now.

It is things like, "Think of others before yourself," "Cooperate with others in all that you do," "Care about and respect your family and school and church and community." So many of these core values that we want students to leave Grade 12 with, we are working on right now in Kindergarten, by helping our students to see beyond themselves.

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