Empathy is the hardest social emotional skill for young children to learn because developmentally young children have difficulty taking perspectives. Knowing the developmental stage that young children are in, what does empathy mean to a kindergartener?
What does empathy mean to a kindergartener?
Understanding how someone else feels and that someone can have different experiences and thoughts than you is very difficult for kindergarteners. It is a skill they develop later in childhood. So, what does empathy mean to a kindergartener? Simply noticing how someone else is feeling is a good starting point for empathy in kindergarten. The next step to teaching empathy is teaching our students to try and help our friends feel better if they are having a hard feeling. We teach empathy to young children through read alouds and role plays.
Using picture books for empathy
While kindergarteners, and other young children, struggle with perspective taking and empathy to those around them, they shine when it comes to empathy and perspective taking in books. Read alouds are one of the best ways to teach what empathy means to a kindergartener. Whenever you read a story, always ask how the characters are feeling, how they know that, and why are they feeling that way. This lays the foundation of perspective taking and empathy. Children are quite good at understanding how characters are feeling. When situations happen in the classroom where a little empathy is needed, you can connect to the read aloud books with similar situations.
There are also picture books that help teach about empathy. These books are some of my favorites. You can check out my Amazon storefront for more books. I love The Spiffiest Giant to teach about how we can help others when we notice what they need. It’s a great connection to empathy and helping our friends if they are having a hard feeling. I also love One to teach empathy and perspective taking. In One we learn why Red is acting like a bully. We realize that they are trying to play with others but doesn’t know how. This is a common experience in the younger classrooms. One is a great launching off point for empathy with peers.
Role-play is the perfect way to help teach empathy. When thinking about what does empathy mean to a kindergartener, we know that they might not be ready to implement all that they will learn into their independent play. Instead, we can use role-play to give them a chance to practice the empathy skills they will learn. I present different role-play scenarios to the students that are common issues that young children have with their peers and different common scenarios that happen in our classroom. The common scenarios from our classroom are the most powerful. Kids can learn so much about social skills and how to react in different situations by being given the chance to role-play the scenarios! You can also give them puppets to act out the different situations. Children always love puppets!
If children struggle with perspective taking and showing empathy, then what does empathy mean to a kindergartener. Empathy to young children means noticing how others are feeling. If you see someone is having a hard feeling, then you try and help them feel better. In order to teach empathy to young children, use picture books and role-play different scenarios. What way do you like to teach empathy? Let me know in the comments!
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