Teaching Kindness to Middle Schoolers

middle schooler showing off a walking stick he received as a gift

In mid October, middle schoolers at Arthur Morgan School rush to school each morning. They burst through the front door and make a bee line for the school cubbies. Some of them are in stealth mode, checking behind their backs to make sure no one is watching. Others cannot contain their expectant excitement.  It’s Menitos week which means the community is making secret gifts for one another and leaving them anonymously in each other’s cubbies. The students look forward to this annual tradition.  They relish the opportunity to give and receive gifts each day. However, they are also learning a valuable lesson.  Menitos is a great method for teaching kindness to middle schoolers.

A Natural Lean Toward Kindness

Middle schoolers naturally want to be kind. They are very socially motivated and crave lots of friendships. Their experience in elementary school has taught them that kindness is the fastest way to these friendships.  However, it is right around early adolescence when a new social pressure interferes with that kindness: the desire to be popular.

Before middle school, students often feel content in the one or two close friendships they make. In their new setting though, something changes.  They become aware of the entire social scene and start tallying how many friends they have compared to their classmates. The competition can bring out the worst in them. They feel pressure to make friends fast and sometimes not through the best means.

The Mean Shortcut

Kindness is a very effective tool when making friends, but it isn’t always the fastest or easiest.  In their pursuit to be seen as funny and attractive, middle schoolers sometimes go on the attack.  They put each other down or pick on one another. It creates a vicious cycle as they attempt to pay each other back and violently vie for the top social position.  Kindness is often forgotten.

It is right around October when many school’s honeymoon period ends and this cycle starts up. Discipline issues increase as academic performance dwindles. A simple activity like AMS’s Menitos can help refocus students. Through gift giving, students relearn the art of being kind and remember another way to make friends.

Kindness through Thoughtful Gift Giving

The word “Menitos” doesn’t translate into anything.  No one at AMS remembers why the week of gift giving  is called Menitos, but everyone remembers why they do it: to make each other feel good. Students and staff pick names out of a hat. Often times it’s a person they don’t know very well. Then each day everyone prepares a small gift and leaves it anonymously in their chosen person’s cubby.  The gifts are always handmade. Students often use the school’s various art studios to create something. Sometimes, they need to do research and find out what their person likes before making their gifts.  In this way, Menitos is not only about teaching kindness, but also about building community.

Learn More about the AMS community

The gifts can range from very simple to elaborate,  Usually people start off small, making a cup or tea for their person or perhaps taping a funny cartoon to their cubby wall.  As the week goes on though, the gifts tend to get more elaborate. Baked goods and craft projects start appearing.  It is not uncommon by Friday for someone to receive a hand knitted scarf or a newly made mug.

The Challenge of Kindness

Menitos isn’t always easy. Academics and homework are still going on during this week so students need to make their gifts around their already existing work. It’s not uncommon for a student to get overly stressed and wish they didn’t need to feel the pressure of making something.  However, it’s this pressure that makes the gift giving this much sweeter. Since everyone is going through the same struggle, they know exactly what kind of sacrifice and work it took to make their gift happen. QUOTE

Making gifts won’t solve a middle schooler’s social woes. Students still feel that pressure to be popular and continue to squabble. However, an activity like Menitos is nice reminder for students to be kind to one another. They remember that meanness isn’t the only way to make friends and that kindness often yields better and more long lasting results.

-by Nicholas Maldonado