Kindness elves and Penelope's Pantry don't necessary sound like a natural match. Although, if you've been reading the blog for a while, you'll remember the Random Bakes of Kindness that my Guides carried out one Autumn term - each girl baked something of her choice to give to a woman who inspired, cherished, loved or supported her. The girls loved spreading kindness and I must confess it warmed my heart a little week by week.
I've challenged my Guides to do a reverse advent this year. On Tuesday they were asked to bring (between them) at least 25 items we can pass on to our local food bank to share with those in need over the festive period. The girls did brilliantly and filled 2 calendars worth of goodies that we'll be dropping at the food bank tomorrow.
At home we're learning about kindness too - my focus with Harry has always been on his manners, kindness and thought for others. None of which are easy for a rampaging 2 and a half year old! But, day by day, week by week we're getting there.
One of the things I've spent the last couple of years being more aware of is the Elf on the Shelf tradition - whereby an Elf comes to visit for Advent. House to house, family to family his role differs, but it largely seems to be about encouraging good behaviour via the medium of reporting back to Father Christmas. Without wishing anyone else to feel judged, I just don't like it. The actual Elf on the shelf is scary. And I'm not sure how I feel at all about a child changing their behaviour purely because they're being watched or being given daily presents in Advent. I don't know. Genuinely I feel conflicted about how that sits alongside how we parent for the other 11 months of the year. And then I heard about the Kindness elves from Anna at The Imagination Tree, (which incidentally is one of my favourite blogs) who focus on developing positive behaviours - love, thankfulness and kindness - which for me felt more manageable, more in keeping with our value base. And I hoped would work for Harry during Advent - a time when so many of us get so much, and yet is a time we should be focussing on giving.
Our elves arrived on the 1st December (I know Advent had already begun) and each day we've had a little kindness challenge to complete. We've made kindness cookies for our Bin men, who without fail wave at Harry every week which is the high point of his Monday mornings. We've donated some of Harry's toys to the charity shop. We've smiled and said Hello to lots of people. We've remembered to say thank you. We phoned Uncle James up to sing Happy Birthday to him and about 9 other things I've forgotten. Much like the Elf on the shelf tradition, Gabriel and Beth(lehem) turn up in odd places, and on 2 days have even brought books with them! When we were poorly with the Winter vomitting virus, they spent the day on the sofa with Harry and I and were kind to us when we needed it.
I think whatever your value base, faith or anything else - it's important for us all to understand that Advent and Christmas aren't just about getting 'stuff'. The commercialisation of the festival does mean that some of the simple truths of Christmas do get lost, and by stripping some of that 'getting' back by focussing on kindness to others I hope we're starting Harry off on habits and behaviours that will last him well into adulthood. Of course he'll be materialistic, want the big toy that everyone else has got, and have a tantrum in the middle of Sainsbury's when I'm tired and rushing - he's a normal child. But if amongst that he can consciously take the time to be kind to others, to give back, to say thank you - then I think our Kindness Elves have done their job.