#FamiliesRead: Using Books & the Arts to Teach Kindness

I am a reader; I always have been. It’s important to me to instill my love of reading in my children. As a parent I know how special it is to read as a family; our kids will remember the time we spent together, cuddled on the couch or on their beds at bedtime or in the kids’ corner at the local library. As an educator I know how important reading skills are in a child’s education, and that “a child who reads will be an adult who thinks.” I also know that reading ignites the imagination, and I want to encourage my kids to be creative, to let their imaginations run wild, and to embrace wonder and magic and whimsy, for “…imagination can change the world in the most splendid of ways” (Meredith Wood).

I believe that books are a wonderful tool for teaching children important life lessons. Stories and characters can enhance what teachers teach in the classroom and what we parents teach in our homes. For instance, when my son Trey was in preschool his guidance counselor gave parents a list of character education titles to consider reading at home to help our children with social skills. I fell in love with a book called Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud.

bucket book

The bucket filling concept is a simple one: we each have an invisible bucket inside us. We fill each other’s buckets by saying or doing kind things. We dip each other’s buckets- and take out good thoughts and feelings- by saying or doing un-kind things. I found that Trey and his fellow pre-schoolers were easily able to use the language of bucket filling to express their feelings. They were even able to use it to solve conflicts- without involving adults! I soon learned that bucket filling was being used as a character development program in schools across the U.S. and abroad, and I could see why.

I was so impressed with the book and bucket filling that we read Carol McCloud’s other books and other authors’ stories about bucket filling. Before I knew it we had an entire home curriculum- a kindness curriculum! I’m a theatre professor, and I ultimately decided to write a bullying-prevention play titled Have You Filled a Bucket Today? based on the concepts of two of McCloud’s books. The play led to my writing “The Bucket Filling Song” (with composers at @PeacefulSchools) and a picture book, Bucket Filling Fairy (out this fall), about one of my original characters from the play. My son is thrilled to know that our special reading time inspired me to spread the message of bucket filling to other children.

However, you don’t need to be a playwright or a musician to incorporate the arts into your reading time this summer; encourage your children to act out a scene from the book you’re reading or make up a song about the characters. You can also include the visual arts by asking your child to draw a picture that depicts the message of the story. Research shows that children respond well to the arts, and that participation in the arts has both cognitive and affective benefits for them; why not incorporate the arts into your summer reading routine? It’s sure to be a fun and educational experience for the whole family.

As I reflect on my family’s experience, I realize that one book taught my child an important lesson about kindness, gave him language to express himself and solve conflicts, inspired a theme for our reading at home, and even inspired me as an artist! If this isn’t a testament to the power of reading to change lives, I don’t know what is!

If you’re interested in other books about kindness and bullying prevention, I recommend two of my boys’ favorites: Laura Vaccaro Seeger’s Bully and Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama and the Bully Goat.

bully              llama llama

I hope you’ll take the PTA Family Reading Challenge this summer. “When #FamiliesRead, good things happen” (www.ptareadingchallenge.org). I look forward to hearing about everyone’s progress on Twitter: @NationalPTA #FamiliesRead. You can follow me at @AMGHalstead. Happy Reading!



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