Developing empathy skills in young learners may seem like a daunting task to bring into your preschool classroom, but if you teach and incorporate activities on empathy, your students will be more successful in all areas of their lives in the future!
Empathy is defined as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the feelings of others. You may be a little unsure about how to develop empathy in your preschoolers, but you’ll be surprised to see, how you can cultivate empathy in your classroom by just being a little more intentional about it.
Before I jump in any further, have you downloaded my Kindness FREEBIE yet? Click on the image below to download this resource today. It will get your students thinking about ways they can sprinkle kindness into any situation.
Why Teach Children Empathy?
When you teach empathy, you are helping preschoolers build a sense of belonging, security, and healthy relationships between their peers and themselves. You also are developing a stronger relationship between the children and you! Empathy teaches and encourages students to show tolerance and the acceptance of new friends or friends unlike themselves. Plus, it has amazing mental health and social-emotional benefits!
Empathy is also important because it helps students regulate their emotions and promote behaviors that are considered “helping.” It can also help prevent bullying, help children make friends, and help them understand everyone will need help.
Students who have learned and developed empathy are thoughtful problem-solvers because they can easily “step into someone else’s shoes” and try to figure out how to solve the problem in front of them. This also helps improve students’ academics, Vicki Zakrzewski the Education Director of The Great Good Science Centre says “Cognitive achievement is 50% of the equation, and social and emotional skills are the other 50%”. When it comes to student achievement, students not only need to understand the questions; but also need to have the social-emotional skills to work through the problem and solve it.
All of these elements, if you can believe it, will eventually help students get jobs and strive in the workplace. Studies have shown that employers recognize skills such as empathy when interviewing and observing their employees. It is an important skill that often makes jobs easier.
5 Activities on Empathy to Incorporate into Your Classroom
There are so many ways to teach empathy in the classroom, but teaching it in a preschool classroom is a completely different ball game! It involves a lot more thought, planning, and lessons. Here are 5 activities on empathy that will help you get more intentional about cultivating empathy in your classroom!
1. Develop empathy skills by teaching emotions
You want to always begin by helping kids understand their own feelings and emotions. As you are learning about emotions, have your students label their feelings and emotions. Also, continue to discuss their emotions when they happen – label them, highlight what is happening in their bodies, ask why they felt that way. Finally, you want to help children to cope with their own emotions – develop self-control & emotional regulation.
2. Seek out the best children’s books to teach Empathy
After you have really developed your students’ emotional learning, you’ll want to transition into focusing on empathy. In preschool, picture books are always a great way to help teach skills and teaching empathy is no different! Find and read books on empathy. While reading or after reading, ask your littles questions like how does the character feel? Why do you think they feel that way? Have you ever felt like that? What if that happened to you? What would you hope someone would say to you?
Some of my best children’s books to teach empathy are I Am Human, You, Me and Empathy, and The Invisible Boy. Reading books that build empathy in children will make it easier for you to really dive deeper into the concept and really teach it. Once you have read a couple of books and have worked on building empathy a little. Try an empathy activity, like a sorting activity to help stimulate discussion. This will give you some more data on where you may need to work with your students a little more.
3. Develop kindness lessons and bring social-emotional learning into your circle time discussions
Once your students know what empathy is, take it a step further, and discuss things we say to show empathy and things we do to show empathy. When preschoolers are learning empathy skills, you need to develop an excellent base before you expect them to suddenly empathize with others. Consider going through different lessons and activities to promote kindness with your students to help them really gain ideas on what it means to be kind and that will lead to developing empathy skills.
4. Practicing empathy with students
As you are learning about empathy, you want your students to have hands-on experiences. Examine different scenarios and discuss how a person might feel, why they might feel that way and how you can show empathy towards that person. Allow the children to take on different perspectives and learn from them.
5. Teach children empathy by helping others
Finally, provide opportunities to care for others. Whether you decide on a community project, providing a class kindness challenge, or getting a class pet. Give preschoolers the chance to practice their skills, and care for someone other than themselves. Writing cards to soldiers, going to a nursery home and singing songs, completing random acts of kindness, or getting a goldfish/hamster/lizard and assigning students to feed it each day, clean the tank, etc. These opportunities will all give your students significant chances to care for others.
Make Learning Empathy Skills Part of your Everyday!
Bringing empathy into your preschool classroom seems like a daunting task, and may even be a little intimidating. But if you have the resources, ideas, and materials to help, you can easily bring empathy into your classroom a little bit every day! Preschoolers want to connect to others and learning empathy skills will help build deep and meaningful relationships in your classroom! That’s why I care so much about putting social-emotional learning at the center of all I do!
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