What do you think are the most important traits to encourage in a child’s development?
This is an inherently personal question, one that will provoke a wide variety of answers from parents, educators, and researchers around the world.
There are so many traits and abilities that can add to a child’s likelihood of success that it’s hard to pick just a few.
Not only are there seemingly endless traits that could contribute to a child’s success, everyone has their own unique view on the ideal traits for a child (and, eventually, an adult) to possess.
I certainly don’t intend to tell you that the two traits I am about to discuss are the most important, but it could be argued that these two traits are among those most in need of encouragement in young people. Many assume that they will develop naturally in children, so any extra time spent on encouraging them is time that could be better spent on studying math, practicing the piano, or playing basketball.
Fortunately, these two traits do often develop without any special attention paid to them, but imagine how different classrooms, offices, organizations, and homes around the world might be if they were specifically targeted during childhood development?
I don’t think anyone would argue that the world would be worse off with more of these two traits – so why not give them a shot?
Read on to learn how to target kindness and empathy development, building on our natural tendencies and enhancing our capacity to care about others.
This article contains:
7 Kindness Activities for Elementary Students, Preschoolers, & Middle Schoolers
A quick Google search will reveal dozens, if not hundreds, of kindness activities that you can put to use with children and students.
A few of these activities are listed and described below, but don’t feel constrained by this list if none of them “grab” you – get to Googling and find a kindness activity that speaks to you!
This is one of the simplest activities described in this article, but its potential to encourage a positive emotional state should not be underestimated.
The Temperature Check is as easy as asking a single question at the beginning of class:
“How are you feeling today?”
Not only will this let the students know that someone cares about how they are feeling, it also signals that sometimes they will be feeling something negative – and that’s okay.
We can all use this reminder that we are human, which means that we are all occasionally subject to emotions and feelings that we’d rather not have; however, this reminder can be especially helpful for teenagers, who are likely dealing with more intense and varied emotions than anyone else.
After asking this question, you can instruct students to turn and talk to their neighbor, share with the whole class, or both.
Starting the day with this activity can get students in the right frame of mind to be more kind and empathetic towards one another, and it can alert you to any potential problems with specific students.
You can read more about this activity here.
Another good activity to encourage good listening skills and empathy is the Community Circle.
Before beginning this activity, choose a “talking piece” – this is an object that will be passed around the group, and signals that the holder has exclusive speaking rights. You can use a stuffed animal, a small beach ball, or any object with special significance to the classroom that is easy to hold and pass around.
If you can, remove the desks or tables from the classroom. If this is not possible, either push them to the outer perimeter of the room. Arrange the chairs in a circle or sit on the floor with the whole class.
Tell your students that in the Community Circle, only one person may talk at a time and everyone must listen quietly and respectfully to whoever is speaking. Show the class the talking piece you have chosen, and explain that only the individual holding the talking piece may speak.
First have the students pass the talking piece around the circle to “check in” with each member of the circle. This is a good opportunity for everyone to practice holding and passing the talking piece, as well as an opportunity for students to say a few quick words about how they are feeling or what is on their mind.
As the teacher/facilitator of the activity, introduce a topic or ask a question that you would like the circle to respond to. However, after you have sparked the conversation, make sure to take your seat in the circle and become a member rather than a leader.
This activity can be a good way to start the day, end the day, or simply encourage community and kindness at any point during the day. It is especially useful after something particularly emotional or traumatic happens, whether the event takes place in the classroom, in the school, or on another continent.
The Community Circle helps students relate to one another, and it can encourage students to accept and share feelings that may be difficult to talk about.
Check out this link for a description of this activity and other, similar activities.
This is a quick and easy activity you can try with children of nearly any age. It’s an especially good idea to use this positive, mood-boosting activity to start your class (or your day, if you’re at home).
Instruct each student to turn to one of their neighbors and tell him or her something good; specifically, have them finish one of these positive talking stems (Alber, 2017):
- One good thing in my life is…
- Something good that happened is…
Encourage the kids to be creative with their “good thing,” but if they’re having trouble coming up with something, assure them that the good thing can be as small as eating something they liked for dinner last night or for breakfast this morning.
Once all students have shared their good thing with their partner, open it up to the entire classroom. Ask for volunteers who would like to share their good thing with the class, or volunteers who have given their neighbor permission to tell the class own good thing.
This is an excellent activity to get kids in a positive mood, and it’s appropriate for kids of all ages – even teenagers can find at least one good thing in their lives!
Sharing the good thing will put the students in a more positive frame of mind, and sharing something personal and good with others will make them feel heard and affirmed by others.
If you’d like to read about this activity and others like it, follow this link.
The Write Around
If you’re more interested in getting kids writing than talking, this is a similar activity that can get everyone in a more positive mood. Given the nature of this activity, it will only be suitable for classes where everyone has at least some writing ability – if you have a classroom of preschoolers, you may want to stick to the previous activity!
First, you will need to put together a handout with seven sentence stems (or starters) on it (Alber, 2017):
- One idea I’ve gotten from you is…
- I really like your personality because…
- I know I can count on you when…
- I really appreciate when you…
- Some adjectives that describe you are…
- I am impressed by the way you…
- I look forward to seeing you because…
Make sure to leave plenty of room for students to finish these sentences, especially if they are mostly new writers.
Next, pass out the handouts and ask each student to write only their name at the top of the paper. Collect the handouts and pass them out once again, randomly this time. Make sure each student received a different student’s handout.
Instruct the students to be silent for a few minutes while they write something about the person whose handout they received. They can respond to just one sentence stem or several, if they have more good things to say about their person.
After the few minutes are up, have each student pass the handout to another student (not the handout’s owner, yet). Encourage the students to complete whichever sentence stem calls to them, whether another student has completed it or not.
After doing a few rounds of this, pass all of the papers back to their owners and give them a chance to read all of the nice things their peers have written about them.
If you’d like to continue the good feeling, you can ask for volunteers to share one or two of the positive things on their handout. It will make the reader feel good, the writer feel good, and encourage everyone to be a little more positive.
If you’d like to read about this activity at the source, click here.
Another activity that can help students practice their writing and inject a little positivity into the classroom is the Appreciation Box (Alber, 2017).
First, create a box to leave in the back of the classroom. This can be an opportunity to get creative and make a box that reflects the class, or you can have the class help you create the box. For example, you could have the class vote on a theme for the box or each student could pick out one small space on the box to decorate however they’d like.
Wherever you place the box, make sure to leave small slips of paper or sticky notes nearby. Tell students that they can use the box to write down positive messages, “thank you” notes, or messages of appreciation or encouragement to their fellow students or the teacher, teaching assistant, or other adult in the classroom.
The students may need some examples of the kinds of messages to write. Model what a good appreciation message sounds like by doing a few sample messages out loud with the whole class.
You have a couple of options when it comes to reading the notes of appreciation:
- You can open up the box every few days and read all the notes to the class.
- You can take out a few notes and read them to the class every day (early in the day to encourage positivity in the classroom or late in the day to make sure you end on a positive note).
- You can give students a set amount of time to contribute to the box, then distribute the notes to their intended recipients at the end of that period (could be the last class before winter break or summer vacation).
You can choose any of these methods or create your own method that works for your class – the important thing is that each student should eventually get to hear or read a note of thanks or appreciation that someone has written about him or her.
This activity encourages students to be kind to one another, and to be on the lookout for positive things to write down and slip into the appreciation box.
You can read more about this activity and others like it here.
If you have a particular chatty class or a class that hasn’t mastered writing yet, doing shout-outs can be a good substitute for the appreciation box.
Your students will likely need some modeling to get comfortable with this activity, especially if you have a lot of shy kids in your class. Plan at least a couple of weeks of modeling shout-outs before encouraging your students to join in.
There are many ways to start a shout-out, but Alber (2017) suggests three unique, positive sentence stems:
- I really like how…
- I noticed that…
- I’d like to give a shout-out to…
Use sentiments like these to thank students for their contributions, praise them for a job well done, or call out an act of kindness.
Eventually, your students may pick up on what you’re doing and start making their own shout-outs; however, you may need to specifically encourage them to join you in calling out fellow students for praise or thanks.
This activity can be a great way to end the day. In just a few minutes at the end of class, you can boost everyone’s mood, give students a chance to publicly appreciate one another, and send everyone home riding a wave of positivity and kindness.
You can read about this activity and other, similar activities at this link.
This fun and easy activity will encourage your students to help one another.
It’s as simple as assigning each student a buddy – you can let the students pick their own buddy, you can partner them up yourself, or you can alternate between the two methods of pairing up (Alber, 2017). If you have any cliquey students in your class, assigning a buddy rather than letting them choose may be more effective.
Depending on your unique class, you can use any of the dozens of possibilities for what the students will call their buddy.
If your students are crazy about cowboys, you can go with “partner” – in an old Western accent, of course.
If you have a lot of young kids who aspire to become pilots, you can use the term “copilot.”
If your classroom is an older one with a good sense of humor, you can introduce the activity as pairing up with a “wingman” or “wingwoman.”
Whatever terminology you choose, the activity is the same – each student will work with their buddy and turn to their buddy first for whatever they need help with.
If a student missed a day and needs to collect any handouts or copy lecture notes, they should first ask their buddy.
If a student is having trouble with a concept you are going over, they should first check in with their buddy to see whether he or she can explain it.
You’ve probably noticed the theme – whatever issue or problem a student is having (unless it’s an emergency), he or she should first work one-on-one with a buddy to attempt to solve it. If that fails, the student can elevate the issue to the teacher level.
To make sure students get a chance to work on their relationship skills with a wide range of people and personalities, have them switch buddies regularly. They can find a new buddy each week, every other week, every month, or any other period of time that works for your class.
This activity will give your students ample opportunity to build their communication skills, practice accountability, and be kind to one another.
Click this link to read about this activity and similar kindness-provoking activities.
4 Empathy Worksheets for Students & Adults (PDF)
While it’s important to begin instilling kindness and empathy early, it’s never too late to learn how to be more empathetic. There are many worksheets and activities for students, adolescents, and adults to enhance their capacity for empathy.
A few of these worksheets are listed and described below.
Accurate Listening Exercise
While not a worksheet per se, these are two very valuable handouts that can encourage empathy in children and adults of all ages.
The first handout lists the seven steps for accurate listening, a practice which is an important first step in showing empathy and compassion for others.
The steps are as follows:
- You must concentrate on not talking, while the other person is talking. Be sure to pay attention and to look directly at the speaker.
- Be sure you are listening to the other person when he or she is talking, instead of preparing your reply.
- Make sure you are paying attention to how the person is behaving.
- Be aware of the body language of the other person.
- Let the other person know that you’re listening – for example, by shaking your head.
- When the other person stops talking, try to paraphrase or translate what he or she said. Reflect what you think you have heard. This technique helps to ensure if there is a clear understanding.
- Try to recognize the individual’s feelings – for example: “You sound angry” or “You seem to be upset,” etc.
Listening sounds like an easy thing to do but there is a big difference, in both process and outcomes, between simply “listening” without paying much attention and active listening. Active listening is the best way to connect with another person, and is a vital piece of healthy relationships.
To see these steps listed in their original source, click here and scroll to page 40.
The second handout takes this general description of accurate listening and encourages you to apply it in your life.
The instructions are as follows:
“Consider, for example, a person in your family or at work you have a different opinion to. The next steps below describe how you can practice reflective listening and really hear the other person in real-life situations. You can use this tool whenever you have to deal with, for example, a discussion or conflict between people.”
- The five steps to applying accurate listening to a real-life situation are:
Choose a person with whom you are having relationship difficulties or a person that you know holds different beliefs from your own, and really try to step into those shoes for a period of time. For example, try to imagine you are doing someone else’s work. You can note whether your ability to empathize [sic] changes based on seeing the other’s point of view.
- Think about the conversations that you have had with that person. Consciously check your own interpretations of what that person is saying.
- You can begin on focusing on them, and before moving forward, think about what would happen if you framed the conversation from the perspective of “I just want to make sure I understand you. Can I clarify?” Rarely do people say no to this.
- Clarify what you’ve heard by reflecting the meanings and feelings from the other person. You can check if you fully understood the other by asking.
- When you are speaking you can also ask the other person if he or she wouldn’t mind sharing what they’ve heard you say. Then, you can consider how you would correct the other if you feel misunderstood.
To see this second handout, open the same PDF and scroll to page 57. Make sure to stop at a few other pages to check out the other activities, resources, and information on improving empathy!
This worksheet can be completed individually or in a group setting. It takes a little bit of time to prepare this exercise, but it can be extremely helpful in differentiating between empathizing and other reactions we tend towards instead of empathizing.
Print out the handout you can find in this PDF on the last page, or copy the words to pieces of paper you have already prepared. The twelve squares should read:
- Story Telling
- Shutting Down
- Fixing It
If you’re leading a group through this exercise, you can simply read through the dialogue between two people (“A” and “B”) and instruct the group to decide which square corresponds with which conversation.
If you’re working through this worksheet on your own, have a friend write down the dialogues on a separate sheet of paper (so you don’t inadvertently see the correct pairings) and work through matching the reactions to the conversations.
The dialogues include back-and-forths such as:
1. A: I’m worried about having enough money to pay my bills this month.
B: I’ll loan you the money.
2. A: Look at my scar from the cycling accident.
B: That’s nothing, you should see the one I have on my knee.
3. A: I got caught in traffic for two hours in 100-degree weather and no air conditioning.
B: That reminds me of the time…
As you can see, each of these dialogues display a reaction we may have when someone shares with us.
Of course, none of these three examples are showcasing empathy, but each reaction is modeled in one dialogue so you have a chance to see all of them in action.
In case you’re wondering, dialogue 1 corresponds to “Fixing It,” dialogue 2 corresponds to “One-Upping,” and dialogue 3 corresponds to “Story Telling.”
This exercise can help you or your group to learn about all the different ways we can respond to a friend in need of empathy, and why empathy is usually the best choice.
Learning About Empathy Worksheet
This worksheet is great for students and younger children due to the simple language and child-oriented depictions of empathy, but the gist of this worksheet can be applied for older students and adults as well.
Completing this worksheet will help students learn about what empathy is, how to spot empathy, how to practice empathy, and why it’s important.
The first page of this two-page handout offers the following description of empathy:
“Empathy is the caring emotion. It means the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to feel what they are feeling. For example, if you saw a little girl cry because she dropped her ice cream on the ground, you might feel empathy towards her because you could relate to her sense of sadness. You might even feel a tinge of sadness yourself. This feeling of sadness or happiness because of what others experience is called empathy.”
After this definition of empathy, the second page provides space for the student to answer some prompts that will get him or her thinking about empathy.
These questions/prompts are:
- Describe a time when you’ve felt empathy toward someone else, meaning that you felt sad or happy because you could sense what they were feeling.
- What do you think is the purpose of empathy?
- Empathy is just like any other skill: the more we practice it, the stronger it gets. What are some ways you might work to expand your empathy by showing care and concern for others?
Responding to these prompts will encourage the student to think of him- or her-self as capable of empathizing with others, to think about how to practice empathy going forward, and to think critically about why empathy is so important.
If you are interested in downloading this worksheet for your students or your clients, click here.
Crying Baby Empathy Worksheet
This is another good worksheet for younger students to learn about empathy. It approaches the idea of empathy through something that everyone is familiar with: the inconsistent and ever-changing moods of babies!
On the first page, students will have an opportunity to engage in a fun, creative activity – there is a cartoon crying baby that students can color in.
On the second page, the real work begins. The worksheet reminds readers that babies can get fussy or unhappy for a variety of reasons, including a stomach ache, being hungry, or getting scared by something.
The first question students can respond to is “What do you think might have made this baby unhappy?”
Next, students are encouraged to think about other ways to tell whether babies are happy or not: “Besides crying, what are some other ways you might know that a baby is unhappy?”
The third question encourages students to think about being kind and empathetic: “What might you do to comfort this baby?”
Next, the worksheet states the following explanation about babies’ seemingly erratic behavior:
“Babies cry because they don’t have any other way to express themselves or communicate. If something is upsetting them, they can’t just use their words to say what it is. And if grown-ups can’t figure out what is hurting them (or maybe they know what it is but can’t help), then a baby may cry and cry and cry.”
The next question students must consider is “What are some of the things that might make a baby cry?”
The next question bridges the gap between babies’ communication methods and the communication opportunities available to older child: “Babies can’t speak to tell us their problems, but older kids can. What are some of the ways that you can express yourself or communicate?”
This question gets students to start thinking about how they have much greater opportunity to communicate than babies do, which might remind students to use some of those communication opportunities more often.
On page 3, the questions continue with: “Are there times when it’s hard to express how you’re feeling?”
The following explanation and question are intended to get students thinking about how we can affect and influence the moods of others around us:
“When a baby cries and looks unhappy, this upsets the mother and father, too. It’s upsetting because the baby’s mood affects the mother, and it can be frustrating when someone you care about is unhappy and you can’t seem to do anything about it. But does the baby mean to upset its mother? Of course not! The baby just doesn’t like to be unhappy, and wants someone to soothe their unhappiness. A crying baby isn’t a “bad” baby, just a baby who has a problem he needs help with.
What are some other things kids might do that affect their parents’ mood?”
Next, the worksheet encourages the student to apply that idea to him- or her-self: “Are there times when others do things that are upsetting to you, even though they don’t mean to?”
Finally, the worksheet ends with a question that is intended to help the student brainstorm some ways to remember that others don’t usually mean to upset us, and ways to keep calm when others are upsetting them: “When someone else’s moods or actions are frustrating us, what are some of the ways you could keep calm yourself?”
As you can see from these questions, this worksheet leads kids through the process of understanding what empathy is, empathizing with others, realizing that often we can be upset by others even when they don’t intend to upset us, and thinking about ways to deal with the feelings that can arise when others are upsetting us.
This worksheet is a great way for kids to learn about empathy. It would be most helpful to follow up this worksheet with some exercises that get kids trying out empathy on the spot, to make the transition from learning to practicing as smooth as possible.
If you’d like to download or print this worksheet, click here.
How to Teach Kindness
It sounds daunting, to be sure – how do you teach something as important as kindness to children?
The good news is that kindness is a natural human activity that will likely take little prodding or encouragement for students to begin. However, it is something that should be practiced regularly to ensure that it will “stick” with kids through childhood and into adulthood.
Kindness can be taught both in the home and in the classroom –preferably in both contexts!
There are many strategies for teaching kindness (far too many to list them all here) but these six are solid strategies to start with (Proud to be Primary, 2017):
Brainstorm Ideas as a Class (or a Family)
Children (and adults!) are more likely to be engaged and involved in something they helped to create or develop. According to this idea, brainstorming ideas on how to be kind as a class should instill a sense of ownership in kids that will keep them excited and enthusiastic to practice kindness.
You can brainstorm as a large group with open-ended questions like “What was something kind you saw someone do lately – big or small?” Write down the students’ responses on a white board to chalk board and break them into two categories (big vs. small), but be sure to emphasize the importance of small acts of kindness in addition to the grand gestures.
You can also brainstorm independently by passing out a notecard to each child and instructing them to write down something nice that someone else did for him or her lately, and how it made the student feel. Collect these notecards and read them aloud for everyone to hear to help students understand acts of kindness.
Random Acts of Kindness
Once students understand what acts of kindness are, introduce them to the idea of random acts of kindness. Sharing this idea with them can encourage them to show kindness to their friends and families in unexpected ways.
One method is to use “complimentary” notes, or positive sticky notes. Provide the class with sticky notes in a noticeable spot and explain that anyone can take a sticky note at any time and write down a compliment for another student. They should sneak the sticky note onto that student’s desk when he or she is not looking to make it “random” and fun!
Another method is to use the more common “thank you” notes. Give your students some time to write down their thanks for someone who recently did something nice for them, and encourage them to deliver their note as soon as they can.
Acts of Kindness Challenge
Challenging your students to a competition can be a great motivator for them to turn up the kindness. In this challenge, students are tasked with recognizing when someone does something nice for them unexpectedly and surprising others with random acts of kindness themselves.
Give the students a goal to meet, such as acting out three kind acts per week or noticing five kind acts per week. To keep them excited about their challenge, give them a star sticker to add to the classroom chart or a shape cutout to stick on the bulletin board when they meet their goal.
While you are encouraging students to be more kind to others, make sure to practice some kindness yourself – give every student at least one compliment before the end of the day. Before letting your students go for the day, tell them that you purposely complimented each of them during the day, and that you noticed a positive change in the classroom mood. Explain that these positive changes are common outcomes of practicing kindness in the classroom, or wherever else they are.
Read Books About Kindness
Depending on how old your students are, there are a variety of age-appropriate books about being kind.
For kindergarten to second graders, Nancy Elizabeth Wallace’s The Kindness Quilt is a good book to read and discuss.
For more advanced readers, Carol McCloud’s Have You Filled a Bucket Today? will teach students the concept of an invisible “bucket” everyone carries that can be filled with compliments and kindness.
Unsurprisingly, classroom lessons on kindness can have a big impact on how kind students tend to be. There are many kindness lessons out there with varying lengths and methods of teaching kindness.
For ideas on how to incorporate classroom lessons on kindness into your teaching, click here.
Rewards and Positive Reinforcement
Finally, use rewards and positive reinforcement to encourage more kind behavior in the classroom. This can be as simple as a moment of praise or a sticker, or something more personal like a kindness card or a certificate of kindness.
You can even recruit the other students to help you pass out rewards for students caught being kind.
Many of these can be adapted for use in the home as well as the classroom.
However, the most important thing to remember when it comes to teaching kindness is to model the behavior you hope to see in the children – be kind, and they will be more likely to mirror that kindness!
How to Teach Empathy
There are also many ways to teach empathy to children, a very similar but distinct construct from kindness.
While kindness involves acts of goodwill, smiles, and positive words, empathy is about earnest listening, relating to one another, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
There are many ways to introduce, discuss, and encourage empathy in the classroom, including tackling empathy directly by including it in the curriculum (Crowley & Saide, 2016). For example:
- If you teach language arts, have the class define empathy and identify characters in literature that demonstrate empathy.
- If you teach public speaking, emphasize the importance of empathizing with one’s audience – students should think about who their audience is, what interests them, etc., before stepping to the podium.
You could also take some concrete steps to inject your classroom with a culture of empathy, steps like (Crowley & Saide, 2016):
- Reading stores from the perspective of characters similar to your students.
- Following a student schedule for a day.
- Surveying students frequently to help students understand what is in the minds of their peers.
Just as modeling kindness is vital to teaching students kindness, so is modeling empathy vital to teaching students empathy. The most important thing you can do is encourage empathy in your students is to empathize – with your students, with other teachers, even with fictional characters. Show your students how to be empathetic towards others, even if you don’t agree with that person or are not necessarily sympathetic towards them.
As noted earlier, it is vital to start teaching kindness and empathy early on, but adults are also capable of enhancing their empathy. The following two resources are good sources of information on teaching empathy to adults:
- This PDF from Portland State University is meant to accompany a workshop in building empathy. It defines empathy, introduces the theory behind the workshop, and describes three exercises that can be practiced to enhance empathy in adults.
- This PDF from Dr. Lawrence J. Bookbinder and Jan Johnson makes an excellent handout for an empathy-building class or to clients in counseling to help them become more empathetic people. It will not only define empathy, it will describe why empathy is an important trait to have and to practice, how it will benefit those you care about, and how it will benefit you personally.
World Kindness Day Activities
Have you ever heard of World Kindness Day? It’s an international day of kindness, recognized by countries around the world, that encourages everyone to look beyond the boundaries of race, religion, and politics and to appreciate the humanity in all of us.
World Kindness Day is a great day to practice kindness, whether it’s towards your family members, your friends, your coworkers, or strangers.
Aside from all of the other activities and exercises described in this piece, The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation lists 10 fun and easy activities you can do to celebrate World Kindness Day.
The 10 random kindness activities include (The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, 2013):
- Compliment the first three people you talk to.
- Write a hand-written note to a teacher.
- Say good morning to the person next to you on the elevator(/bus/subway/street).
- Pick up litter. Spend 10 minutes cleaning a park or your neighborhood.
- Place uplifting notes in library books, on restroom mirrors, on someone’s locker, or on their computer screen.
- Dedicate 24 hours to spreading positivity on social media.
- Hold up inspiring signs during rush hour.
- Leave a generous tip.
- Send flowers to a friend.
- Set an alarm to go off three times on World Kindness Day. When the alarm sounds, stop what you’re doing and call/text/email someone simply to tell them how awesome they are.
If that’s not enough for you, here are five more ideas from The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (2016):
- Positive Sticky Notes – Leave sticky notes with positive messages (like “You are amazing, smart, and talented” or “You know what’s awesome? Read the first word”) on your friends’ (or strangers!) lockers or your coworkers’ desks.
- Thank You Letter – Write (and send!) an anonymous letter to someone you respect in your school, workplace, or other community space.
- RAK Bulletin Board – Create a bulletin board in your school or workplace and provide plenty of paper in fun shapes or designs where people can write down the random acts of kindness they have received or benefitted from.
- RAK Calendar – Download the Kindness Calendar Sheet here and share it with your students. Challenge the students to complete all 30 acts of kindness, or at least one in each of the five categories (On the Playground, In the Hallway, In the Classroom, Towards Adults, and Towards Kids).
- Custodian Appreciation – Have your class write letters and put up signs showing their appreciation for the people who keep the school nice and tidy. Encourage your students to make a special effort to keep the classroom clean so the custodians can enjoy a lighter load.
For more ideas on how to celebrate World Kindness Day with random acts of kindness, click here.
Other Fun Empathy Exercises for in the Classroom
Aside from all of the activities and exercises mentioned already, there are a few other fun exercises that can help your students build empathy.
This PDF from The Teachers Guild (2017) describes several fun exercises that you can try in your classroom or in your school at large, if that’s feasible:
Amazing Empathy Race
This activity involves the whole school, including staff members. Students are divided into teams and follow clues to activity stations are set up across the school, with envelopes containing prompts and materials for the students to work with.
There are tons of different activities you could use here, but one good example activity is to provide students with a clue about a staff member. When they guess who the staff member is, they head to that person’s office to collect the next activity – conducting an interview and listening with compassion to the staff member.
This exercise is a large-scale one, to be sure, but the payoff can be enormous in terms of enhanced empathy in school.
This exercise involves students interviewing a person of their choice (inside or outside the school) and creating a visual representation of what they learned. This will encourage the student to practice active and compassionate listening, put themselves in another’s shoes, and share their stories with others.
Empathy Book Trailers
Another exercise involving sharing stories, this activity instructs each student to select a character from a book they love (or one that you assign, if they’re not big readers) and create a sort “book trailer” focusing on this character and his or her experiences.
This activity will allow students to practice synthesizing events from a person’s life into feelings or needs, an important skill for any future literature and writing courses as well as effectively relating to others in the real world.
If students do not have easy access to technology, a write-up can be substituted for the video.
These are only three of the many empathy-building exercises you can find in the Teachers Guild’s PDF. Click here to open the PDF and look for other fun exercises that can instill a culture of empathy within your school or classroom.
A Take Home Message
I hope this piece has given you tons of ideas about how to help your children or your students become more kind, empathetic people. I also hope that this piece has reminded you that it’s never too late to start learning and building such important skills.
The challenge of helping students (and adults) build kindness and empathy can seem overwhelming at first, but there are many practical ways to do it, and the outcome can be enormously positive for all involved.
What are your thoughts on teaching kindness and empathy in the classroom? Do you think it’s more important to target building these traits in the home? How do you teach your children or students to be kind? Let us know in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
- Alber, R. (2017, February 16). Kindness: A lesson plan. Edutopia. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/kindness-lesson-plan-rebecca-alber
- Crowley, B., & Saide, B. (2016). Building empathy in classrooms and schools. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2016/01/20/building-empathy-in-classrooms-and-schools.html
- Proud to Be Primary. (2017, May 8). Teaching kindness in the classroom. Proud to Be Primary. Retrieved from https://proudtobeprimary.com/teaching-kindness-classroom/
- Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. (2013, November 13). 10 fun ways to celebrate World Kindness Day. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-kindness-blog/2766-10-fun-ways-to-celebrate-world-kindness-day
- Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. (2016, December 1). 5 simple classroom activities to celebrate World Kindness Day. The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/the-kindness-blog/1-5-simple-classroom-activities-to-celebrate-world-kindness-day