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  • Writer's pictureJena Ball

Does Kindness REALLY Count?

It's 12:53pm on a Monday afternoon when I sit down at my desk, wake up my computer and prepare to connect with classrooms in Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and Texas. I've just finished transforming myself into Ms. Jenaia, the retired teacher turned dog trainer whose love of kids and canines plays a central role in all my CritterKin books. Dressed in Ms. Jenaia's signature overalls and floppy green hat, I will spend the next 45 minutes helping the kids experience and explore what it means to be kind through storytelling and creative, project-based learning. I can hardly wait!

Kindness is just the tip of the social-emotional iceberg of course. In order to become competent, caring adults they will need to master empathy, compassion, respect for differences and an appreciation for the often emotion-fraught process of collaboration as well. That's because the world has changed. A recent study commissioned by Adobe Systems out of Stanford revealed that 65% of the jobs our children will hold have not yet been invented. That means employers are looking to hire people who are willing and able to adapt and learn new skills; people who are creative, outside-the-box thinkers who will help their companies rethink and reshape how business is done. Even more important are two important discoveries made by neuroscience:

Emotions Affect Learning: Children who are anxious, angry, fearful and self-critical do not learn well. These emotions trigger the lower brain's "flight-flight-freeze response, thereby shutting down higher cognitive functions. Dr. Daniel Siegel, a pioneer in the field of neuroscience explains it beautifully in this short, two-minute video.

Neuroplasticity: Our brains, particularly those of children, change and shape themselves in response to experiences. It's important to realize that we can teach and give our children opportunities to practice healthy responses to adversity. A challenge then becomes a chance to learn rather than something to be feared and avoided.

But today, as I log into my video conferencing program and adjust audio controls, future jobs and neuroscience are the last things on my mind. As each of the four classrooms comes online, we greet each other with an exuberant, "Hello!" and I jump feet first into the story of Ricky Bobby, a paralyzed puppy mill survivor who was rescued by kindness.

Together we read, discuss, draw and create plans for how to help others dogs like Ricky find their forever homes. By the time our 45 minutes together is over, all the learning I could hope for has taken place. The kids have improved their listening, vocabulary and self-expression skills. They have reflected on and used their creativity to express and share their feelings.

Most important of all, they have learned that proactive kindness can make a difference in the lives of other living creatures in the real world.

Make no mistake about it. KINDNESS COUNTS!

Copyright 2017 by Jena Ball. All Rights Reserved.

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