Here's another quick back-to-school activity I do to build community the first week of school--a lesson on hurtful vs. helpful words. Despite what our parents told us (and despite what we tell our students), words do have the power to hurt! We have all felt the sting of cruel words at one time or another. They have an even bigger impact on a 5-year old!
(I've been doing this for several years now, and I don't remember where I got the original idea--but it's a great one, so thanks to whoever I got it from!)
I start by asking the kids if anyone has ever said anything to them that hurt their hearts. I write these down on a big red construction paper heart.
Then I ask them how it feels when someone says these hurtful words to or about them. I tell them that for me, it feels just like my heart is being crumpled. I crumple up the big heart. Then I explain that sometimes, the person who said the words may not have meant it. They might say they're sorry, you might forgive them, and that will make your heart feel better. I then un-crumple my heart and smooth it out as much as possible.
Then I ask the kids what they notice about the heart. It looks much better, but it is still crumpled a little. No matter how hard you try, it is never going to be the same as it was before it got crumpled. It's just the same with our own hearts. Although it definitely makes someone feel better when you apologize after saying hurtful words, it is much better to never say them at all!
Then I read Words Are Not for Hurting by Elizabeth Verdick. I've talked about this book before--it's a great book and (I believe) a must-read in all kindergarten classrooms.
After reading the book, I ask the kids to tell me some helpful words, words that make their hearts feel good. I write these words down on another, un-crumpled construction paper heart. We leave this heart up all year long, and add to it when people say nice things. When the heart gets full, we attach a paper chain that has nice things the kids say to each other on the links (the kids write them down themselves). By the end of the year, the chain can get very long!
I then give the kids 2 small hearts of their own and have them decorate them--one with a happy face and one with a sad face. I have them crumple the heart with the sad face.
I tell them these hearts can always serve as a reminder of what kinds of words they should be using with their friends.