Library Specialist Nancy Kiefer shares her experience celebrating World Kindness Day with students this year. -Ed.
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“Kindness, kindness, and more kindness. That’s the way!” -Doc Key
This fall the first and second graders in our library class circles have been listening to and discussing the non-fiction book Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman and illustrated by Daniel Minter.
It is a picture book biography of Dr. William Key (also known as Doc Key), a former slave and self-trained veterinarian who taught his horse, Jim Key, to read and write, performing to immense crowds around the turn of the twentieth century.
Known in his region in Tennessee for his special affinity toward animals, Doc Key began his career caring for horses and mules on neighboring farms. During that time, beating was used to train animals and neglect was common. Doc used a method, instead, that he described as “kindness, kindness, and more kindness.” He continued with this philosophy throughout his long career and by 1898, working in conjunction with the local humane societies, nearly two million children signed an official Jim Key Pledge: “I promise always to be kind to animals.”
The irony of a former slave advocating for humane treatment for animals was not lost on some of the students. One second-grader pointed out that Doc Key, “must know how it feels to be hurt and not treated well because he had not been treated well himself.” Another student responded thoughtfully, “Some people are mean when they are not treated nice, but Doc Key was the opposite.”
Last week we brainstormed words that mean kindness and then discussed what it feels like being kind:
“I don’t know if other people feel this way but my heart feels good when I am being kind. Right in the chest.”
“I breath softer.”
“My head hurts when I am feeling mad. And it is the opposite when I am not mad.”
“I feel smiley when I am nicer to my sister.”
This week in circle, our conversations are filled with animal stories, tales of brave cats and dogs, and ways to lovingly treat beloved pets. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate World Kindness Day, can you?