At Arthouse Preschool in Waunakee, children ages 2, 3 and 4 get their yoga mats, and lie on the backs. A song plays softly, and with a stuffed animal on their chests, they breathe deeply, taking a moment to relax.
The preschool is teaching the youngsters using the UW-Madison’s Kindness Curriculum, made free to preschools a month ago.
It intrigued Arthouse Preschool owner Heather Murray because she had been practicing yoga and meditation for about four years.
She has a child on the autism spectrum, and said she can see how stress affects the body.
Children can sense stress in others – when their parents are rushing to get to work in the morning or grappling with other challenges, Murray said.
“If you’re angry or upset, what can you do?” Murray said.
The curriculum focuses on a number themes, including how emotions make them feel on the inside and outside, acts of kindness and forgiveness.
It includes scripts, activities, parent letters and instructions for implementing the lessons.
Talking about kindness and saying nice words has helped with managing behavior, Murray said.
“It’s easy to say, ‘Are you being mindful with your friend right now?’”
Taking the time to breathe and some down time with a song slows the students down, Murray added.
Sesame Street, too, has incorporated kindness as a theme. A video with Elmo shows what to do “if you have a monster in your belly,” Murray said.
“If you breathe, it helps the monster come out,” she said.
After just a week and a half into the school year, the teachers and parents are already seeing a difference in the children’s behavior.
“Even our parents are really enjoying it. That’s been at home, too,” Murray said.
The lesson of the day when the Tribune visited the class was about waiting, or as one child related, waiting for the bus.
Dropping soil into plastic cups, the children planted seeds. As Murray explained, the next step will be to wait for those grow.
The Kindness Curriculum is said to extend beyond the children’s behavior into their academic performance.
According to studies by UW-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds, children participating in the curriculum not only improved on social and emotional measures such as sharing, attention and empathy. They also performed better on traditional academic measures, like grades.
Murray rings a triangle as a signal for the kids.
“When I ring that triangle, they stop. You feel the energy in the room,” she said.