Indoor recess can bring about a range of activities, including games invented by students that attract everyone’s attention. In my classroom, during all indoor breaks or recess times, students from both second grade classes convene in the open space to play one of these games. It’s always intense and filled with all the competition, drama, and emotions that you can expect from a group of competitive 7-and 8-year-olds. On occasion, like one day last week, the degree of conflict surrounding the game caused the entire class to lose game time and they had to find another activity for the last few minutes. This always comes with a reminder that they can try again later.
On this particular day, students left the game with a lot of emotions and started to place unwarranted blame on one another. The atmosphere of the room was one of negativity and unkindness. It crept in during a time that is typically characterized by joy. Students embraced the feelings of frustration and hurt that comes when acting or being treated unkindly and held onto them tightly.
After watching a few students exchange harsh glances and a couple “don’t talk to me” comments were spoken, I stopped the class and made them consider the type of character they were displaying. I sent them to complete their end-of-the-day chores while they thought through their behavior.
As the students worked to organize their physical environment, I prayed that God would guide me to help them work towards the same type of harmony on a social level in the classroom and that God would touch their hearts.
Students returned to the floor for wrap up quietly, not engaged in conversation and laughter like they usually do. We needed God’s presence to get through the range of emotions being displayed, so I asked the students whose image they were created in. They responded that they were each created in God’s image. I asked if they valued the people in the room around them, if they are thankful for them, and if they too are created in God’s image with the same value from God’s perspective. They all agreed.
From there, students slowly began to lift their faces and look around the room. Since cutting each other down had been the response that led to the negative spirit of the classroom, I had students pair up with another several different times: once with another student from the opposite class, then a student of the opposite gender, then a student in their own class, and eventually with a student they had had a conflict with during the week.
While paired up, they were asked to look the other person in the eyes and tell them something they love about them. As students talked with one another, I heard heartfelt comments and wonderful words being exchanged. They were trading in their frustration and negativity for loving and positive words of encouragement.
The spirit of the classroom began to change. Faces began to lift even more—those that were once filled with sadness and even tears were now filled with smiles and laughter. They hugged each other as they worked to restore their friendships by remembering that they were created in God’s image and they were valuable to one another.
As students finished encouraging each other, we turned to look through the verses that hang on our classroom wall—the verses that these students have worked to commit to memory for an entire school year. I asked the students to look specifically for the verses that would help them remember how to treat their friends according to God’s Word.
They grew louder and louder as they shouted out the truths they’ve learned from God’s Word that show how they are to respond to the friends that God has given them. Verses like, “Love is patient.” (1 Corinthians 13:4a), It’s good to get along like family.” (Psalm 133:1), “Love your neighbor.” (Law 2), "The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness." (Psalm 145:17), and “Don’t be mean to your family.” (Law 7).
I shared with them that the value of these verses goes beyond memorization and moves into action. I shared that these verses are an opportunity to learn how God would respond and that they have the same opportunity to respond. I challenged the class to take a moment to pray out loud through these verses and for the friends around them. As they prayed with sincere hearts, I too prayed that God would mold them into the type of people who respond to those around them with kindness and love in a world that so strongly values individualism and self-preservation.
As the prayers of each student ended, faces were glowing and it was clear that God’s presence was with us. Before the bell rang to end the day, one student suggested we sing the song “Lean On Me” to remember this time together and the lessons they learned. In true Academy for G.O.D. fashion, students engaged in a laughter-filled game of freeze dance using “Lean On Me” as the song of choice. The day ended with a giant class hug and smiles all around. Everyone could attest to their spirits being lifted by the Lord and to full hearts. A student led us in one last prayer of thanksgiving before everyone left for the day.
Unkindness was removed from our midst by focusing on the truths of God’s word. God is good. He is close to the hearts of our students. They displayed soft hearts to receive his word and for that I am thankful.