I subbed in second grade today, a day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. To my delight I was asked to read to the class. And right away I knew what read alouds I would choose! I went to my old kindergarten room and there, as if those books knew I would be looking for them, were On The Other Side and Each Kindness by Jaqueline Woodson. I sat down with the class and explained where these book were from and one boy quickly shouted out, “Oh I remember On The Other Side, but I’m sure there’s so much I forgot. Can you read it again?” And then many others chimed in agreement. As I read we discussed what was happening and as they looked at the pictures they had more questions. At the end Woodson writes about fences coming down, their understanding of the multi-layers of meaning to the fences, gave me such joy and hope. Then I read Each Kindnesses. Only a few children knew about this book. Again, concern, trying to understand why the children ignored and isolated a new student, generated so many questions. We talked about “hand-me downs” and second-hand stores. And the end will always touch me as the teacher helps her students understand the “ripple”effect in how they treated Maya.
Woodson writes: The next day her seat is empty, the same day that teacher Ms. Albert drops a stone into a bowl of water, and the children watch as waves ripple away. “This is what kindness does, Ms. Albert said. Each little thing we do goes out, like a ripple, into the world.”
When the students drop the stone in the water they recall an act of kindness. One little girl remembers the many times she missed a chance to be kind to Maya. That stone had its own impact, a ripple effect that couldn’t be taken back. The students sat mesmerized listening to the stories. These second graders asked thoughtful questions and made connections as they discussed kindness and the ripple effect it has.
From taking a stand to include a new friend while breaking down barriers in, On The Other Side to reflecting about missing an opportunity to reach out to another in an act of kindness in, Each Kindness, the children looked around at their classmates and I believe they saw the beautiful smiles of friends, not their skin colors, but who they played and worked with. Who they’re growing up with and how they make room for new friends, as they continue learning about the stone and the ripple effect of kindness.