All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned From My Daughter’s Kindergarten
It was just another Sunday morning. It started out just fine, but then one of the kids set the other off. By the time we were all downstairs for breakfast, the general mood of our family was definitely negative.
We needed a fix, and we needed it fast! A few days prior, our shul had blasted an email out to all the congregants asking for members to help pack for its upcoming move to a new building. My husband and I decided to jump on the opportunity, instinctively suspecting it might help change our family’s suboptimal mood.
We walked in with a general attitude of irritation, but by the time we walked out, everyone was lit up with positivity. My kids, unprompted, said, “That was actually really fun! Plus, we did a mitzvah, too!”
The act of connecting and reaching out to help someone in need greatly uplifted everybody’s spirits.
Why is it that we get into this feel-good state when we reach out to a person or organization in need? As the old saying goes, tis better to give than to receive. We all know that doing a mitzvah, or doing something kind for someone else, gives more to the giver than to the recipient.
While I have always been aware that I felt energized when doing an act of kindness; I just never knew why. During a typical Back-To-School Night for my daughter’s kindergarten class, I had an aha moment.
At this school function, each teacher in the early childhood department gave a presentation to the parents to inform them about the upcoming year and give them a taste of how the classroom is run. Our daughter’s teachers stood before the parents and started to share their ideas. The presentation was interactive, and the teachers wanted the parents to get a sense of their unique teaching style.
The head teacher began, “Okay, we want you to experience what a lesson is like from the eyes of your child. Everyone, please stand up and hold hands. We are going to make a big circle.”
“Oh boy,” I glanced at my friend next to me, a fellow parent, and I thought to myself, This is just what I need. I had sat down only seconds before, and wasn’t quite in the mood to get back up.
We all stood there, holding hands and wondering where they were going with this. They brought in a clear, cylindrical tube with something gray inside that I could vaguely make out. Once everyone’s hands were together in a circle, they gave two people the tube to hold together. Suddenly, the tube lit up. The “tube” was actually a light bulb, and our bodies, each connected to the other, created an electrical circuit to power it. There we stood, the parents of four-year-olds, amazed.
The teacher reminded us that our physical bodies are conductors of energy. “If merely one person in the circle lets go of the hand next to them, the light would extinguish.” The teachers then experimented with different conductors – using our circle as a tool to teach about various objects and their ability to conduct energy. They had everyone continue to hold hands and had two people within the circle hold onto a book. This was an example to our children of how a book is not a conductor. It was an amazing experience to learn through the eyes of our children, and something that I will not soon forget.
The teachers didn’t just use the visual to explain a really interesting piece of science, but went further to impart a beautiful takeaway message for our kids. They explained that not only does this type of exercise create a sense of camaraderie and warmth amongst the children, but it also shows them how it hurts to not include everyone. Exclusion literally extinguished the light, and the teachers went on to tie it into a Torah-based concept.
“Every mitzvah that we do creates a light in the world. Not only did our combined action create a circuit of energy, which produced a physical light, but by reaching out to another, including everyone and holding hands, a spiritual light was created.”
Seeing the tube light up provided us with a tangible image as a manifestation of what happens when we connect with others by doing mitzvot. We feel more energized when we give.
Not only do we physically and spiritually light up when creating an inclusive circle or circuit, but the human brain lights up, as well. When we connect and extend an act of kindness to another, pleasure sensors alight in the brain, and the feel-good chemical called dopamine begins to secrete in our bloodstream. Our brains, bodies, and souls create energy, and when we connect to each other, we light up inside, and create light for the world.
Conversely, however, when we feel excluded, socially isolated, or rejected in a public manner, the mind interprets the feeling in the same way that we experience physical pain.
The teachers explained that during class they spend a lot of time helping the children understand what it means to be a part of a group, and to follow a group plan. During one circle time, they had a child step on one egg to see if it would break, since it was standing alone. Of course, the single egg did break. They then explained, “Look, if we stand on a group of eggs, none of them break!” Several children tested this hypothesis by standing on a carton of eggs. They went on to discuss the concept that when we are together as a group, we are stronger, and ultimately happier.
When we feel alone or excluded we break, just as the egg standing alone does. However, when we join together in unity, we are stronger. Reaching out to someone gives that person and also ourselves strength, bringing both of our internal lights together to create an even larger glow.
I saw a manifestation of this light being created just days later. The Sunday following the school event, my husband and I took our children to Sky High, an indoor jumping facility filled from wall to wall with huge trampolines. Our intention was to help their little bodies expel a ton of energy.
I was jumping with my kids, playing tag, and surprised at how much I was enjoying the moment. All of a sudden, a child jumping near us fell. My two-year-old immediately stopped jumping, walked over to her, put her hand on her shoulder and asked, “Aw, are you okay?” She then leaned down in order to give her a hug.
My heart melted at her care for a stranger.
My four-year-old looked at me and said, “Look, Mommy! Emmy made a circuit!” We looked at each other knowingly, acknowledging the connection.
Her small act of kindness towards this other child made her own little light glow, in a real and tangible way. Therefore, no matter how big or small an act of kindness is, even just a smile or a simple, “Are you okay?” is enough to create an electric circuit of kindness, in which, little by little, we can light up the whole world together. From my children, and one simple Back-To-School Night, I learned what it really means to connect.
I guess all ever needed to know I learned from my daughter’s kindergarten.