When I was a child, my biggest social challenge was learning to speak politely on the phone. I never had to deal with the permanency that seems to accompany every email, text message or Instagram photo sent through the World Wide Web.
It would be easier to completely unplug, but since my husband is not in favor of going off the grid and living off the land, we are stuck here in the 21st century, technology and all. I pray daily that my kids won’t get swallowed up while learning how to be teenagers and internet users at the same time.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a space online where kids could go to share the good things they are seeing and doing?
Welcome to ThinkGive. This nonprofit’s mission is to make giving a way of life.
They work with schools and teachers who share the same passion for character development to bring the ThinkGive Challenge to students in fourth through eighth grade. Through small acts of kindness, kids develop prosocial skills including empathy, compassion, awareness of others, kindness, respect and gratitude. By engaging in direct acts of giving, children learn to look outward, lead with kindness and are able to understand their potential impact on the world.
Throughout the program, teachers present the ThinkGive curriculum to introduce various concepts of giving. Students are directed to give according to specific themes (give to a friend, give to your community, give to someone you respect), eventually moving them from giving to those in their “comfort zone” (friends and family) to those in their “courage zone” (acquaintances and strangers). At the same time, the curriculum challenges students to give spontaneously and anonymously, so they are giving not for the expectation of reward, but for the act of giving itself.
And here’s where the World Wide Web comes in. The challenge also offers teachers a way to use technology as a vehicle to teach both non-cognitive Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills and how to be a good citizen online.
Each student is assigned a personalized page on the ThinkGive website, akin to a page on Facebook. After the teacher assigns a prompt, students give their gift, record it on their page and answer reflective questions designed to deepen their learning. They can visit their Team Page to see and comment on their classmates’ gifts. This social networking component enables young people to engage with, share and learn from their peers.
I got to experience ThinkGive when I signed up for a family challenge last spring.
Each day, my kids and I were prompted to give in a specific yet open-ended way. On the day we were asked to give to ourselves, I gave myself the gift of space by saying no to a future commitment. My 6-year-old son made himself a turkey sandwich of which he was very proud. The beauty was that we were each able to go at our own pace and feel kindness at our own level. All three of my kids enjoyed setting up their own ThinkGive page and typing in their acts of kindness. It became a game that we all got to win.
“We wanted to give young people a way to understand and appreciate not only the power of small acts of kindness, but to realize their ability to initiate and affect change,” ThinkGive founder Penny Austen says. “And to give them a sense of belonging to a community of givers far greater than that of their immediate peers.”
Whether you’re in a school setting or stepping up to create a little joy in the world on your own, there are three important takeaways from ThinkGive that we can all use to make the most of our daily acts of kindness: 1) keep your gift small; 2) be sincere and genuine; and 3) give bravely outside your comfort zone.
As always, when you think and then give, the greatest recipient of your kindness is you.
Learn more about ThinkGive’s free programming for schools and families at www.thinkgiveproject.org.
Please continue to share your stories of kindness with me at email@example.com. Or send a letter to Kindness is Contagious c/o Nicole J. Phillips, The Forum, 101 5th St. N., Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107.
Nicole J. Phillips is a former television anchor for Fox News in Fargo. She is a writer, speaker and mother of three kids. Nicole is married to Ohio University’s men’s head basketball coach Saul Phillips. Her column runs every Saturday. You can visit Nicole at nicolejphillips.com.