Brandywine Elementary program teaches manners
BRANDYWINE — When 5-year old Arianna George’s big multicolor hairbow was askew and was straightened by a handy adult, she timidly said “thank you” and then grinned — she had earned a big leaf on the “kindness tree.”
She crossed the room and chose a maple tree-shaped leaf to hang on a recycled child-high Christmas tree joining a smattering of other brightly colored leaves dangling from the white plastic branches.
“We start in January to encourage good manners and kindness, which I believe is important for young children to learn,” said Brandywine Elementary School preschool teacher Keely Smith. “To make it fun, we started the Kindness Tree, a form of visual learning.”
At the end of each week, Smith and teacher’s aide, Cindy Rexrode, tally leaves and make a link for each leaf in a paper chain stretching around the room’s ceiling.
“It’s a form of visual learning so they can see how many leaves there are and how long the chain is getting. That makes them want to do their best to continue the project,” Smith said with a smile.
“When a child says something kind, such as ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘good morning,’ or helps someone, we say ‘thank you for your manners and get a leaf for the tree.’ They are proud to go over and choose a leaf – they want to see the chain grow all around the room,” she added.
The daily leaf goal is 10 leaves which gives the students a feeling of accomplishment. “This class is special — we average 13 leaves a day. We got 20 last Wednesday,” she said.
Smith pointed out a number line beneath the chain. “We put a star on the number under the chain for the kindnesses done each day. So they learn manners as well as math skills. If we hear manners used spontaneously between them during the day, they also get credited for those.”
When the chain reaches halfway around the room, all the kids get a “brag tag” that hangs on their back pack adding further incentive to keep them interested.
“There’s an overall excitement that revs up as they see the chain growing to the end,” Smith said.
Once the chain loops all around the room, each child will receive a certificate, a “caring brag tag” for their back pack and a feeling of accomplishment, Smith said.
One of the parents mentioned at a parent/teacher conference that she had wondered why her child had become so polite at home.
“This project really resonates with students because they think, ‘my teacher thinks this is important, and I want to do my best to please my teacher,'” Smith said.
She started using the kindness tree in 2014 and “tweaked it through the years so it works for each class.”
“Overall, this project could be used for everyone, not just kids, to raise awareness of good manners. Manners matter! Kindness matters!” Smith said.