Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes and understand them. Compassion, some say, is empathy put into action. Compassion is what drives us, as humans, to help others in need, even when we don’t know them personally. In some ways, it’s what makes the world go ‘round.
For younger children, compassion may look like sharing toys, demonstrating worry or care over a friend who was hurt, or understanding that words have an impact. Elementary school students are not too young to start developing this important life skill. Developing compassion in elementary school can help children to grow into altruistic, helpful adults.
You can help your elementary school students develop compassion using these activities and approaches.
Reward Acts of Compassion
As an educator, you already know the power of positive behavior enforcement. Kids are more likely to repeat behaviors that are rewarded or praised. Keep in mind that rewards can be formal or informal. Sometimes, some extra attention from you will be a far more powerful reward than a physical prize.
Read Stories that Teach Kids About Compassion
Bibliotherapy uses books and literature to improve mental health or teach important life skills. You can incorporate bibliotherapy into your classroom storytime by choosing children’s books that are designed to teach young students about the importance of compassion. Ask your local librarian for ideas on books that may touch your students’ hearts.
Have Students Write Letters to the Elderly
One tangible activity you can use to help your elementary students develop compassion is to lead a letter-writing exercise. Your class can write letters to the homebound elderly, deployed soldiers, children in immigration detention centers, or any other group of people that may feel meaningful to your school community. Younger students can draw pictures. Make sure that you’re clear about the intended purpose of this exercise: to lift the letter receivers’ spirits.
Have a Classroom Pet or Stuffed Animal
If it’s treated with kindness and respect, having a classroom pet can go a long way in helping children to develop compassion and empathy. Through taking care of a living creature that’s dependent on them, children learn how to respect the needs and feelings of others. This can also teach children the importance of helping and caring for others, even when it isn’t convenient for them.
If having a classroom pet isn’t realistic, you can replicate this idea by having a classroom plant or stuffed animal. Just make sure you don’t start to neglect your stuffed animal project 一 this might inadvertently teach kids that it’s okay to dismiss the needs of others.
Engage Students in Community Service Projects
You can invite your elementary students to participate in a service project for your local community. This helps to make the concept of compassion come to life for your students, and you may be surprised at how excited and engaged they get about it. Some ideas for community service projects you can do as a classroom include:
- Hosting a food, clothing, or toy drive
- Planting trees or wildflowers
- Participating in a 5K race for an important cause
- Go on a trash clean-up field trip
Model Compassion for Your Students
These activities are wonderful, but perhaps one of the most impactful things you can do as an elementary teacher to teach compassion to your students is to model compassion yourself. Demonstrate empathy and helpfulness for the other adults you interact with, like parents or your aide, even when you’re frustrated. Reach out to the students you see struggling; show kindness for the kids who are hungry, sick, lonely, or in pain.
You are likely one of your students’ heroes; when they see you being compassionate, they’ll likely want to copy that behavior.
Use a Mindfulness-Based Program to Help Teach Compassion
On top of its mental health benefits, like reducing stress and anxiety, the practice of mindfulness has also been shown to promote prosocial behavior. That means that mindful people are also more likely to be empathetic and compassionate toward the struggles of others. Mindfulness can also help children to be more compassionate towards themselves. Perhaps it’s because mindfulness invites us to get in tune with what’s going around us 一 and it becomes harder to ignore people’s suffering.
Calm Classroom empowers K-12 school communities with mindfulness training that is simple, sustainable, and impactful. To talk to us about how you can implement a mindfulness program in your classroom, get in touch with us today!