Inspired by this title: Our Class Giving Tree by Kathryn Starke
I was so excited to start teaching first grade when I received my class list of eight boys and eight girls. (That never happens!) My school was not a neighborhood school, which means kids lived all around the city instead of in the same subdivision. We had a lot of buses coming to our school from many different directions, and we had new students every single year. Out of my whole class, only a few of them went to kindergarten at our school. So on the first day of school, I introduced sixteen strangers to each other. They didn’t get along at all. Some of these six-year-olds were hitting, screaming, crying, grabbing, pushing, and tattling. Needless to say, it was not a very pleasant first few weeks. I asked every single child who was in an incident why he or she was having an issue with a classmate. And I always got the same answer-because he or she is “different.” It’s important to remember that being different is a good thing; it’s so boring when everyone is exactly the same. The problem is that sometimes children (and adults) don’t know what to do when they meet someone that doesn’t look or act like them. No matter what, it’s important to always be kind and accept others. People are more similar than you think.
After a few weeks of this nonsense, I brought my whole class on the carpet to listen to Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. (If you haven’t read this story, I highly recommend it.) We talked about how the tree was such a friend to the boy, and how we can learn so much for this fictional character. I showed my students the tree trunk I made out of large, brown butcher paper taped on the back of our classroom door. Our tree was missing leaves, which would be added anonymously by the first graders. The directions were simple: When you see a classmate doing a kind deed for someone else, write it on a green paper leaf and add it to the tree.Spell the best you can.
The tree grew leaves within a few hours with a variety of sentences. Dante let me borrow a crayon. Shania pushed me on the swings. Isaiah sat beside me at lunch. And when you think no one is watching, someone is observing very carefully. These leaves said I saw Yvonne give Sarah her jacket to wear when she was cold and Ben shared his snack with Jonathan. Everyone tried their best to be thoughtful and giving just so they could see their own name appear on a leaf. All sixteen names showed up on leaves, more than once. Pretty soon their positive behavior became second nature and the tree was simply decoration. Our classmates became friends, and room 15 was truly a school family. We were there for each other and always willing to lend a helping hand. You see, in the beginning, they didn’t know each other, which was causing conflict. When you take the time you be friend, you will get a friend. And remember above everything, one thing you can always give someone is a chance!