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If there’s one thing this world could use more of, it’s empathy and compassion. These activities will promote empathy, kindness and compassion in your children, whether in the classroom or the world at large! They teach kids how to be more aware of others and respond to those around them in a kind and caring way. Designed for kids in preschool and elementary school.

The Obituary Writing Exercise:  A writing activity and classroom discussion designed to help kids reflect on their priorities and conduct themselves with kindness & compassion. Intended for kids in the later grades of elementary school, junior high, and high school.

Empathy Building Activities For Kids

Interview a Classmate Activity:  A fun activity for pre-K & elementary school students that helps them get to know their classmates better.

The Needs of Others:  A group time activity to that will get kids thinking about how we rely on one another. (Preschool & elementary)

Kindness Activities for Kids

Classroom Compliments:  This group time activity will help children see that every child possesses positive attributes, and that small compliments can brighten a person’s day, which is why we should give them more often. (Preschool & early elementary)

Kind Acts Dramatic Play:  Since children learn through role playing, these role-play activities will teach kids about various acts of kindness throughout the community. (Pre-K & early elementary)

Kind Acts Chart:  A teacher directed chart that rewards children for kind acts. (Preschool & early elementary)

The Clumsy Adult Experiment (An Empathy Activity for Kids of All Ages)
Gather a bunch of papers and set them inside several loose folders. If you really want to get sophisticated with this experiment, you can use colored paper that corresp6onds to different colored folders. Then walk into an area near where the children are gathered, pretend to stumble, and then spill your folders onto the ground so that papers fly in every direction. Then stand there looking flustered and upset, as though you’re really irritated or about to cry, but don’t do anything.

What happens next is the focus of our little behavioral experiment: Without any prompting, it’s fairly certain that kids will come to your aid and start picking up the papers for you out of a desire to be helpful and ease your distress. If you did the color-coded version, they might even sort the papers accordingly.

Later on have a group time discussion about what happened. What made them want to help? Did they have to think about helping, or did the impulse come naturally? What thoughts or emotions did they feel as they saw you had spilled all your papers? Explain that this is an example of our empathy instinct kicking into action: When we see someone in distress or someone who needs assistance, something deep inside makes us want to help.

Now steer the conversation towards deeper questions about empathy and compassion. What are some other examples of people acting selflessly to help others? What stops us from acting this way all the time? Why is it we have the ability to be so compassionate one moment yet hurtful and inconsiderate the next? What is it that can lead to such different responses, and how can we promote more empathy in all our interactions? What would happen if all of us behaved so compassionately ALL of the time?

Stories of Anguish (Grade school): Provide the kids with pencil and paper and have them go around trying to collect stories from 3 different classmates about a time when they’ve felt especially hurt, sad, scared, and so on, as well as what they did to overcome it. The goal is to promote greater empathy for others by learning about the different trials and tribulations that peers have endured. Once this activity is over, you might consider offering them some type of extra credit throughout the year for each additional story they collect from peers, family, friend’s, etc. (Grades 3-6)

The Kindness Tree
Use brown contact paper, butcher paper, or brown paper bags to create a large tree outline on one of the walls in your classroom. Don’t add leaves, just create the outline of the trunk and its branches. Next get a few pads of green sticky notes from an office supply store.

Gather your kids in a group, and explain that you want to focus on little, everyday acts of kindness. Give them some examples of the types of things that would qualify:

  • Consoling someone when they’re sad
  • Giving up your spot to someone else
  • Giving unsolicited compliments or saying kind things
  • Helping someone who needs it
  • Sharing something you’re not required to share
  • Acting in a way that shows you’re thinking about others
  • And so forth.

Each time you witness an act of kindness, you’re going to put a new leaf on this tree. You can also let kids self-report a kindness somebody else did them, though you may have to reign it in a little if things get too out of hand and they’re coming to you with manufactured acts of kindness as opposed to authentic, spontaneous ones. Tell them that over the next month or two, you want to transform these barren branches into a big bushy tree filled with acts of kindness.

Carry a clipboard around with you during the day so you can jot down all the kind acts you observe. For each one, cut a sticky note into the shape of a leaf, writing down the kind act and who performed it. Then pick a time during the day to gather as a group and add all the new leaves to the tree, briefly describing each act of kindness as you go.

Kids will benefit from having kindness represented in a physical way like this, and they’ll be motivated to add new leaves to the tree that have their name on it. So it’s a great way to get them constantly thinking about acts of kindness. Even after you’re through with this project, behaving in spontaneously kind ways will become more of a habit.

After you are through with these empathy & kindness activities for kids, be sure to check out the other resources we offer to teach kids empathy and kindness:


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